June 11, 2010

Home vs School: The best 21st Century Learning Environment

I was thinking about a comment I heard on Rocketboom from an Intel employee discussing the release of their classmatePC designed for the classroom. His comment was something to the effect that since students have broadband and computers at home, they are set back 20 years when they enter the classroom. (I am paraphrasing). This is an interesting idea on a couple of levels.

At School

From Flickr
The school technology experience often looks like working on a document, creating a presentation, researching a planet, or maybe even blogging if you are lucky.  Most technology at school is limited to controlled weekly or maybe even daily time slots working in locked computing environments on very structured lessons.  All for seemingly good reasons - equal access, meeting learning standards, protection from harmful content. These types of situations are a good start, but they just don't support the kind of deeper learning that happens in a more open online environment.

Compare this to Home.

I think it is certainly true that the majority of our youth now has internet access at home. Many have multiple devices that are connected to broadband access, including the traditional desktop that is typically in the home office area, at least one parent as a laptop from work (if not both), they may have a netbook that maybe a grandparent got them for Christmas, an ipod touch for their birthday, many have iphones, and then many have game consoles like the xBox360, Wii, or Playstation that are connected. (not to mention the PSP and iPad).  Soon, we will be able to add AppleTV and GoogleTV connecting our TVs throughout the house.  So, while a few homes have all these things, most have at least one.

We are beginning to see that students have more open access to the web at home then they do in the school. With this in place, the home learning environment looks a little different then what kids see at school. This open learning platform is more like having a constant feedback loop with repeated opportunities for reading, listening, and watching content and on-going collaboration.

Of course, this more open approach can be in conflict with the more controlled school environment, particularly when access to technology is limited and lessons are focused on specific outcomes and I think some of that tension represents an important value that educators bring to the process.

When our youth are given more freedom to work through a reinforcement loop that happens when you surf the web, they are able to accelerate their own, self-driven learning.

Now I don't want to create a stereotype that somehow our youth are in this constant mode of multi-tasking and can somehow manage all these things simultaneously for hours on end, because that is not really what I am seeing.  What it looks like to me, is that my 11 year old is switching among these various activities, waiting for feedback from a particular activity and filling the down time with content consumption or some other engaging activity.

So, it might be that he is maintaining an on-going chat session with a couple of friends online, while he switches back and forth with the realtime stats feed of an NBA game that is on the TV. When the announcer mentions something that is happening in the sports world, he jumps over and reads an online article about that event. Then after the chat has ended or at least paused he will launch an online game and play for ten minutes or launch a YouTube video to checkout.  If it is funny or compelling in some way he will send the link to a friend.

Each of these activities are in their own way a feedback loop and must be compelling for the young learner to stay engaged or they will simply move on and try something different. If the activity is compelling enough they will engage at a deeper level, reading it completely, making a comment, sharing it with a friend.

The determination of what is compelling is made on the fly based on a variety of factors including the topic, who is involved, and the emotional component of the content. (think baby laughing on YouTube). My son is a frequent online visitor of a guy who makes up parody songs about the NFL and it is really an emotional connection with that content and he always wants to share the with me.  

Provided with enough "free time" learners will begin to build reading and collaboration skills and hopefully at some point start to take the role of creator. If you want to really help today's youth, encourage them to be creators on the web. Post a video, write a song and post it, blog, and even engage in Facebook and Twitter (Note: I won't let me 11 yr old on Facebook and his Twitter stream is private to friends).  These are great skills they will use for the rest of their life.

Some Early Programs

So there may be some interesting things with the way kids use technology at school vs the way the use them at home. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in two programs that are changing this reality for school kids.

The Globaloria program that has been implemented throughout West Virginia (I was the Program Manager for a year) and promotes this more open exploration of learning and extend computer use.

The second program, is a program that I am involved in is a 1 to 1 computer to student program at a local elementary school that will be entering it's second year this fall. Students each have a netbook computer to use for the entire school day, everyday and get to take the technology home for homework assignments and hopefully to explore additional content.

What do you Think?

I think that next question is, if the above is actually happening at some level, what impact will that have on our youth?  Who will thrive in this new environment? Is a single computer with internet access equal to many devices, or does having a mobile device at an early age give you an advantage?  Maybe you completely disagree with this assessment of what is happening?


  1. Your insight into the disconnect between what students experience with techonogy outside the classroom and what they can do in the classroom presents the reality of technology use in schools today. There is no equality in what each school can offer when it comes to equipment or teacher savvy. I do, however, believe that even with limited resources, a school’s responsibility is to teach students how to harness the infinite amount information from the Net and use it with skill. Texting and socializing with all these devices provides opportunities to learn, but not the means to learn without guidance.
    Judi Buenaflor
    June 13, 2010

  2. Thanks for the comment Judi. I think that there is a lot to look at in terms of what supports learning and what does not.

  3. Hi
    As a teacher in a adult program , I am excited about the use of technology in the class room and at home. It is a way in which to keep the students in the loop of educatiion. I find it to be the new language for the Y generation and a new style of learning for them. Because of this ,we, as teacher, should try to incorperte this style of teaching into our teaching mentods.

  4. As we all know, its the time of E-learning. We have choice to find out a tutor of our kind in all fields doesn't matter you are a k-12 student or doing your masters or student of engineering or looking for thesis help etc.

    Everything is available on the internet.

  5. That is true Arun.

  6. When children come home, it's important yet necessary to provide an environment where they can work on something more personal.

  7. Anonymous6:58 PM

    You have provided some interesting food for thought. I love the idea of all students having laptops, but at the same time I have some concerns.

    I recently visited a school that has a 1 to 1 laptop program. In one class I sat in, every student had theirs out. The teacher had a good lesson, with several different tasks. The students discussed the topic by writing their ideas on the board. They asked questions on the class blog. They took notes in class as the teacher lectured on their laptop. The teacher showed them a video. During this time, the teacher was walking the room, monitoring the students.

    But students are QUICK. Several kids had the blog and their notes open, but they also were using Facebook, their email, chat programs, etc. Anytime the teacher came near them, SWITCH!

    Were they taking notes? Yes. Were they fully engaged? I think that's debatable. Will they fully remember or comprehend the material of that day? It's questionable, in my opinion (though we'd need an assessment, of course, to find out).

    I'd be really interested in hearing how other schools that have a 1 to 1 program deal with these issues.

  8. The schools that I have worked in have found ways to block access to facebook and twitter, which is helpful since computers are used frequently by students. What I have noticed with today's students is that they do not like to write anything down. Their excuse is that it takes too long. If they are offered the option to type their notes on a computer, they are eager to do so. What I have to watch for is that many times, students want to go to websites such as Pandora and listen to music.

    I like being able to use technology in the classroom. Students are comfortable and familiar with technology. Additionally, they are less resistant to learning new information when it is done with computers. I hope technology for schools continues to evolve and get better.

  9. N Shehadeh said:

    I think the invasion of ICT will be instrumental in reforming education in different ways. To begin with, ICT will expose the educators to resourceful information that will alter the content of curriculums. Teachers are likely to improve their performance and overall output because they would use ICT to reach out to students with versatile abilities. Using ICT, teachers would be able to communicate better with students through e-mail as well as enhance creative and critical thinking skills that are essential for effective learning. In this regard, students would be allowed to use their creativity to search and use vital information rather than depend solely on lectures for this.

  10. N Shehadeh said:
    I think the invasion of ICT will be instrumental in reforming education in different ways. To begin with, ICT will expose the educators to resourceful information that will alter the content of curriculums. Teachers are likely to improve their performance and overall output because they would use ICT to reach out to students with versatile abilities. Using ICT, teachers would be able to communicate better with students through e-mail as well as enhance creative and critical thinking skills that are essential for effective learning. In this regard, students would be allowed to use their creativity to search and use vital information rather than depend solely on lectures for this.

  11. Using computer is anyway the future of education(Maybe not a full computer but an tablet (tablet are great for education purpose). The question is more about how to educate the student about this technology, because they know how to use but do they know how to carefully use it, do they have some rules on the internet ? Everything in life has some rules that are taught during childhood. Don't cross the road without looking, say please and thank you, don't talk to people you don't know when you are young. All those rules regulate a children life and then teenage life and they are the basic value of your whole life. Internet lack of rules,(children better know how to use parental control than their parents) Internet should be taught to children as much as Internet itself is teaching to children.

    Internet is full or resources but at every step of life we should teach each other what are the way to use the INTERNET so get the best of it.

  12. Learning and technolgoy are undeniably linked together. The pace of technology has demanded that students and teachers learn how to integrate and manage the two sources. As an educator, I understand that young learners are not kept engaged or enticed by the traditional pencil-paper method alone. Technology must have a place and it must have a role in the teaching and the learning. Young children are very knowledgable about all the technology available to them and they want to be able to use it in their learning environment; whether it is at school or at home. Additionally, on-line learning is or has become very commonplace and it not new anymore as a means of getting an education or gaining knowledge.

  13. I feel that the use of computers in school has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that students can explore the entire world via the internet and obtain data on almost any subject.
    However, the aforementioned advantages can also represent disadvantages because the students may not be able to focus on any one topic in detail. Another advantage is that students can connect with each other in school or at home and can perform several tasks almost simultaneously. However, the students may not always use the resources available for learning purposes.

  14. This is the age of computers,the question of advantages and disadvantages while using computers among the schools is genuine.but beyond these students can explore more and more which is more effective .
    Courses in UK

  15. You have observed something interesting which we all have been doing lately . When I was in college, I used to skip classes because my teacher used to make all the presentations available online. I was studying in Canada, but now I am noticing the change everywhere.

  16. Your observation is to most a reality. It's happening, and I believe that it is not impractical for students to be issues a smart mobile device (think pad/Ipad) at a certain stage in their education, such as, 3rd grade. For developers, the market is open for the apps that will drive this technological change which will become a vital part of our culture. Any thoughts?

  17. Thank you for this post. There is no denying that technology is the future of education. More and more schools are moving towards online classes and technology in the classroom. In fact, an Alabama school district just recently held two online school days to make up for snow days in January. Like anything else that is new, education with technology takes practice and fine tuning. Technology will help educators provide a better education for their students than any textbook ever could.

  18. I do believe that technology in schools in increasing and becoming better. Teachers are incorporating technology into their lesson plans more often. And technology is being required to complete assignments. With inventions such as document tracking, smartboard and webquests, more students will be able to use technology throughout their daily lives but for educational purposes.

  19. The comment that students are receiving the best technology at school can be right or wrong. It is right because the schools are able to purchase multiple programs and devices that are state of the art different from home devices, but at home students have more access on the web and are not limited by content restrictions like they are at school. My students constantly walk into the classroom and tell me I have to check out something they found on YouTube or particular website.

  20. As an educator, I ponder about why so many websites are blocked by the schools and is it necessary. The reason cited by the schools is security. Many students are able to maneuver around this and use the hotspots on their phones to connect to places like YouTube to view videos that can enhance their academic performance and learning.

  21. Online access must be limited especially for the students.
    Everything has its own limitation.

    - Felicia Gopaul

  22. I couldn't agree more. Most of my students are bored by the limited capabilities of the technology readily available in the classroom because of the vast amount that they are exposed to at home. Technology is our future, well actually, our present, and is becoming more and more necessary for everyday living. I believe that our schools need to continue to invest in higher levels of technology which will continue to improve the quality of education for our students. Although, I have to say, this will also come with an increase in teacher training to ensure that the equipment is being used to the best of its ability.

  23. @theexcitedneuron

    We have 1-to-1 at my school with Dell Netbooks. We were actually the test group for our corporation last year. Exactly what you said is the issue that I have been concerned with. Students are engaged, but are they completely immersed in the learning? Yes they have their notes up on the screen, but Facebook, Myspace, video game emulators, and other distractions are there too. What has been fun to watch, if a little frustrating, is the way students find ways around the rules and even the technology put in place to control what they do on their Netbooks. Every time Facebook is blocked by our tech coordinators, students find ways to access it through some other means, typically proxy servers. Our students are very bright. I wonder what teachers can do to harness that creativity.

  24. I know my case is not an isolated situation. I teach at poverty stricken school district. We do have a good deal of technology, however, no iPads for each student and no laptop for each student. The bulk of the material we obtained was as recent as one and 1/2 years ago from a STEM grant. We were one of only two schools in the state to receive these gadgets.

    It sounds to me as if this particular individual that has written this blog has or had students of a middle class or upper class background. Because I can honestly say, in our school system, probably only 40 to 50% of all of our students have the internet, a computer or iPad to work with. That stuff isn't obtainable for many of our kids and their families because of their low incomes.

    So, for a good deal of our students, the bulk of their technology experience does come from school or perhaps, from a bud who has all of this gadgetry and allows the other to use it

    I just simply wanted to throw out a different spin on this article. Not many of the children that I work with have these materials at home.

  25. In the 21st Century educational system having access to the internet and at home is important. There are many programs that can be used to assist with keeping our students on track, such as,class jump which I use for a Computer Apps class and mathematical programs that are useful to assist with teaching math and relating it to technology. I just completed a probability class and one of our assignments was to find the probability of a random selection of students that have access to computers. My statistical data showed that more students had computers at home than none. Do any believe this is an accurate probability?

  26. Mathematician. - I think that your data is your data. If you trust it's source, then it could be accurate??

  27. Technology is fascinating. Having the financial status to be given the opportunity to learn at this level is another topic. I teach low-income adult learners. These learners lack basic reading, writing, math, and computer skills. I was shocked coming into this environment to learn that over 90% of them do not have a computer or ipad in their home. It was an eye-opener for me.