Tech Leadership

Planning for Technology-Enthused Classrooms

by Jim Hirsch
After 25 years of evolution of technology resources in schools, your leadership team, board of education and local community have finally gotten the message that these tools are here to stay and belong in every classroom for student access. A budget has been appropriated, equipment purchased, professional development completed and new curriculum strategies are in place and you’re able to proudly claim your classrooms are "technology infused."

As you visit classrooms and review student projects, it’s evident that the technology resources are being used, but there’s little apparent evidence that the content of the projects is improved or students are truly engaged more deeply into evaluating and synthesizing available information. What’s missing from this picture? Classrooms that are technology enthused!

As more school districts across the country are finding out, having equipment and software available in classrooms is not enough any longer for our digital-age students. To truly harness their enthusiasm for learning, students must have access at school to those technology resources and methods that they use in their personal lives while away from school. How do we even begin to accomplish such a task?

It’s simple: Ask the students themselves.

Student Beliefs

As educators, we promote the concept of individual responsibility for students when it comes to their own learning, but we often resist getting student input on what they prefer for learning environments. Particularly in the area of technology resources, students are well-educated consumers whose knowledge can be of great value as school districts plan for future implementation.

The National Education Technology Plan (www.nationaledtechplan.org) is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education. The importance of student input is stated clearly in the plan’s background statement, "The department believes that an important part of the plan will be to consider students themselves. Today’s students are entering schools with assumptions and expectations about their education as a result of having grown up using technology in other areas of their lives. These attitudes and beliefs have tremendous implications for schools and the way instruction is provided."

The most successful endeavor to inform the DOE of student thinking was created by NetDay and its National Student Speak Up Day last fall. According to Julie Evans, the CEO of NetDay, more than 210,000 surveys were completed by students representing 3,000 schools. The respondents were evenly divided by gender with 27 percent attending urban schools, 32 percent rural schools and 41 percent suburban schools.

Information on the survey and the results, including a recently completed companion survey of teachers, can be found at www.netday.org/speakupday.htm.

Active Solicitation

Gathering and applying student input on technology resources on a local district level are much more manageable. Consider these planning strategies to ensure your classrooms will be technology enthused:

  • Create student technology advisory committees at each school.
    Have your district technology leaders meet during lunch periods or immediately before and after school with designated students at their school. This allows students to discuss their technology preferences within their own environment and enables the central support staff to be more visible at the school level. Teachers also should also be included as observers at these sessions. Depending on district size, this may occur just once a year or once every two years at each school, but the insight gained will be well worth the effort.

  • Create focus group opportunities for student input.
    Scheduling afternoon or early evening activities where larger groups of students can attend and be part of facilitated discussions is a logical follow-up to the smaller advisory group discussions and provide for greater participation. A large-group demonstration or initial discussion of topics can start some lively small focus group continuations. Remember to have recorders in each of the focus groups to provide documentation of the discussion.

  • Create online surveys for gathering student input.
    Free or low-cost survey building tools such as Zoomerang (www.zoomerang.com) enable you to offer many opportunities for students to respond to questions regarding technology resources. Students can be allowed to access the surveys during school time as appropriate.

  • Create online opportunities for sharing student input.
    The additional feedback gained from widespread sharing of student thoughts and suggestions is valuable to the overall technology planning process. This can be as simple as a blog devoted exclusively to the input process reporting to a more involved, moderated interactive bulletin board.

  • Create "proof of concept" opportunities for students to participate.
    Either as part of the focus group process or on a school-by-school basis, ask students for feedback on the use of technologies under consideration by placing those technologies in classrooms or in the hands of students to use both in and out of school. Pay attention to their feedback to ensure the best investment in technology and the best promise of exemplary use.

Keyboarding Revisited

These strategies will go a long way to providing insight into how students function best with technology resources.

Does this mean we need to teach "thumb keyboarding" in schools for text messaging? Before you say no, make sure you’ve listened to your students!

Jim Hirsch is associate superintendent of technology in the Plano Independent School District, 2700 W. 15th St., Plano, TX 75075. E-mail: jhirsch@pisd.edu