According to the National Association of Independent Schools’ Commission on Accreditation, twenty-first century students are qualitatively different from all students before them:
I’ve been wondering about that assertion for some time, and had an idea earlier this fall that seemed as though it might be helpful: what if we asked students directly about their experiences with technology in school? Perhaps instead of giving them multiple-choice sorts of limiting questions designed by adults, we actually allowed them the time and space to comment freely and at length? There seemed a good chance that we would learn something useful about our students, their tech use, our academic culture, and perhaps countless other areas of interest that would help us to better serve the learning needs of our community. I received permission to survey the students, about half of whom participated.
(The school in question is a small-ish independent school with a solid tech infrastructure. It has a 1:1 laptop program, an adequate LMS, wifi everywhere, a maker space, robotics program, digital photography curriculum, computer science classes, and tech-savvy teachers).
Here is a very brief sampling of some of the results:
And here is a curated sampling of some of the written responses to a prompt. The responses in total are obviously more varied and often address specific issues, but these are the ones I found most surprising.
“Some of us are not as tech savy [sic] as others”
“That i learn better with hardcopy books/handouts”
“I am not tech-savvy when it relates to editing and making videos”
“I wish they knew that not everything has to be done online”
“I wish they knew how to balance it
from student to student. Some thrive off of it
more than others and I wish there was someway [sic] to
create a classroom space that you can choose to what
extent technology aids your learning process.”
“I think sometimes teachers assume that I know what
I’m doing on the computer and honestly I only know the
very basics of working the computer so if something
doesn’t go as expected I’m pretty lost. Essentially, I don’t
know any more about the computer than I need to
properly function with it.”
“I wish they knew how much I hate reading on a
computer and how e-textbooks are super
“I wish they knew that having access to technology does not lessen our workload.”
“I wish they knew that our generation can
be completely tech savvy when it comes to social media
and gaming but then we can also know nothing about
typing correctly (I use my pointer finger 97% of the time)
and we don’t know everything about the software’s the
teachers want us to use such as excel.”
“that I hate using my computer”
Say what you will about ed tech, but it’s a duty of adults in education to communicate regularly and meaningfully with students about how they experience school in all of its facets. When so many students tell us that they learn more effectively when they take notes by hand or read on a hard copy, we can’t blithely dismiss that “because: 21st century.” And some of the comments above point not so much to a problem with technology per se, but a problem with assumptions the school has made about students’ technical capabilities. These are solvable problems, but if we’re not listening to students, how would we know where to begin?