Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Observations on Student Tech Use

by Shelly Blake-Plock

Wandering around the cafe today during a lunch duty, I took mental notes on the tech usage by high school students.

Counted a half-dozen kids on Skype; one of them was sharing photos from a school event. A handful of kids were listening to stuff on iPods; at least two students were downloading songs from sites I'm not familiar with -- one looked to be some sort of message board (isn't that so 90's?).

One student was sitting at a table of gamers making a proxy to hack passed the school's firewall. About a half-dozen students were playing MMOGs. One student was playing a beta version of a first-person game called MineWars, or something of that sort.

One student was using Google Translate to read a Chinese newspaper. One student was watching a YouTube video of a ballet recital, another was showing her friends videos of cheerleading practice. One student was busy on his iPhone and a few others were texting.

Two students were on Facebook (despite the fact it's, um, "blocked"). And three students were on Twitter -- which is not blocked.

No one seemed to be doing any software-based stuff; everything was online. Oh, and from what I could tell, about 90% of the kids were using Google Chrome.

Talked to kids about IM'ing and everyone said they used Skype the most (as in, it was always on). Facebook came in second. No one -- as in not a single kid -- said they use Google Chat or Google Talk. They said passwords were a pain in the butt. And they don't like email.

By and large, according to the students, Twitter was something you might use for class. Very "business-like". Though one student loves it to follow ESPN writers. In fact, ESPN was mentioned several times.

One student was obsessed with Google News -- it's where he gets his news. Another uses four different gaming interfaces "daily". Just about every student said Facebook was the place to be outside of school (as though it were a "place" -- like the mall) -- and several mentioned that the thing they liked about FB was the "privacy". Huh.

I think it's a good idea now and then to pay attention to what the kids are doing -- to see what's trending and to see what's not. More than anything, I'm interested in seeing what develops as the "normal", the "standard", and the "go-to". Because the tools we use tell volumes about our needs and desires.


  1. I agree. A walk through the "gathering" areas of our school reveals so much. Thanks for the peek into yours. I am guessing ours would not be very different.

  2. I was so intrigued to see your post about this "walk through" today, as I did the exact same thing this morning. I saw many similar things. I also saw a round table full of gamers with laptops battling one another online.

    Thanks for sharing the coincidence...wait, it's not a coincidence @ all.

    Jeff @ TeacherThink.com

  3. In my classroom today, after "The Test," I let the students play on the laptops. (We aren't 1:1 as a building but my classroom is). Out of the 16 in the room, only 2 were using software (Marble Blast and Photobooth). The rest were online and playing games, listening to music and watching videos.

  4. How were the student's skyping with others? Did they have their own laptops set up? Does your school have wireless? Thanks for the great "at a glance" look at the technology in action at your school!

  5. A similar trip around the cafeteria at my school, formally a National Blue Ribbon School, would yield the following results:

    There would not be a single laptop or tablet device out. There's no wireless network for the students (or faculty) to access and so the students don't bother bringing a computer to school.

    There would be no one listening to music since iPods and other electronic devices are banned during the day. By definition, Kindles fall into this category as well.

    There would be no one using the internet capabilities on their smart phone since those, too, are banned during the school day.

    Even if there was access to the internet available, there would be no communication via email, skype, twitter, facebook, or anything else since all of those services are blocked from student use.

    There would be no reading of blogs, let alone commenting, since all blogging services are blocked for creation and viewing.

    In fact, had I not fought tooth and nail this fall for my classes, there still would be no student access to Google Docs for any kind of collaborative work.

    Google Translator to read a foreign newspaper? Rather than teach responsible use (especially for the foreign language classes), Google Translator is blocked.

    ESPN? Unlikely, all sporting news sites are blocked.

    Games? MMOs? Right.

    To say that I'm a bit envious of your observations from a single day in your cafeteria would be a slight understatement.

  6. @Garden,

    We're 1:1 with wi-fi throughout the building.


  7. Shelly, you just described almost exactly what I would see at my school. The name of the beta software you mentioned is called Minecraft (and it's awesome. I recommend checking it out).

  8. Should we not ask ourselves, why would a kid opts for social networking instead of engaging in a class. Also, Wi-Fi should be throughout the school, and not filtered, obviously kids beat the system anyway. Devises such as air cards bypass all school controls, so if a student really wants to Facebook and Twitter, it's easy. The big question is why do kids find these diversions more important than school/class? One reason is they are kids and they socialize (remember note-passing?) and two, could it be schools suck? Once again, comrades, lets look in the mirror. We have to do a pretty good act to get kids attention these days. Here's Johnny...

  9. I'm curious how you responded to the students setting up a proxy server. This seems like it would be a pretty flagrant violation of any AUP.

  10. Very interesting article. I think I will try a "walk about" the next time I have lunch duty. Might even do a brief informal survey of my own...

  11. Your student was probably playing MineCraft, not MineWars. My student assistant gave me a tour, and I was impressed. It's really a simple lego-like virtual world - you can build almost anything there, but you'd better make sure it will keep out the monsters at night. There must be some good educational applications here, for those who take the time to discover them.

  12. what a great post Shelly. thank you. i esp like this:
    I think it's a good idea now and then to pay attention to what the kids are doing -- to see what's trending and to see what's not.

    i'm almost finished reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. and at the same time - listening to my kids talk about similar life games they play on the weekends at the local uni. saying things like - i've never had so much fun in my entire 16 years, and the uni kids saying - i've never felt i had a space on campus before.
    what games can teach about collaboration - shared intentionality - certainly seems worth paying attention to. what gets a kid, or any of us, to participating wholeheartedly.

    Jane writes:
    Gamers who have grown up being intensely engaged by well-designed virtual environments are hungry for better forms of engagement in their real lives. They’re seeking out ways to be blissfully productive while cooperating toward extreme-scale goals. They are a natural source of participation bandwidth for the kinds of citizen journalism, collective intelligence, humanitarian, and citizen science projects that we will increasingly seek to undertake.

  13. I introduced all of these things at the school I integrate tech at and I am now a casualty of the rebellion....I have been fired!


  14. I came here to post about Minecraft, so I'm glad that some other people already did.

    The game is one of the best games ever made, and it is so entirely without gore or adult themes. The story behind it is the stuff of legends, too: a young guy called "Notch" basically worked out of his home in Sweden to make his own version of a game he liked. A couple years later he had sold over one million copies with literally no advertising. The game really is -that- good. It's the biggest story of 2010-2011 that no one has heard of.

  15. Amy Yurko said... The question is how to leverage the use of technology to make learning more engaging for kids. Anyone else see how focused kids are when they're using tools mentioned in the article? Why must we continue to dictate the tools and methods students use to explore their interests? Excessive control is not the answer, although it's interesting to see how creative kids can be when they find "work-arounds" to get what they want - no, need - to learn.

  16. Thanks so much for posting your observations. I've been in the world of digital learning - on the curriculum side. It's amazing how quickly things change. Being a few years out of the classrooms I feel like a dinosaur.


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