If you follow Twitter like I do, you’ve probably read a lot about what students want. There seems to be a general consensus that in these always changing times, students want to change the way they learn. They want to work in groups and teams, collaborate and use new technology or social media. They might prefer to work individually at their own pace. They all want to be creative.
Writer Marc Prensky believes that students today have brains that have been physically changed by the digital onslaught and are different from ours in some important ways. He’s described them as “digital natives” who are all “native speakers” of the language of video games and the Internet.
Recently a local news reporter called me and wanted information for an article she was writing. The proposition underlaying her planned article was that “students teach teachers” these days, because they know more about technology and social media than the adults tasked to instruct them.
But are we really so sure about that?
I recently wrote my master’s thesis on how students use new technology. I worked with a colleague of mine to do the research, and we found that students in our high school did not know as much as we thought they did. When they encountered new software, they mostly used it superficially, without much attention to its full potential. They were generally not aware of the many ways a new web tool might be used in their studies. In fact, what we found was that the students need teachers to help them find out how to use technology to enhance learning.
What students told me
This week I’ve been hosting a conference in Oslo, featuring many international speakers, including Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Ewan McIntosh and the flipped classroom guys, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman. Teachers from many schools in our district have listened to these provocative education thinkers and discussed how technology should be used to unleash creativity and help students become skilled problem solvers.
Since it is a conference about student learning, I invited all our students to voice their opinions. The task was to access a common document online and answer the following questions: If I could decide how to use technology in class, what would I want my teachers to do? And how do I want to learn?
I made 3 different documents — one for each of our upper grade levels. All in all we have almost 900 students in our school and between 500-600 responded. I was looking forward to reading and getting a clearer picture of just what students want from technology and how they want to learn in the Digital Age.
While the answers I got were fun to read, it is absolutely impossible to sum up their views in a few sentences. They want to learn in a lot of different ways! Some want lectures, some want group work. Some like technology; some prefer to write with pencils. I would love to share the comment links with you, but since the responses are all written in Norwegian, I’ll sum it up like this:
“That our school uses so much technology is great because you learn faster and more efficiently. As long as you know what you are doing!”
That was one of the first answers I got and I love it. Because we have to make sure they know what they are doing. And that means they need teachers who know how to use technology and how to enhance learning with it. I understand why many students prefer lectures. It’s easy to sit there and soak it in (or not). The teacher gives you the correct answers and all you have to do is to memorize.
It is up to us to convince our students that the reward for memorizing is short-lived, and the hard work of learning through inquiry produces knowledge and understanding that will stick with you for the long term.
It’s up to us
Most students don’t know for sure what they want. But I think they want teachers who can excite them by encouraging them to pursue their passionate interests and teach them to use technology to connect with the world and share those passions.
Kids should be solving real world problems. Classrooms and teachers should be learning how to collaborate with global peers, creating beautiful and important work that they can share with the world. We just need to be aware that it is our responsibility to show them! We can’t expect all students to do this on their own.
We need to convince them — as Will Richardson says — that “This is just the coolest moment to be a learner right now!”