Mind the Gap


The newest Speak Up survey shows a disconnect between student and educator views on learning that must be addressed.

Geoffrey H. Fletcher"OUR NATION'S STUDENTS are a 'Digital Advance Team,' illuminating the path for how to effectively leverage emerging technologies for teaching and learning," states Julie Evans in a report distributed at a recent congressional briefing, where Evans released the contents of the Speak Up 2008 survey. Evans is CEO of Project Tomorrow, the nonprofit organization that runs Speak Up, a yearly research project that provides feedback from administrators, teachers, parents, and students on issues in education.

Evans came to this conclusion after reviewing the more than 335,000 responses to the latest Speak Up survey. "The technologies [students] use in their personal lives slowly infiltrate their schoolwork," Evans notes, "and many of these technologies have ultimately found a home in their school day, even with their teacher."

Unfortunately, the infiltration is happening much too slowly. Students are using technology to communicate, collaborate, and create, but most of this activity occurs outside school. "Students consistently report they are inhibited from effectively using computers or the internet at school," Evans writes.

Despite this frustration, students are still managing to use technology to do their schoolwork, Evans writes: "About one-half of middle and high school students communicate with others for schoolwork using e-mail, IM, or text messages. Over 50 percent of [them] report that they collaborate with their classmates through a social networking site, a growth of 150 percent from Speak Up 2007 survey results." Yet, school districts spend thousands of dollars trying to prevent students from using social networking in schools.

That isn't the only disconnect between students and adults the survey reveals. Only one-third of high school students think their school is doing a good job preparing them for the jobs of the future, yet a much greater number-- 56 percent-- of school principals make the same claim. As Evans points out, "Our students' vision for learning is dramatically different than the environment that we are providing."

So according to their survey responses, what do the students think we should do? To start with: 1) Let them bring their own technologies to school and use them; 2) create participative learning spaces for gaming and simulations; and 3) incorporate Web 2.0 tools into daily instruction. It is amazing what we can learn from students, even while it is disheartening to see the gaps between student and educator viewpoints. If we take those gaps to heart, that's the first step to closing them.

-Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editorial Director

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.