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Engaging the Tech-Savvy Generation

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The current generation of technology-savvy students is more knowledgeable and demanding, but they face many different challenges than past generations. Unfortunately, education is often blamed for not preparing students for jobs - sending them into the workforce lacking the skills needed to function in a growing economy and not preparing them for a knowledge-based society.

Creation of New Opportunities

Faced with tight budgets, schools nationwide are having money problems. This lack of money, not to mention the delayed guidelines from the federal government, is hindering states’ efforts to implement technology, according to a recent study from the Center on Education Policy, a think tank that studies public education. Though opportunities appear huge in 2003 for the federal IT market, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security opens up a number of opportunities for technology companies; but how and on what the spending will occur is not clear.

New technologies require a higher level of education and training. The need for personnel in various countries is increasing and the study of foreign languages is becoming much more important. The number of students studying abroad is expected to increase, which will continue to cause problems for U.S. institutions that are already concerned about the decline in science education among U.S. students.

The University of Washington reported that from 1992-2000 top-performing seniors planning graduate study in mathematics fell by 49% and those getting into engineering graduate schools dropped by 25%, while the number of students seeking a master’s in business administration increased by about a third. In our current economic environment, many students are abandoning scientific fields, instead turning to business and health professions after graduation.

Although many employers have existing hiring freezes, community colleges are still providing practical and knowledgeable workers to the job market. Programs at these institutions are designed to ensure work-ready skills with some academic training. For example, The B'eing Co. works with 62 community colleges for the training of existing and future employees. The company has also contracted with Bellevue Community College in Washington state to provide Cisco and Microsoft Certificate Training programs for its employees.

Development of Student Technology

Students have long been used to assist teachers, but in this technological age their capabilities are more in demand. Students support teachers in many ways, from creating PowerPoint presentations to online research to integrating curriculum. Steve Gilbert, president of The TLT Group, has been advocating the development of student technology- assisted programs in which students learn to train and supervise other students, provide technical support and help faculty with the instructional use of technology. In addition, Generation YES, a program based on the success of the Generation Y Technology Innovation Challenge Grant, relies on students to partner with educators to reform schools. This program provides students with technological support and teachers with instructional expertise.

An example of the tech-savvy generation at work took place in December when more than 100 Mississippi high school students arrived in Jackson to build the last 275 computers required to satisfy the state’s classroom needs. The governor’s mission was to build about 6,000 computers so that every classroom in the state had a computer with online access by the end of 2002. The kits, when fully assembled, cost about $685, roughly half of what the state was paying a vendor for the same capabilities. In addition, some New York City schools are turning to their students to help repair computer equipment through the MOUSE (Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools & Education) program, which allows students to learn the skills required to troubleshoot technical problems.

Remember, it’s the job of every educator to use all technological resources available to keep students engaged in the classroom. But a true tech-savvy educator is continually learning from his or her students.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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