Students Demand the Right to Use Technology in Schools

| March 6, 2012 | 16 Comments
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Los Angeles students at the DML Conference in San Francisco show the devices they want to use in school.

We’ve heard arguments from ed tech experts about how using technology for learning may in fact deepen the divide between wealthy and low-income kids. Students who have access to technology and are encouraged by teachers and parents to leverage it for new ways of learning, the argument goes, will leap even further ahead than low-income students who are forbidden to use it in public schools.

Those arguments were personified last week in the collective voices of students from Morningside, Crenshaw, Roosevelt, Locke, and Manual Arts high schools, who presented their case at the Digital Media and Learning conference in San Francisco.

Holding up cell phones, tablets, and video cameras, students spelled out to listeners in the packed conference room a message loud and clear: We demand access to the same technology that privileged students have in order to survive in the working world, to compete in any meaningful way, and to amplify our voices.

Students from the five schools who comprised Black Male Academy and Council on Youth Research, and who had raised the funds to get themselves from Los Angeles to the conference on Kickstarter, presented research they’d gathered at their own schools about the impact of technology (or lack thereof) on their learning.

“We’re going to use technology to start a revolution, to improve our lives, and the lives of the upcoming generations, to get our voices heard,” said a Morningside High student.

“How are we supposed to use technology responsibly if we don’t use it at all?”

In their own words, they described their frustration with their schools’ prohibitive policies on using technology and the dismal condition of the schools’ tech equipment. “We don’t have the basic needs that students at Beverly Hills High have,” said Myquesha Moore from Crenshaw High. “Why should l have to go to a library outside my school to have access to computers that are available, but limited? Yes, we’re learning to type on our T-Mobile Sidekicks, because we’re taking our own initiative. But we’re crucified by a process that’s making us a permanent underclass. We are forced to stay at the bottom, and this lack of technology will not allow us to develop skills for the job market. Budget cuts can no longer be a reason why me and my peers are tech-illiterate. We’ve had this problem since before the economic crisis.”

“I demand that my peers and inner city school kids have a fair chance at life, furthering their education like privileged communities,” she continued. “Give us the resources we need. Because there are children like me who give a damn about our future.”

Students presented research they’d conducted using their own cameras, tablets, laptops, and cell phones to capture data. They used documentary filmmaking, online surveys, and face-to-face interviews, and came up with some unsurprising conclusions. At Morningside High, for example, though 49% of students said they use the Internet to do their homework, the majority agree that it’s not easily available in school. And although digital media has helped students tell their stories in interesting ways and kept them interested and focused, they said it’s rarely used in their schools.

“If our school has technology and equitable resources, our graduation rates and college attendance rates will increase,” a Morningside High student said. “This means we’ll have more prepared students for our democracy, and we’ll have more public conversations about equity.”

“Be aware of your students’ needs. Make sure you have space for students to speak freely.”

“We want students to use their voices to speak up for themselves,” another said. “We demand good quality teachers who will allow students to use the tools, smartphones, tablets, they already have to learn. And we demand that parents back us up.”

Students from Crenshaw High described the obstacles they face in completing simple school assignments, and presented some grim numbers. Only 10 out 14 computers work, two are new, and three can print. The entire school has three laptop carts, and only 10 of the 30 laptops can access the Internet. And 90% of computers operate on Windows 2001, the students said.

“It burns me up inside that I have to scramble around to try to find a computer at a library,” a Crenshaw student said. “I get assignments that require the use of a computer, and even if I find one at the library, my time is up after an hour and I have to get off the computer and find another one.”

“My cell phone has better Internet access than our school’s computers,” another student said. “I demand my teachers incorporate the use of cell phones by finding innovative ways to use them for educational purposes.”

Showing the benefits of how tech can be fruitfully used in schools, students from Manual Arts demonstrated how some teachers use Edmodo to communicate with them and share content for class projects, as well as blogs, flip cams, laptops, and cell phones.

Locke High School students showed a short film dramatizing their technical tribulations.
“I almost got my phone taken away for filling out a job application.”
“I got in trouble for checking the time on my phone.”
“My teacher wouldn’t let me take notes on my laptop.”
“I can’t believe I failed my math test because I couldn’t use the calculator on my iPod.”

One by one, students pleaded their case. Though some teachers and administrators think of social media sites like Facebook as being distracting and ultimately harmful, students said it can be used as a tool for learning, for example by creating class topics. “Plus, there’s no time limit to Facebook,” a student said. “Learning stops when class ends at school, but learning happens outside school too. We use Facebook to create a dialogue between teachers and students. We can use Facebook to speak our minds and make changes, share our thoughts, our notes, and resources.”

They asked rhetorical questions that addressed what they’ve been battling at their schools: “Doesn’t it make sense to use the tools that engage us the most? How are we supposed to use technology responsibly if we don’t use it at all? Why aren’t schools creating culturally relevant curriculum?”

THE NEXT STEPS

Asked whether she’d presented this information and list of demands to her school administrators at Crenshaw, Myquesha Moore said the conference was the first time her group had done a public presentation, but said they will when they return.

This kind of grassroots movement on the part of students might be the push some teachers have been waiting for. At a different conference session that included some of the same students the day before, a teacher from West Adams Prep, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said it’s time for students to stand up for themselves.

“I feel powerless as a teacher at L.A.U.S.D.,” she said. “You guys need to speak to the board or the superintendent. You need to gather your peers and go to news outlets. Think about something you can do to raise awareness. You live in L.A. — get on the ‘Ellen’ show. You need to speak up and use your voice politically. There needs to be a revolution.”

A school technologist stood up to say that although he has to buy a content filter to qualify for the federal government’s discounted E-rate program for broadband, he can configure the filter to his own discretion.

Hearing the voices of adults weigh in on the matter may go a long way for these students, many of whom say they don’t believe adults care about them. One teacher asked a student panelist how to direct kids to using technology for learning and empowerment rather than for unrelated purposes. “For every student who uses 140 characters to send messages of empowerment, there’s another who’s tweeting inappropriate photos,” she said. “For every student who’s using YouTube to learn, there are others who are posting fighting videos. What are some ways you learned to be responsible digital citizens?”

In reply, one of the students said it’s about students’ need for attention and guidance from adults they think care about them.

“Kids who have straight A’s and are college bound, that’s because people have been there in their lives to show them the way,” she said. “For those students who aren’t doing well, it’s a process of talking and having conversations with those students. Ask them why is that student being distracted? Why is he doing that instead of doing work? With kids and with parents, sometimes you have to pressure them and push them. It takes a lot of patience but you have to have those conversations and monitor what that student does.”

Another student also suggested that the teacher talk to the student who’s posted inappropriate photos. “Ask her what’s going on in her life, what is she going through,” she said.

To educators and schools, the students’ main message was about being heard — whether it was related to using technology or about other issues: “Be aware of your students’ needs. Make sure you have space for students to speak freely.”

 

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  • http://twitter.com/jonmergy Jonathan Mergy

    Great reminder for those schools that are so into controlling the classroom that it detracts from the student experience or so into marketing that they are “tech” that they make blanket decisions on purchasing other devices that may or may not make sense for the students. 

    But, even more a reminder that BYOD probably makes more sense as students bring devices and tech they love and use with them and for schools to not leverage that is to ignore who the student is. 

  • Anonymous

    Kudos to the students who presented at the conference and did a great job of explaining their technology-limited environments and the repercussions. However, I think this article unfairly continues the trend of blaming teachers for everything. School cuts in California are now about to go even deeper into the bone, class sizes are rising because teaching staff has already been cut at almost every school, and studies show most teachers spend hundreds to thousands out of their own pockets for the kids in their classrooms. Almost all teachers care deeply about kids, and most are more than willing to make their learning environments more tech-infused – but it’s hard when you have two 10 year old computers in the classroom for 35 kids at a time, and one computer doesn’t work. Innovative ed-tech teachers often have to individually seek grants and funds to operate their programs. How many other professional employees have to raise their own money for the tools to do their job to their best ability? It’s time for the business community and the politicians who control education budgets to step up, stabilize school funding, and supply hardware such as Chromebooks or iPads to open the digital world to all kids; free webware such as Google Docs can do the rest. The ed-tech revolution is happening – check out #edchat on Twitter – but the biggest speed bump is funding that is beyond local school control. Let’s start sharing this responsibility as a state instead of continuing the blame the teachers game – please vote to stabilize Calif. school funding in the fall and urge the business community to do more – even if it’s pressuring corporations to pay their fair share of taxes like the rest of us.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Katie. You raise great points about the burden of educators having to raise funds to equip their classes. I think part of the kids’ message was that many of them already own devices they can put to use, but they’re forbidden from using them because of school policies. As I point out in the article, some teachers spoke up to say they also feel their hands are tied and are encouraged to hear student voices too. ______

      Tina Barseghian | Editor | MindShift | 415.553.3314 | @mindshiftKQED | Facebook

      • Anonymous

        Hi Tina,
        I hear you – you’re right, more teachers need to have the professional development/district approval/know-how to use the tech that students have with them. It gets touchy though because some kids have smartphones with computing power and others have just regular phones, so does that raise the peer pressure for an expensive data plan in poor families if their personal tech becomes more of a focus? It seems like it would be best if schools could provide equal tech for all kids. But you are totally right, use what they have in the meantime because that is how they are learning outside of class and tech is vital. Thank you for your response, and you write a good article. :)

      • Mgozaydin

        Dear kqedmindshift
        Is there somebody in USA trying to make American children ignorant .
        To prevent to use a device for education is sueside .
        USA has fantastic contents for K12 at almost nill prices. + today the price of  a tablet is less than $ 250 . If USA buys 2 million at a time it drops to $  200.
        There are some enemy inside of USA . Beware of that. I am serious .
        Have vision .

  • Disgruntled Bypoorreporting

    Windows 2001? Really? 

  • Disgruntled Byannoyingcomments

    Hey Mr. Disgruntled Bypoorreporting… is this your take away from this article? Get a life. You totally missed what this story is about and the incredible steps these high schools kids have taken to empower themselves. The lack of technology and poor infrastructure to manage what is in the schools must be addressed and they are doing the leg work! I close my eyes and stick out my tongue at you. xp

  • Daniel Wathen

    School is foremost about using and training your brain – leave brain-draining, distracting and possible cheat devices outside of the classroom.

  • Mgozaydin

    It is funny. Turkey is richer than America .
    Turkey distributes 16 million tablets to its 16 million K12 students free.
    Plus all free software content + free enriched etextbooks also free.
    All costs $ 5 billion . Divided by 16 millğion and 5 year amortisation that is
    only 62 $ / year/ student.
    USA has 60 million K12 . They can buy tablets at much less price than Turkey. Software, contents are ready to be used . etextbooks are almost costless per student. Look up State of Washington  free etextbooks project .
    That means K12 education in Turkey is better than education in USA . Am I right .
    By the way I was educated at Caltech and Stanford 40 years ago .

  • Mgozaydin

    3 vital elements are required to solve K12 education .
    1.- Good internet network . USA has that .
    2.- Good software for contents for K12. USA has most beautiful of those at very good prices.
    If government provides cost would be nill .
    3.- One to one tablets to 60 million kids .Cost of a tablet today is $ 300 in retail. If government buys 60 million in 2-3 years price would come down $ 150 may be even lower .

    Then , why in the world USA does not provide tablets to all its children free.
    That is only  60 million x 150  = $ 9 billion .
    Turkey spent $ 5 billion . USA can spend $ 9 billion very easyly .
    Voice up . Demand .  .

  • geri caruso

    Really?? you gotta think they are cute… however, they are “children.” I think that is still supposed to mean that they are dependent on adults, if there are any left who don’t want to abdicate their responsibilities to know when to say NO. This is however the ultimate consumer achievement. Not much different from holding up their expensive tennis shoes. Let’s face it… real learning doesn’t depend on any of those devices…..ever. If anything they make us dumber… Can you still do math without a calculator,  how many phone numbers can you remember….and do you need your GPS to get to the grocery store….And if you have ever been in Best Buy while a teenager has a tantrum because their parent won’t get them or can’t afford to get them the latest version of some basic piece of junk, that is going to be obsolete by the end of the week anyway, you will have another take on what pases for vital technology….There is so much wrong with letting kids have their own devices  in school that it is hard to know where to start. But just one aspect must give schools nightmares….Who pays the replacement cost when Suzie’s brand new IPAD gets run over by a school bus? You can bet Mommie will be in the office trying to get a replacement from tax money.

    Anyway.. Whoever wrote this needs to look more closely at the history of the current desire to trash American Schools. I thought the great American education experiment was established to educate the population so that they could be active partipants in the democratic process. We have in the dim past, had much respect for teachers and for the way we educated children. Follow this current thinking back to Regan’s “Blue Ribon” committee on education….run by an education secretary who hated the public schools. And at least in Michigan….home schooling is possible with parents who have less education than the school janitors. Really!!!     

  • Contenta16

    My name is Leslie Fail. I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am  currently taking a class called EDM 310 which is showing me how to use technology in the classroom. Technology is a great way to engage students. I am reading where many people are saying that these devices should not be allowed in the classroom because they allow students to cheat. As educators, it is our responsibility to teach students how to use these tools effectively. I think it is great that these students stood up for themselves. These students understand that they are at a disadvantage without the use of technology. Many jobs today are based on technology. They deserve equal opportunities.

  • Monstro

    You got it right, Contenta. You understand that the technology we use is only as good as the person using it. We need to teach our kids how to to utilize tech to get to the highest level of Bloom’s, which is creation. Unfortunately, our culture as whole mainly uses tech for consumption with limited creative and critical output.

  • http://www.educationmom.com/ Educationmom

    As an educator, I’m a big believer in technology, but I have some concerns about how tech is implemented in schools. Here are some thoughts that I’d love for you to check out. Thank you! http://educationmom.com/2012/05/30/em-gem-10-technology-is-it-just-pretty/

  • BenCardiff

    What an interesting article. I’m a little late to the table, but it is nice to see these students trying to make a difference. Sounds like a great activity for a community action project. They could level the playing field themselves.

  • KelseyMarlow

    This was a great article. I think that it shows a lot when students stand up for themselves and show people what they really believe. These students were passionate about their education & I think they could go a long way.