Research | FETC 2014 Coverage

Students and Digital Learning: The Results Are In, and They're Not Exactly What You Think

We live in a data-driven world. Data informs decisions about everything, from which laptop we use to how best to invest for the future. So how, then, do we leverage data to better understand the needs of our students when it comes to learning in our ever-evolving digital environment?

Project Tomorrow CEO Julie Evans has some very specific ideas around what the data reveal about students and how they engage their digital world.

Speaking at the FETC 2014 conference in Orlando Thursday, Evans told her audience, “I have not presented any of our brand new fall 2013 data before I walked in this room. You are the very first folks to have the opportunity to look at the latest and greatest Speak Up data.”

The 2013 results represent more than 400,000 surveys from 9,000 schools and 2,700 districts across the country. Respondents included 325,279 students, 32,151 teachers and librarians, 39,986 parents, 4,530 district administrators and, new to this year’s survey, 1,346 community members.

Popular Mythologies
Evans opened her talk by sharing some of the most common mythologies she and her team encounter when talking to both administrators and policy makers about the use of technology in the classroom. According to Evans, the top 3 include statements familiar to most educators:

  1. “New teachers are digital natives. They don’t need training; they just get this stuff.”
  2. “Mobile learning is a myth because all kids really want to do is text and play games on these devices.”
  3. “If we could just put technology (tablets, laptops, mobile devices, etc.) in the classroom, then, like magic, students will learn more.”

What’s interesting, said Evans, is that many of our schools and districts participate in the survey just to counteract these mythologies in their own communities.

What 11 Years of Surveys Say
With more than 3.4 million surveys collected since 2003, the Project Tomorrow team has been able to identify ongoing trends when it comes to student learning in the digital environment. According to Evans:

  • Students function as a digital advanced team, figuring out new ways to leverage emerging technologies, even before teachers and administrators understand the true implications or potential;
  • Students adapt and adopt technology for their individual learning needs in ways are both innovative and novel;
  • While students acknowledge having access to tools and technologies in school, they continue to be frustrated with teachers’ unsophisticated use of technology tools to meet their very specific needs;
  • When students talk about personalized learning, they are generally referring to activities that are socially based, untethered from geography and physical resources, and include digitally rich content that engages and creates context for learning;
  • There is a persistent digital disconnect between students and adults.

  See also: "10 Major Technology Trends in Education" for more on the Speak Up Survey findings.

About the Author

Chris Riedel is a freelance writer based in Illinois. He can be reached here.

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