From the Editor

Insights from Project Tomorrow

The folks at Project Tomorrow were on Capitol Hill this week, presenting key findings from the Speak Up 2008 National Research Project. Julie Evans, president and CEO of Project Tomorrow, made the argument that today’s students are a “Digital Advance Team” illuminating the path for how to leverage emerging technologies effectively for teaching and learning. Speak Up 2008 findings reinforce the image of students “powering down” when they go to school, returning to the digital world they habitually inhabit only after school ends for the day.

You can find a summary of the 2008 findings on the Project Tomorrow web site at http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/speakup_congress.html. Much of what you read will sound familiar. This story has been unfolding for several years now and each year the numbers get stronger and the trend is more obvious. Today’s students use technology routinely to communicate, organize their lives, collaborate and create content for their own personal interests and for learning. They would like to use technology in the same way in school but feel constrained by school filters and firewalls, by teachers who limit their technology use and by rules that limit their use of technology at school. When asked about how their schools could make it easier for them to work electronically, the No. 1 response from the students was “let me use my own devices and tools in the school day.”

Sounds like a simple enough request, but the challenges are significant, both technically and instructionally. But it seems clear that teachers and administrators are seeing the value of mobile technology. They speak most frequently of the power of technology to engage students in learning, to personalize instruction for each student and to extend the school day. Increasingly, educators believe that using mobile devices helps prepare students for the world of work and that incorporating mobile devices into learning helps students develop critical thinking, problem solving, communications, collaboration and teamwork skills.

For me, one of the most interesting findings involves students’ perceptions of the ideal digital textbook. Students would like digital texts to mirror the way they approach learning and to give them greater control over the learning process. Specifically, 50% or more of a sample of 6th through 12th grade students would like the:

  • Ability to personalize their book with electronic highlights and notes (63%)
  • Ability to take quizzes and tests on their own to assess their own content proficiency (62%)
  • Ability to explore concepts through games (57%) or animations and simulations (55%)
  • Links to PowerPoints of class lectures that supported the textbook content (55%)
  • Ability to tap into the expertise of an online tutor whenever necessary (53%)
  • Access links to such real-time data as NASA and Google Earth (52%)
  • Ability to watch video clips about topics they are studying (51%) and create podcasts or videos to support their own learning (48%)

The features and functionalities students would like to have tie back to themes that Project Tomorrow reports seeing played out in all aspects of students’ lives, both in and out of school -- communications, collaboration, creation and contribution. Certainly the digital textbooks students want would be highly interactive and personalized, facilitating their ability to organize the learning experience, find related and expanded resources and employ alternate learning styles.