The other ‘digital divide’: School vs. students & parents

By Anne Collier

Last week I looked at a school district in the Atlanta area where 35% of classrooms are “personalizing” learning in an organic way: with bring-your-own-technology, or BYOT, that teachers and students personalize together. This week some national data on personalized learning….

The Speak Up Survey of 416,000 K-12 students, parents, teachers, librarians, and administrators at more than US 5,600 schools found that…

* “Students are adopting technologies and then adapting them to support their own self-directed learning.” For example, Project Tomorrow, which conducted the 9th-annual survey, reports that 46% of high school students have used Facebook as a collaboration tool for schoolwork, 15% have informally tutored other students online or found an expert to help them with their own questions, 20% have used a mobile app to organize their school work, and 10% have Tweeted about an academic topic.
* “Parents are supporting their children’s personalized learning journeys”: 64% of them would buy a mobile device for their child’s academic use at school.
* Project Tomorrow noted a gap between what schools offer and what students want to learn: “As a result, students are looking outside of the classroom to meet their personalized learning goals … 12% of high school students have taken an online class on their own, outside of the classroom, to learn about a topic that interested them.”
* A sign that personalized learning + tech is better for career development: “In math and science classrooms where students and teachers direct learning supported by technology, students’ interest in a STEM career is 27%, compared with 20% for students in traditional math and science classrooms,” Project Tomorrow found.
* “Two-thirds of students told us in this year’s Speak Up surveys that they define school success by the achievement of their own personal learning goals, far exceeding traditional marks of success such as school honors or awards (45%) or even parent pride (55%).”

Gap between parents & administrators

Parents across the income spectrum are voicing a lot of support for BYOT and mobile learning, Project Tomorrow reports, partly because we’re becoming “mobilists” ourselves, as Project Tomorrow puts it, and partly because we place a “strong value on a more personalized learning environment” for our kids that’s less “one size fits few,” and using mobile phones is “a good step in that direction.” But school administrators see BYOT differently, and their perspective seems fairly dug in, the survey found: When asked “about the likelihood of allowing their students to use their own mobile devices for instructional purposes at school this year, 65% … said that was unlikely, closely mirroring their same response in 2010 (63%).” The report adds that “a majority of district administrators do not allow the use of any student owned mobile devices in class.”

Project Tomorrow doesn’t go into administrators’ reasons. Could one of them be what one visionary public school teacher told me at the Games + Learning + Society conference this summer?: “They don’t trust children. It’s a big hurdle: how to get the adults in school to trust students” – their interest in technology and their reasons for using technology for formal as well as informal, out-of-school learning.

Students cited six benefits in the Speak Up Survey: “I would be in control of my own learning” (52%); “I would be able to work at my own pace” (52%); “I would get extra help in a subject that is hard for me” (50%); “My technology skills would improve” (47%); “It would be easier for me to review class materials as many times as I want” (44%); “I would be more comfortable asking my teacher questions” (43%).

Related links

* From 6th-grade teacher John Spencer in Arizona: “Somehow, we treat [technology] as if it’s a matter of personal choice in a way that we would never do with pedagogy. Someone is still allowed to be a ‘good teacher’ and use virtually no technology whatsoever. Failure isn’t an option, but irrelevance is. Somehow we’ve screwed up our priorities. Somehow we’ve allowed teacher comfort level to drive what we use with students.” That’s from his blog post “11 Reasons Teachers Aren’t Using Technology.” I noticed that what’s missing among the 11 reasons is something Tim Clark mentioned to me about teachers in his district who are taking the BYOT approach: a willingness to “learn along with our students how their devices work for their learning.”
* My coverage of last year’s Speak Up Survey: “Students learning with digital tools in spite of school: Study,” and before that: “From ‘digital disconnect’ to mobile learning
* I mentioned the GLS conference above. Here’s what I learned there about what the online-safety field (and teachers who use tech in the classroom) can learn from game design.

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