While 84 percent of California middle school students say that doing well in school is important to them, their interest in school vs. learning mirrors what George Couros has often talked about as a fundamental divide. For example, 57 percent of California middle school students like learning about new ideas, 62 percent like learning how to make or build things and 70 percent say that they like learning how to do things. However, only 49 percent are interested in what they are learning at school, and only a slight majority (52 percent) says that the subjects they are learning in school are important for their future.
But, is this disconnect in name only? Do the students’ belief statements really align with their actions or is this just the latest example of a generational angst?
Consider this: while one-third of students in middle schools and high schools in California admit that they are bored at school, 75 percent are regularly sourcing and watching online videos outside of school, on their own, to learn about things that interest them. Four in ten middle school students are using social media to learn about people’s ideas and to identify people who share their learning interests, not just posting selfies and random comments about celebrities. And, this may come as a surprise to some English teachers, 45 percent of California students are tapping into online writing sites to self-improve their writing skills.
This self-directed learning is purposeful and most importantly it is driven by the students themselves around what they perceive as learning needs or interests. This self-learning imperative actually represents a very organic form of self-blended, personalized learning empowered by a ubiquitous access to technology and an overwhelming hunger for information, knowledge and learning experiences that are more challenging and meaningful than what is happening in the classrooms at their school.
View our infographic: California Speaks Up! Results from Speak Up 2016 at CUE 2017
The same is true today for career exploration – students are more likely to want to find and watch a video about an aspect of a career that interests them or take an online personalized quiz to learn about their strengths than attend a standardized one size fits all after school program or summer camp for career exploration.
This disconnect is also manifesting itself in how students are doing homework. Sensing that in many communities, teachers were still reluctant to assign digitally based or internet based homework for a number of reasons including equity of access, the Speak Up surveys this fall probed on the frequency of the use of digital tools and the Internet outside of school.
First, we asked teachers how often they assigned homework or projects that relied upon digital tools or the Internet. Then, we asked school site administrators that same question about their teachers. Finally, we asked students how often they used the Internet or digital resources to support their homework or school related assignments. Here are the results for California:
- Just 8 percent of teachers say that they assign digital homework daily or almost daily (for CUE members that jumps to 20 percent). 18 percent of teachers say that they assign digital homework at least weekly (34 percent for CUE members).
- About 16 percent of school site administrators say their teachers are assigning digital or Internet dependent homework on a daily basis (almost 30% of administrators who are CUE members believe this to be the case for their teachers). One-third of school site administrators say their teachers are assigning digital or Internet dependent homework at least weekly (and half of administrators who are CUE members).
So, already we see a disconnect between teachers and administrators – and even CUE members – on perception vs. actual practice.
But here is the real rub: 40 percent of California middle school students say they are using the Internet daily to complete homework (and 67 percent say they are using the Internet several times a week). We see similar findings of high school students: 42 percent say they use the Internet for homework daily, and even for students in grades 3-5, 22 percent say they use the Internet daily for schoolwork).
This makes the disconnect between teachers and administrators look like a narrow statistical gap while the difference between teachers and students is an imposing chasm.
Students are using the Internet to support school-based learning at almost 4 times the rate in which teachers say they are assigning those types of activities. Why is this? Because quite simply, as the students explain to us every year, the use of digital tools:
- puts the students in control of their learning,
- makes the learning process more efficient, and
- personalizes the experience in a way that fits their needs, in a way that we are not yet replicating in the classroom.
This use of technology in learning has evolved way beyond engagement – for the students it has always been about their vision for a new type of learning experience that is socially-based, un-tethered and real world relevant.
Do our teachers and administrators know about this reality, and if so, how are they adapting to this sea change in their learning lives of our students? How are they moving from a school-centered rules and procedures to a focus on the student learning experience? How are they incorporating information such as the Speak Up Research about how our students are self-directing learning using digital tools and resources to transform the learning experiences for all students?
Lots of important questions. It is our nonprofit mission at Project Tomorrow to help every school and district find answers to these challenges. You can learn more about our work, the Speak Up data and how your school and district can gain free access to similar data about your students at our website www.tomorrow.org.
Download the related infographic on California Speak Up 2016 data.