Student Voice in the Edtech Conversation: More Measured Than You’d Think

Student Voice in the Edtech Conversation: More Measured Than You’d Think


If you thought that students wanted the latest 3D printers or virtual reality software, you might be wrong. According to the four student panelists at the May 19 NY EdTech Meetup event, their needs are a little more practical.

“We are no longer the consumer we serve,” said Kathy Benemann in her introduction. So she and fellow NY EdTech organizer Michelle Dervan arranged for an evening devoted to “Raising Student Voice & Participation in the EdTech Conversation.” The four students come from different New York City high schools: The High School for Hospitality Management, Hunter College High School, The Academy Software Exchange, and Democracy Prep. (Student names will not be used, as the panelists are all minors.)

Moderator Preeti Birla from the New York City Board of Education’s iZone (the Department of Education’s technology incubator) worked with the panel to “share the student perspective in the edtech ecosystem.” In some cases, their perspectives varied, as in “What’s your favorite app?” which garnered responses including both Candy Crush and Stack Exchange. Otherwise, the four students voiced similar concerns about fairly basic needs.

A Question of Access

The schools differ vastly in terms of how much technology is available to students, from the number of computer labs and laptops available to the use of smart boards versus white boards or chalk boards. Two of the schools boasted computer labs and racks of laptops, while two others were less fortunate. In one school, iPads had been used previously but were stolen, while in another, tablets were no longer available because they didn’t work.

Recognizing issues for students who don’t have computer access at home, the group suggested free periods as well as early and late hours at school to use on-campus computers to complete online assignments. Students mentioned libraries and then dismissed them because of their limited hours after school. Despite some alternatives, kids without access at home are still at a disadvantage.

Secure about Data Privacy

Despite the current political landscape, and despite teachers’ advice around sharing email addresses, these students are not concerned about issues of privacy and security of data when using social media or classroom technology. When considering the potential for their personal information to be shared, “No one would be interested in me,” a couple of students said. The panelists are aware that future colleges may access their social media accounts, but they claim to be careful about what they post (“I never post a picture of myself with a drink in my hand”) and note that parents and friends alert them of any content that others may find inappropriate.

Less Paper, Fewer Textbooks, and More Organization

The panel felt strongly about using technology to cut down on the amount of paper used. Hoping to move from packet-based resources, they want to complete assignments and submit homework assignments online. They stressed the need to keep track of their work and to have it easily accessible once the assignment had been reviewed and graded. In some cases, homework is posted online, but students still need to print it out and bring it into class.

For the most part, textbooks are still used in these schools, including heavy Advanced Placement texts that need to be carried back and forth. In one school, teachers provide links to online versions of the texts, while in another, students pass links to online resources along to each other so that they can access the material from home. In one case, students get points toward detention if they do not bring the required textbook to school even without advanced notice that it will be used.

Google Drive is being used in a couple of the schools represented, and the students, citing both current homework needs and support for college application process and internship searches, expressed an ongoing need for tools to help organize lessons and documents. One of the students uses Trello to organize and manage his work on coding projects.

Let’s Go to Video

The students also noted a need to have live streaming or video-archived lessons available for days when they are sick or cannot otherwise attend school. Many kids end up coming to school when they are sick, one girl noted, because they are afraid of falling behind.

Next Steps

While the students had fairly clear and practical ideas of what could help them in the present, they had a hard time envisioning how technology might help them in college and beyond. Their exposure to the broad potential of the technology seemed somewhat limited and perhaps more down to earth than imaginative. With all of the money and energy being poured into edtech these days, there is certainly more opportunity to dream. A different perspective may be revealed when participating teachers and companies demo tools recently piloted in the schools at the June 4 iZone Spring Demo Night.

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