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How technology is changing the way students think

Students with tablets

How did you spend your Black Friday? Watching football? Eating leftovers? Shopping?

Whether in brick-and-mortar stores or online, millions of Americans shopped for holiday gifts this weekend. In fact, online Black Friday sales topped $3 billion for the first time ever.

If you shopped on Friday, chances are there was a child on your list who asked for fresh technology—a phone, a tablet, or a game.

As you waited to buy the newest, coolest gadget, you probably were thinking more about the length of the line and less about the technology’s impact on how your child thinks or learns.

In case you’re wondering: Technology does change how students think. More specifically, it alters how they imagine. That’s according to new research out of the United Kingdom, outlined in a recent Education Technology article.

As digital devices become an integral part of a child’s life—both in and out of school—it’s important for parents and educators to understand how students perceive their technology use and how ed-tech shapes the way students learn.

A competition becomes research

The recent UK findings were culled from the Art of Technology student drawing competition.

UK-based IT provider Stone Group asked schoolchildren across Great Britain to submit drawings that answer questions like “What’s inside your computer?” and “What does Wi-Fi look like?”

The drawings were not only judged by an illustrator for their artistic merit, but also analyzed by education psychologist Dr. Kairen Cullen.

The bottom line? Students now incorporate computing as part of their inner imagining and thinking processes. And they rarely differentiate between the “real” world and the “online” world. Technology is now their reality.

As the Education Technology story points out, Cullen identified several ways in which students’ thinking about technology differs from previous generations:

  1. There are no longer boundaries between the online and offline worlds. While previous generations “went online” to use the internet, today’s children have integrated the online world into their real life. As Stephanie Broad writes in Education Technology, “Children do not distinguish between on and offline as ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ life anymore. Computing, and using computers, is real life.”
  2. Wi-Fi is essential to children’s existence and enjoyment. For most of today’s students, the idea of a building with no Wi-Fi is unthinkable—like a building with no plumbing. In fact, in their drawings, students represented Wi-Fi as an almost mystical force as important and powerful as the weather.
  3. Content is king and computers are merely a gateway. Since students no longer see “going online” as an activity, how they access content—whether via computers, tablets, phones, or video game systems—is far less important than the content itself.
  4. Technology use is a base skill much like reading and writing. According to Broad, “Children expect each other to be living the same reality as they are—where computers are totally present.” Schools will need to ensure staff members who are not well-versed in the latest and greatest tech trends get proper training, and students who lack technology at home gain valuable experience in school.

What’s it all mean?

We all know technology is vital to student learning. But, as we see in this research, technology is more integrated into students’ lives than we had previously recognized.

With this student-technology relationship in mind, schools should ask themselves a few important questions:

Do we understand and recognize the importance of technology in students’ lives? Is our entire staff up-to-date on the newest technologies that support student learning? Do all of our students have access to technology in our classrooms? Does our curriculum address technology and internet best practices and safety?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, it’s time to re-think your school’s approach to student technology.

How do you make student technology use a priority in your schools? Tell us in the comments.

For more on what the future of ed-tech looks like, read The robots are coming: What’s next for education technology.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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