Monday, February 7, 2011

Project Tomorrow: Speak Up

After reading the Speak Up 2009 National Findings, there is one phrase that seems to sum up all the information contained within the piece: "For these students in the schoolhouse, the teacher and the textbook no longer have an exclusive monopoly on knowledge..." ("Speak Up 2009 National Findings" 3)  In an increasingly technological world, the act of learning is now being done on a global scale.  Students can find information pertaining to just about any subject somewhere online.  This accessibility has its positives and negatives, of course.  The positives are mostly obvious, as the old adage "two heads are better than one" would certainly apply to the concept of being able to collaborate with thousands of people on a given topic.  However, the downside is ever-present; not all the information found online is accurate nor is it all reliable.  This is, perhaps, a bit of a cliche because it is so often emphasized but, additionally, this access to communication at all times is problematic in other ways.

The article mentions how much importance the researchers placed on the voice of today's students being heard.  This is definitely a well-intentioned idea and extremely helpful in determining what types of teaching methods will resonate with students.  However, this can also backfire in certain cases.  The article says students have identified that "two major obstacles to using technology more effectively at school is their inability to access personal communications accounts or send messages to classmates during the school day."  While I appreciate the desire to engage students by entertaining their suggestions to improve their own school day, the lack of access to personal communications is hardly what I would consider a necessary addition to their school life and access to learning.

Herein lies the difficulty in having students dictate what they believe would improve their learning methods.  If given access to their personal communication accounts, students would likely become distracted by discussing topics and events with their friends that have absolutely no relevancy to their school day.  They want to have access to these accounts because they are bored in class!  The answer to this problem is not to allow them access to their personal communications but to make their class time more engaging!  Granted, this is only one of the suggestions offered by students on how to implement technology more effectively but it was one that stood out to me as being a kind of, "Of course that's what they would say!" moment.

Beyond this particular instance, there is much to be learned from the findings of this study.  Overall, the use of technology has the potential to engage students in a way that has never been possible before.  The fact that students could have a vehicle to communicate with their teacher outside of school hours without having to set up a face to face meeting is revolutionary.  Think of how much personal attention a teacher could devote to his or her students outside of class time through the aid of computers.  Whether it is through social networking sites such as Facebook or through video communication platforms like Skype, the ability to connect one-on-one with a particular student without sacrificing that opportunity for any other student is exciting.

Another interesting idea in online communication is the ability for students to communicate with one another on school-related issues.  The graph in Figure 6, Page 10 suggests that 55% of high school aged students are using mobile devices to communicate with classmates to work on projects.  This is already an impressive number but if more teachers were encouraging this type of communication between students on assigned projects, the ability for students to feel comfortable sharing ideas and increase their communication over school-related subjects would likely skyrocket.  Recently, many theories of education have touted the benefits of students teaching each other.  What better way to continue that concept outside the classroom than by encouraging the use of mobile devices as well as other forms of personal communication outlets?

Another graph that I found interesting was the Students' use of digital resources outside of school, described in Figure 15, Page 20.  What's intriguing is the number of students who participate in online games and the uploading/downloading of videos, podcasts or photos to the internet.  The educator's reaction to this information might be to find a way to combine learning activities with online games, which has certainly been the goal of many to achieve.  However, one of the reasons, in my opinion, for the large number of students participating in online games is the very escape of their day to day routine which, undoubtedly, contains mostly school and learning.  They want to shut off, disengage and relax.  Trying to incorporate learning into this part of their day will inevitably turn them off.

However, what is potentially useful is the information pertaining to how many students download videos and podcasts.  Educators can definitely use this information to their advantage.  By using video tutorials and podcasts, teachers can reinforce concepts taught in class and give students access to that information on their own time.  Additionally, teachers could have post the day's lecture or learning exercise so that students can refer back to what was discussed in class without have to pore over notes or guess what information the instructor was wanting them to absorb above something else.

Overall, the Speak Up research provides some insight into the lives of today's students and their hopes to integrate technology with their learning process.  The best way to combine these ideas is take some of what students say will keep them engaged and combine it with an educator's good judgment of what must be communicated in a learning environment.  The combined approach has the potential to be the most effective learning model we've seen yet in a school setting.

1 comment:

  1. Collin,
    Very interesting perspectives on the report. You have provided excellent reflection on what the report provides for you in terms of thinking about students and technology. Nice done!
    Dr. Hayden