‘Digital Disconnect’ divides kids, educators

Students and educators disagree on whether their schools are preparing graduates adequately for the jobs of the 21st century, a speaker at an Oct. 15 webcast said.

Two-thirds of principals in a recent survey said they believe their school is preparing students to be competitive in the global workforce. But most tech-savvy students didn’t share that view, said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow (formerly known as NetDay).

Project Tomorrow surveyed more than 370,000 students, teachers, parents, and administrators about their views on technology and education during its Speak Up 2007 research. Of the nearly 320,000 students surveyed, 24 percent considered themselves to be "advanced tech users."

"Of these advanced tech users, less than a quarter of them think their school is preparing them for jobs in the future," said Evans, speaking at a webcast sponsored by the Consortium for School Networking.

"The ‘digital disconnect’ is alive and well," Evans added. "Kids tell us they power down to come to school."

Students who took the survey said the major obstacles to their use of technology at school include filters that block the web sites they need and administrators who impose rules that limit their technology use.

Contrary to what some people might believe, students say they’ve noticed more limits to their use of technology at school in recent years, not less–a finding that Evans attributed partly to training that teachers and administrators have undergone.

"Now that teachers know more, they’re more skittish, so to speak, about using the internet in the classroom," she said. "Students say things were better [for them] a few years ago."

In the Speak Up survey, students said they generally use technology for online and computer gaming, downloading music, communicating through eMail, instant messaging and texting, or maintaining a personal web site, such as a Facebook or MySpace page. They said their technology use for schoolwork usually includes researching online, checking assignments or grades online, creating multimedia projects, or communicating with classmates about assignments.

Project Tomorrow found that mobile devices, online learning, and gaming are three areas where schools can use emerging technologies to teach students if they aren’t already.

Many of the students surveyed said they have access to mobile devices such as cell phones, laptop computers, MP3 players, or smart phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants). They said they’d like to use these mobile devices to communicate, collaborate, create and share documents, and increase their productivity.

Nearly one in four high school students has had experience with online learning, according to the survey–and a significant percentage of younger students said they were interested in taking a course online.

Although the majority of high school students who are interested in taking online courses would like to do so to earn college credit, students in third through eighth grade said they were interested in online classes primarily because these classes would give them extra help.

The study found that 64 percent of K-12 students play online and computer games, and the average time spent playing is eight to 10 hours per week. Of the students surveyed, 51 percent said they would like to include gaming in school because it’s easier for them to understand difficult concepts, 50 percent said they would be more engaged in learning the material, and 46 percent said they would be able to learn more in general.

"Students often ask: Why can’t science be taught as a game?" Evans said. She added that gaming teaches students to change the way they look at failure. "Students see failure as a step in the process to competency with gaming. We need to look, as educators, at how we’re defining failure," she noted.

Half of the teachers surveyed said they would be interested in learning more about using gaming technology in their classroom, with 11 percent already using some form of gaming in their curriculum. Teachers said they see gaming as a way to increase student engagement and help address different learning styles.

When survey participants were asked what technology they would include if they could design a perfect school, a majority of students and teachers said they believed every student should have a laptop for his or her own personal use. Other than that, students and teachers have differing opinions on how best to use technology in schools.

For example, about 35 percent of students said they would like to include Web 2.0 technologies in their ultimate school, while only 10 percent of teachers said they would like to include these.

Project Tomorrow is now accepting registration for its Speak Up 2008 survey, which will run online from Oct. 27 to Dec. 19. The survey gives participants the chance to share their views about key ed-tech issues. Each year, the survey’s findings are summarized and shared with national and state policy makers. Participating schools and districts also can access their own data online, free of charge.


Consortium for School Networking

Project Tomorrow

Speak Up 2008 survey

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the “Creating the 21 st Century Classroom” resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom