Levering Technology to Empower Learning for All

By Vic Sutton

New evidence that technology can contribute to positive learning outcomes in the school classroom emerges from the latest ‘SpeakUp’ survey of Project Tomorrow.

Project Tomorrow is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that today’s students are well-prepared for the future.

SpeakUp is an annual research project that has been carried out since 2003, surveying students, teachers, librarians, principals, administrators and parents.

Julie A. Evans

Their latest report, ‘The Educational Equity Imperative: Leveraging Technology to Empower Learning for All,’ was presented by Dr. Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, at a Congressional Briefing held in Washington, DC, on 13 September 2018. It was based on surveys carried out between mid-October 2017 and the end of January 2018.

Its main finding is that “high school students with… access to a laptop or Chromebook are more likely to use those devices to personalize their learning process, to stay organized with their schoolwork and to leverage technology for more enhanced learning experiences than their peers with no access or only sporadic access.”

The importance of levering technology was:

  • to help students develop college-ready and workplace skills; and
  • to overcome the barriers that arise because technology resources are not always evenly distributed.

The report also notes that Internet access outside schools is critical, but there is still a digital divide. And only one-quarter of school districts allow students to take their devices home.

Click image to view the 9-page PDF.

It is interesting to see how students who do not have Internet access at home tackle the ‘homework gap’ that this creates. They go to school early, stay late, or use the facilities of libraries or even fast-food outlets.  

But the problem remains acute, especially in rural communities, where a survey of students in grades 6-12 finds:

  • one-third are using a personal smartphone or tablet to access the Internet;
  • one in five is using a school-provided device; and
  • 13% have no Internet access.

Among the top college-ready and workforce skills that the use of technology can help to develop
are critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to work with diverse groups of people; and collaboration and teamwork skills.

As panelist Jim Becker, from the Southern Columbia Area School District, summed it up: “Technology gives kids a window to their future.”

At the same time, the challenges are perhaps more complex than in the past. Panelist Margaret Barnes, from Fairfax County Public Schools, cited a tech coach who pointed out “We’re no longer in the information age, we’re in the conceptual age.”

And there is now a generation of ‘digital parents,’ younger parents who themselves use technology and who have new demands and higher aspirations for their children.

Other members of the four-person panel of experts were Jackie Zacharias of Frederick County Schools and Paul Caputo from the Southern Columbia Area School District.

Also present was a four-person panel of students. When asked about their own use of technology, Jeimmi Gomez-Castillo, 10th-grader, responded that technology had helped her to learn English.

Madison Strange, 5th-grader, responded that she and fellow-students used Powerpoint all the time to communicate with one another.

Meziah Griffin-Hill, 3rd-grader, explained that he used a tablet so that, when he grew up, he could become a builder.

And 7th-grader Paulina Errigo pointed out that good educational games were valuable because “kids like playing, but they don’t like learning.”

Julie Evans concluded the meeting by proposing a number of questions to consider, including:

  • Are technology resources distributed equitably across our schools?
  • Are we helping teachers understand the connection between the effective use of technology, and college and career ready skills?
  • Are we articulating a priority for equity in the use of educational technology?
  • Are we ensuring that the voice of our students is included in the discussion?
  • Does our district or school mission statement include a commitment to educational equity?

A detailed summary of the educational equity report and a link to be able to download a free copy of the full report can be found at:

https://tomorrow.org/speakup/speakup2017-educational-equity-imperative-september2018.html

The report on educational equity is the first of a series planned by Project Tomorrow. Further briefing papers are planned on personalized education and on career development.

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