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Speak Up: The current state of digital learning

How, and for what purposes, are students using digital tools?

speakup-digitalWhile girls use many digital tools for learning more than boys, more boys than girls say they are interested in STEM careers–however, student interest in STEM careers has not increased significantly in seven years, according to the annual Speak Up survey results from Project Tomorrow.

This year’s report focused on how K-12 students use digital tools and resources to support schoolwork, how they use digital tools and resources to enable out-of-school-time learning activities, and what K-12 students’ aspirations are when it comes to using digital tools and resources in new and innovative learning environments.

As digital technologies becomes more ubiquitous and as more and more efforts support expanded internet access, students are making their technology preferences clear.

(Next page: Students’ digital technology use)

Digital equity remains a top concern for school leaders, and this includes student internet access outside of school. Forty-six percent of district technology leaders said it is one of the most challenging issues they face today. In 2010, only 19 percent of district tech leaders said the same.

School principals increasingly support bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives, but haven’t entirely resolved concerns–77 percent said safety and district liability remain an issue, and 70 percent said student equity in device access is important.

In 2010, 52 percent of principals said students were not allowed to use their own devices, compared to 32 percent in 2013. Forty-one percent of principals said they will allow students to use their own devices in school this year (2013), while only 22 percent felt the same in 2010. And while just 10 percent of principals allow full-scale BYOD, that has increased from 2010, when just 3 percent of principals reported the same.

When it comes to mobile learning, principals believe it:

  • Increases student engagement (63 percent)
  • Provides a way for students to review materials anytime (55 percent)
  • Improves school-to-home communications (52 percent)
  • Extends learning beyond the school day (49 percent)
  • Personalizes learning (49 percent)

Students have access to a variety of digital devices. Among K-2 students, 41 percent have access to a laptop, 41 percent have access to a tablet, 22 percent have access to a smartphone, and 18 percent have access to a digital reader.

Smartphone access is highest among high school students, with 89 percent reporting such access. Sixty-six percent can access laptops, 50 percent have access to tablets, and 39 percent have access to digital readers.

Digital reader access is highest in grades 6-8, with 48 percent of students reporting they had access to such devices.

Students increasingly use social media apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine (44 percent of students in grades 6-12), and their interaction with “traditional” social networking sites like Facebook is declining.

One-fourth of third through fifth graders, and almost one-third of students in grades 6-12, said they use a school-provided mobile device to support their schoolwork. The survey also found that those percentages are higher among Title I schools than non-Title I schools.

Online assessments have grown, too, with 47 percent of middle school students taking online tests, compared with 32 percent four years ago.

High school students said they spend a mean average of 14 hours per week using technology for writing. One-third of middle school students said they prefer to use digital materials instead of print materials for school-related reading, but more than half said that online textbooks would be “essential” were they to design an “ultimate school.”

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Laura Ascione

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