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Digital Natives

At home with technology

Digital natives

Today's students are totally at ease using powerful technology to learn. But more and more, students want to enjoy the same resources out of hours. They want the accessibility to work and interact at home. Ian Halpin, Business Manager at RM, looks at why today's youth is so different - and why we must be mindful to recognise this cultural change.

Generation gap?

It's become a stereotypical statement, but children today really are digital natives. Much, much more than most of us realise. Even more so than most readers of this article, who are probably reasonably ICT literate. So it's especially important to bear this in mind when talking to parents, or colleagues in schools and colleges who may not understand the change in students lives that has taken place since they were growing up.

What's new?

TelephoneChildren don't see technology as something special, or novel. It's something that's always been there for them to use. A generation ago if you had a home phone, you probably had to go into the room where the phone was wired to the wall to use it; that is if as a child, you were even allowed to touch it! Now most people in a household, including most 10 and 11 year-olds, use their personal mobile phone - wherever and whenever they want.

For children, ICT is becoming like mobile phones. For them it just works. They're not afraid of it. It's easy to use. All their friends have it - "with 77% using the internet at home" according to Ofcom.

It's not the technology itself, but the content (games, music, videos) and communication (MSN, social networking) that's important to them. They learn by being interactive, visual, nonlinear, autonomous and problem-solving; which is probably not how most parents and teachers experienced learning. Academic research tells us that we should match learning and teaching styles - but are we really doing that?

ICT can help - anywhere

We know the IMPACT2 study, from 5 years ago, found empirically that ICT can raise standards - even if just a little. However, perhaps ICT can also link in more closely with the way children learn - visual, interactive and unguided. The ICT testbed evaluation report, 2006, which gave students more chances to work using ICT at home said: "improvements were seen in improved test results and a change in student's homework practices. Students returned more homework, did it more willingly, and went beyond what was required. There was also an increased engagement of parents with their child's education."

Surely we'd all like more of that.

How do we get more?

Here's the challenge, and it takes educators beyond the comfort-zone of the establishment building and the 'controlled' environments.

During lesson time we can dictate what students do. However, students only spend 15% of their time in school or college. To get them to do more education in the time they or their parents are in control of, we have to persuade them, intrigue and motivate them; work with, rather than against the way they live and learn. This is where ICT can come in. How do we make more use of the other 85% of time for learning; learning at home, helped by parents? This opportunity is something the government has become increasingly aware of.

Making exciting education content accessible

Student and notebookMore and more schools and colleges are implementing learning platforms, encouraged by the government. Although they will be extensively used on campus, most can extend the reach of education by allowing access to more exciting, motivational content and learning experiences, regardless of the point of access. It could be the classroom, library, home, a friend's house - wherever there's an internet connection.

Both Jim Knight and Gordon Brown have recently talked about how learning platforms might help to engage parents, giving them "real-time feedback about their children's progress." According to Gordon Brown in October 2007, "We now know the level of parental engagement in learning is actually more important in determining a child's educational achievement than the social class background, the size of the family or the parent's own educational attainment"

Perhaps then, we should do more to take this opportunity. A learning platform and content is something an establishment can decide to put in place, but without the means to access, some are left behind.

Ensure access for all

We heard last year in Jim Knight's speech, opening BETT 2007, how he was personally chairing a taskforce looking into home access schemes. Indeed, he has been doing this for the last year. His report in January, when he opened BETT 2008, told of evaluations taking place of the best methods for setting up these schemes.

Think: what might this mean for your school or college?

Student with laptop

Can you imagine all of year 7 walking in with their own personal laptop? What about all 1200 students trying to log in to your network first thing on Monday morning - are you ready? Not only in terms of infrastructure, but in terms of staff taking advantage of what this could mean? It'll be scary for some - they'll need a gentle introduction. How will you help your establishment(s) change?


Partnership is the answer

To get more learning out of more engaged, motivated students we need to think about their world - not the one we grew up in. If we provide more accessible education with learning platforms, ensure everyone has a chance with home access schemes for all, change the way we, and teaching staff use this new way of extending exciting learning opportunities, then we might start to help more and more young people raise their own attainment.

Speech by Jim Knight

"Technology will be key in delivering the Children's Plan"

The ImpaCT2 study

by Becta

The ICT testbed evaluation report

from the DCSF

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