Students are not waiting around for educators to provide a new type of environment for their learning. They are creating opportunities for themselves.
Middle school students, in particular, view learning in new ways, often very different even from today’s high school students, who tend to use technology for more “traditional” tasks such as checking grades, taking notes, accessing online texts, writing papers and doing homework.
Not so the middle school students in Project Tomorrow’s “Speak Up” survey, who use technology for a wide range of learning tasks. These students use technology to:
- Collaborate with classmates on problem solving
- Tap into Facebook for schoolwork help
- Text their teachers with questions
- Solve real world problems
- Find podcasts/videos to learn about something
- Access online textbooks
- Use mobile apps to self-organize
- Access online tutors
- Use online writing tools
- Take online tests or assessments on their own
Teachers and administrators will need to work together to re-create learning environments for these “Free Agent” learners. Many have smart phones and want to use them. Their parents are supportive, using smart phones themselves and often using technology in their own jobs.
Understandably, administrators are hesitant to embrace the use of smartphones and other mobile technology at school due to concerns about internet safety and district liability, digital equity, network security, and teacher training. Likewise, teachers hesitate with worries about distraction, digital equity, cheating, and knowing how to integrate new devices. At the same time both recognize that there are potential benefits to integrating new technologies:
- Increasing student engagement
- Personalizing instruction
- Reviewing classroom material and extending the day
- Providing access to online resources
Can we as educational leaders shift our thinking? As Charles Darwin (English Naturalist 1809-1882) said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
The Free Agent Learner already incorporates technology into learning beyond the school walls; it is up to us as educational leaders to take advantage of these new new tools and approaches within our schools and classrooms. Let’s get on with it!