Friday, October 29, 2010

The Internet in K-12 schools, an Educause presentation

I recently attended the Educause conference. (Educause is a professional society focused on educational technology).

One of the more interesting presentations was by Julie Evens, CEO of Project Tomorrow. She reported the results of their survey of over 300,000 K-12 students, parents, teachers, administrators, and teachers in training.  The survey sheds some light on the preparation and proclivities of our future students.

Evans began with the student vision -- what students want and envision for themselves in their future education. The essential elements of their vision are that education should be socially based, untethered and digitally rich.

1. Socially based

Students want to use communication and collaboration tools to create personal networks of collaborators and helpers. They want to teach each other and learn from outside experts, online tutors and their teachers.

2. Untethered

Students envision technology-enabled learning that goes beyond classroom walls. They already have smart phones, tablets and laptops and want to use them in school. They want to take online classes and learn at their own pace.

3. Digitally rich

They want relevant, interactive teaching materials and self-administered tests -- for their eyes only. They also want digital tools so they can be content developers as well as consumers.

Evans says many students are "free agent learners." The survey profiled a typical middle school student as follows:

  • 37% have searched online for self-directed learning
  • 23% have found podcasts/videos to learn about something
  • 18% took an online test or assessment on their own (my italics)
  • 17% used cell phone apps to self organize
  • 14% used online writing tools to improve writing skills
  • 12% found experts online to answer questions

The survey also compares the views of students and administrators with those of teachers in training, concluding that teacher training needs to move beyond Microsoft Office:
While these future teachers have a desire to integrate the technology to support socially-­-based, digitally rich curriculum in their classroom, they are primarily being taught to use technology for word processing, spreadsheet, database tools or multi-­-media presentations. Less than 25 percent of these future teachers are being taught core skills which will enable them to leverage the power of technology for student achievement with online assessments, the use of student achievement data to inform instruction, or facilitate collaboration amongst students using Internet-­-based tools (such as blogs, wikis or social networking tools). Even fewer are learning how to teach online classes (4 percent).
You can read or download the slides from Evan's talk or a copy of the survey report.  The survey is done annually, and the 2010 version is online now.


While these results are thought provoking, they are biased. Survey participants are self-selecting so they are already online and clearly interested in the topic. The work is funded by Blackboard, which has a clear interest in online education, but I have no reason to think they influenced the results in any way. Finally, Project Tomorrow grew out of the Net Day organization so they are probably fans of the Net -- that may have shaped the survey wording a bit.

In spite of the disclaimer, the survey results shed light on the future, and educators and prospective employers of today's kids should keep them in mind.

Follow this link for more on the preparation and expectation of today's university students.

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