Thursday, November 17, 2016

Time to Listen to Our Students: Empowering the Student Voice

On November 15, 2016, the ISTE Administrator’s Personal Learning Network (APLN) hosted a webinar on Empowering the Student Voice.  We asked elementary, middle and high school students, along with an undergraduate and graduate student, to reflect on how they use technology in school and what recommendations they have for their administrators.  Boy, were they candid!  You can access the webinar HERE  if you’d like to hear for yourself.

As I am the co-president of the APLN, I’ve been reflecting on what I heard from these amazing students. I would like to note a few of my reflections here on ye ole blog…

The students had a lot to say!  They speak about solving problems and learning from mistakes.  What struck me was their excitement over technology that allows them to compete as if in a game.  The sense of challenge in timed activities or earning badges reminded me that to our younger students, life is a fun game.  They run, throw, climb and create.  Why not tap this inclination in technology such as Kahoot! and Dreambox (both mentioned by name)?

I’ll fully own the middle schooler is my child.  And we talk about technology in education A LOT!  What especially struck me about William’s comments is the frustration with teachers telling students “you are the worst class of 6th graders we’ve ever had.”  His belief that students need experience with technology, but that adults should fully expect students to mess up (or not do the work at all) is right on point.  Students will use technology inappropriately.  They need to learn the social boundaries in a technology enhanced world without physical boundaries.  Digital Citizenship courses are more necessary now that ever!

High School
The academic stakes of school start to gain emphasis with Sophia’s remarks about high school use of technology.  One of the topics she hit upon is the variety of tools used creates confusion for students.  At Brebeuf, we have prided ourselves in allowing faculty to use the tool best suited for the academic content and course objective.  This sounds great for adults, but Sophia’s remarks have me reflecting on how this freedom could be overwhelming for students who already feel pressures of academic rigor and high stakes grades.  Is the primary goal to expose students to the myriad of choices waiting for them around the bend?  Or is the primary goal to create a foundational experience with technology?  Do we expect all students to enter high school ready for freedom or do we build confidence and skills with a slow release into responsibility over the four years?  I am not sure because…

Fallon is an university undergraduate.  Her comments focused on the necessity of comfort with technology to succeed in college.  She mentions watching her friends struggle with course content, online testing and even bill paying because they did not have experiences in their K-12 education to prepare them for the tech-rich environment of college.  In a seemingly opposite recommendation from Sophia’s, Fallon encourages administrators/teachers to offer as many experiences as possible in K-12 to prepared students for university level studies.

Laura Grace was the only student in a truly blended curriculum.  Her courses are mostly online, with some on campus in a traditional classroom setting.  For her, the blended format works allowing her freedom of scheduling, time spent in class and access.

My personal reflections in summary
  • Responsible use of technology does not just happen.  As educators, we must be aware of student cognitive development and create experiences with technology to not only support the curriculum, but that advance a digital citizenship curriculum. 
  • We have to stop throwing tools at students.  From 6th grade to graduate school, the panelist mentioned the need for intentional use of technology to support the classroom.  I heard two different themes on the idea of technology for technology sake… One, much like the old days, students know when a teacher is punting and pulling out the old film-strip in the name of “learning”.  Two, an over-abundance of tools can confuse students.  If anxiety is created because a student is unclear about how to complete an assignment, then the learning stops.   We are in the business of creating welcoming environments, not frustrating students.
  • Finally, we really have to start listening to students as we make decisions.  The basic tenant of business is to know the customer.  We must listen and know our students.  Jesuits would call this context – who are we serving?  What are their needs?  What are their dreams?  Resources, values and goals?  What works best for their learning?  Students, even as young as elementary school, can articulate answers to these questions.  We just have to empower their voices. 

Take a listen to the webinar – I think you’ll enjoy it (link is public and free to anyone).