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NetDay Student Voices Contribute to the National Education Technology Plan

Seattle, WA—Three students from public schools in rural, urban, and suburban neighborhoods offered their recommendations and advice about using the Internet for learning to a gathering of education, business, and policy leaders at the National Education Computing Conference. NetDay CEO Julie Evans organized the panel to ensure that student’s perspectives informed the National Technology Plan being developed by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Students are the natives, and we are the tourists,” said John Bailey, director of educational technology at the Department. As he described the process for gathering public input for the new plan, he emphasized the importance of including student voices. He said: “Student’s attitudes are different and there is a disconnect between perceptions of educational technology practice between students and school leaders.”

Native Culture
This cross-section of students described how they use technology. Byron Escobar will be a sophomore at the School of Social Justice in Oakland, California. He uses the Internet to look for sources about history that are different from books in class and helps his uncle create and sell music. Annexis Shelly, a senior from West Bolivar High School in Rosedale, Mississippi, has 9 email addresses and considers herself an average technology user among her peers. She provides hands-on technical support at her school and wants to become a computer engineer. Chris Heckman, a high school senior in Mission Viejo, California, who uses a PDA for both personal and school organization, described how he uses the Internet for everything from research on quantum physics to planning a date.

Like most young people today, all three students have multiple screen names they use for instant messaging (IM). Annexis uses IM to stay in touch with a friend in Germany and Chris has the computer on with IM active whenever he is at home. Following the panel and sight-seeing in Seattle, they all went back to their rooms to log-on and connect with friends.

Despite school efforts to block the use of IM on campus, many students have found their way around it. When asked if they had ever sent an IM from school, their responses sidestepped a simple yes or no:
Byron: “It’s usually blocked.”
Annexis: “Not to my recollection.”
Chris: “A filter only stops the unmotivated people.”

Roadblocks to School Use
Their frustrations with using technology at school reflects different challenges schools to integrating technology. The School of Social Justice in Oakland has computers, but limited Internet connections and Byron finds the connections slow. “It takes so long,” he said. Annexis believes that students could advance their own learning with more access.

At Chris’ high school, students have access to technology in the library and during scheduled classes in a lab. He is frustrated when teachers cannot troubleshoot problems or accept help from students.

“If a student offers to help, the teacher is taken aback,” he said. “They are fearful and suspicious about what I want to do to help them.”

Visions of the Future
When asked what technology they thought was essential for a high school, Byron suggested that every student have a classroom computer or laptop. Annexis emphasized the importance of a home computer connected to the school network and academic resources. Chris agreed with the laptop for every students and added that schools need a centralized database. The data center could replace textbooks, include assignments and the library catalogue, and enable students to turn in work to teachers without printing.

In closing, the students offered their recommendations and advice to the creators of the National Technology Plan. Chris said that technology should be integrated into the curriculum both vertically and horizontally across all subjects. Byron wanted to make sure that everyone learns to use technology both for high school and learning in college.

“I don’t have a recommendation, I have advice,” said Annexis. “Don’t limit yourself. When you limit yourself, you limit your students and we want to learn.”