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Listen Up! Speak Up Is Talking

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The annual survey reveals that we’re still hardly scratchingthe surface of technology use in education.

Geoffrey H. FletcherI’VE BEEN STUDYING the results of the fourth annual Speak Up survey from the nonprofit education group Project Tomorrow. Speak Up is an online survey that compiles “the ideas and views of 270,000 K-12 students and their teachers and parents, from all 50 states, on: technology, math, and science instruction; 21st century skills; global collaborations; communications and self-expression;and schools of the future.”

Poring over the data, I am reminded yet again how important it is that we listen to those we serve in education— students and parents. The Speak Up survey is unique in bringing to light their insights into the uses of educationtechnologies.

Because of the depth of the data— more than 45 pages of survey questions and responses, plus pages of open-ended responses—I can only provide a few highlights in this space, buthere are two general observations:

1) We have a ways to go before technology is an integral part of education.What data led me to this conclusion?

  • To the question, “On a weekly basis, which professional tasks do you do using technology?” the top response was“word processing of tests, handouts, and other materials,” followed by “keeping records such as grades and attendance.”
  • To the follow-up question, “What obstacles do you face in using technology at school for professional tasks?” the leading answer was “lack of time in school day.”
  • Teachers’ most popular response to the question, “In which areas related to technology would you like more professional development?” was “integrating technology into the curriculum.”
  • When students were asked how they used technology at school or for schoolwork, by far the most common response was “online research,” followed by “creating slide shows, movies, or web pages for an assignment” and“learning basic computer skills.”In sum, the responses indicate to methat teachers and students are barelyscratching the surface of technologyuse, and are still concerned with someof the most basic applications.

2) There is some agreement among teachers, parents, and students. Asked to rank a list of skills in order of their importance to a student’s future, nearly all agreed that “knowing how to think critically” and “knowing how to solve problems” were the most critical. The only dissent came from secondary students, who cited “knowing how to use technology” along with “knowing how to think critically” as their top two choices.

Most unsettling were the replies to the question, “Do you think your school is doing a good job of preparing students to compete for the jobs and careers of the 21st century?” Less than half of respondents in each group said yes. Note the lack of confidence from parents—42 percent replied “not sure.”

I may be stretching the numbers in a direction they weren’t meant to go, but it seems to me that if we were further along in integrating technology into education, we might get a different reading on the question of whether or not we are preparing students to compete in the 21st century.

—Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editorial director

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.

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