Are Schools Inhibiting 21st Century Learning?


Extra Credit
Teacher Survey Highlights

What did teachers have to say about education technology in the 2007 Speak Up survey?

  • 33% identified themselves as technology experts, with 56 percent claiming to be average technology users.
  • Technologies most used by teachers: e-mail and IM (93%), PowerPoint (59%), listening to podcasts or watching online video (35%).
  • Most common use of education technology: homework and practice (51%).
  • Three most important skills for students to learn: communication (80%), effective use of technology (73%), complex problem solving (63%).

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--D. Nagel

The idea of technology in education is to enhance learning, not limit it. Yet a large portion of students say teachers and school IT departments are doing just that: throwing up barriers to learning with the very technology that's supposed to facilitate it. And teachers, administrators, and parents seem to be largely unaware of this, according to the results of the 2007 Speak Up survey released Tuesday by Project Tomorrow.

The fifth-annual Speak Up survey polled more than 367,000 "education stakeholders"--parents, students, administrators, and teachers--and found that while 66 percent of administrators, 43 percent of parents, and 47 percent of teachers said they believed "local schools are doing a good job preparing students for jobs and careers of the future," students disagreed. Among middle and high school students, 40 percent indicated that teachers are limiting their use of technology in schools, and 45 percent said that school "security" practices, such as Web filtering, were limiting their ability to take advantage of technology for learning.

"Students continue to be on the leading edge in terms of adopting, modifying and re-using digital content and technology tools to enrich both their personal and educational lives. The students in many ways are far ahead of their teachers and parents not only in the sophistication of their technology use, but in the adoption of emerging technologies for learning purposes," said Project Tomorrow CEO Julie Evans, in a statements released to coincide with the survey release. "It is in our nation's best interest that we support and facilitate student usage of technology for learning."

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Administrator Perspectives

The point of view of "school leaders" (administrators, technology directors, board members, etc.) was quite different from those of other groups in some ways.

Their top-3 concerns include standardized testing (51%), funding (47%), and school safety (40%).

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--D. Nagel

A similar call to action was made last August in a separate research project released by the National School Boards Association, which concluded that while safety and security issues involved with certain Web-based education technologies require "thoughtful policies" from schools boards, at the same time, "parents and communities also expect schools to take advantage of potentially powerful educational tools, including new technology. Clearly, both district leaders and parents are open to believing that social networking could be such a tool--as long as there are reasonable parameters of use in place. Moreover, social networking is increasingly used as a communications and collaboration tool of choice in businesses and higher education. As such, it would be wise for schools, whose responsibility it is to prepare students to transition to adult life with the skills they need to succeed in both arenas, to reckon with it."

Some Agreement on Benefits of Electronic Learning
But students and teachers did come closer to agreeing on the overall value of electronic learning technologies, including, somewhat surprisingly, in educational gaming.

According to the survey, the majority of middle and high school students (51 percent of students in grades 6 through 12) indicated that "games make it easier to understand difficult concepts. Forty-six percent said they'd learn more about a subject if information were presented in a game format; 44 percent said gaming "would make it more interesting to practice problems"; and about a third said that "the use of games in schools will help them learn how to work in teams and see the direct results of their problem solving activities."

Teachers were apparently even more enthusiastic about gaming, as 65 percent indicated that they thought educational gaming would be an effective tool for students with different learning styles and would help engage students in coursework. More than half said they'd like to learn more about educational gaming, and some 46 percent said they would "like to receive specific professional development on how to effectively integrate gaming technologies into curriculum," according to the survey.

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The 'Perfect' Portal

When the 2007 Speak Up survey asked parents what features an ideal school portal/Web site would have, they indicated the following:

  • Access to homework assignments (70%)
  • Online IM with teachers/principals (65%)
  • Access to student data, including attendance, grades, etc. (65%)
  • School calendar (56%)
  • Emergency information (36%)

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--D. Nagel

But, at present, only 11 percent of the teachers surveyed said they were presently using an educational game in their classrooms.

Students, teachers, and administrators also expressed interest in online learning. Forty-three percent of high school students said they were interested in it for earning college credit, and 39 percent of middle school students said they were interested in it as a way to get "extra help in a subject."

In addition, according tot he survey, "More than 33 percent of high school students, 24 percent of middle school students, and 19 percent of [students in grades 3 through 5] with no previous online class experience stated said they would like to take an online class, with girls having a slightly stronger interest than boys." As of the time of the survey, only 8 percent of students had had direct experience with online learning.

About a third of teachers said they've :explored" methods for integrating online learning into their instruction. And, furthermore, a third also said they were interested in online learning for teacher professional development, and more than a quarter (26 percent) said that online learning is actually their preferred method for receiving training.

As for school and district administrators, 45 percent said they viewed online learning "as a way to boost student engagement."

Mobile Technologies on the Move
The survey also polled students, parents, administrators, and teachers on their attitudes toward and usage of mobile technologies, including laptops, cell phones, digital media players, and other devices. Among teachers, parents, and school administrators, 52 percent said they think mobile technologies can help engage students in learning. They also agreed that mobile devices can help extend learning beyond the school day (43 percent) and help prepare students for work (42 percent).

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'Dream' Technologies

Here are the top-3 technologies teachers and administrators chose to equip the "ultimate school for 21st century learners."


  1. 1:1 laptop program (58%)
  2. Access to online research database (47%)
  3. Interactive whiteboards in every classroom (45%)


  1. 1:1 laptop program (56%)
  2. Access to online research database (49%)
  3. Interactive whiteboards in every classroom (45%)

The lowest for administrators were "unlimited student access to the Internet" (12%) and "games/virtual simulations" (15%).

The lowest for teachers were Web 2.0 technologies, including blogs and wikis (10%) and unlimited student access to the Internet (11%).

More Information

--D. Nagel

Among students, more than half said they would "use technology more easily at school if they could use their own laptop, cell phone or mobile device to work on projects, access related software applications and the Internet, and communicate with classmates," according to the survey. About a third do have access to a laptop. Most high school students (67 percent) and middle school students (52 percent) have cell phones. And 75 percent of middle and high school students have a digital media player.

Mobile technologies also ranked high among teachers and administrators when asked what equipment they would choose when outfitting a hypothetical "ultimate 21st century school."

For both teachers (58 percent) and administrators (56 percent), 1:1 laptop programs ranked as their No. 1 choice of technology.

For teachers, other mobile devices, including PDAs, MP3 players, and graphing calculators, ranked at No. 7 on their list (tied with games and virtual simulations) at 26 percent.

These devices also ranked No. 7 among school leaders (administrators, technology directors, school board members, etc.), with 34 percent agreement.

About the Survey
The Speak Up survey is conducted annually to assess views on current issues in education, and results are shared with state and federal policy leaders. According to Project Tomorrow, since 2003, some 1.2 million K-12 students, teachers, parents, and, for the first time this year, administrators have participated in the survey. The group had expected about 325,000 individuals to participate in Speak Up 2007, a goal that was exceeded by some 42,000 participants, which included 319,223 students, 25,544 teachers, 19,726 parents, and 3,263 administrators.

The results of this year's survey were unveiled in a Congressional briefing Tuesday morning sponsored by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, an advocate of technology in education.

Further information about the 2007 study can be found here. A PDF of the findings can be downloaded here.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at [email protected].

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at [email protected].

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .