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Posted: July 28, 2012 6:02 p.m.

Shattuck: Who are our students?

In conversations with administrators and teachers, often the topic is about the nature of today's students. A conclusion is that today's students are different in several ways from students of previous generations. The big difference is that today's students were born into the Digital Age. Today's students are Digital Natives.

Digital Natives use digital technology. Dr. Mathews, the Superintendent of Newton County Schools, reminds teachers and administrators that technology is the way our students produce and consume knowledge. As a result, the school system needs to provide technology resources and opportunities through technology-connected lessons. This will engage students in the learning process.

This summer, a principal was concerned that with technology-connected lessons many students would not be able to access technology at home. Although a valid concern, 90 percent of the 4,977 Newton County students I surveyed report having a computer and Internet access at home. Also, 94 percent of 1,200 parents I surveyed report having a computer and Internet access at home. This confirms that accessibility is not a problem.

However, for the possible 10 percent of students without access to technology at home, Newton County schools are increasing student access to computer technology at school. To do this, the school system is increasing the density of computers in schools. This is done by increasing the number of student computers in classrooms by using virtual technology. With virtual technology, the school system can buy four computers for the price of two. As a result of this effort, the number of computers available to students has increased by 25 percent.

In the parent survey, 98 percent believe it is important for students to have the opportunity to use technology in school. So, the Newton County schools began an initiative two years ago to allow employees and students to bring their own mobile devices onto our campuses with wireless access. By December, all our schools will have wireless access.

Another way our students are different from other generations is that now students communicate differently. In the student survey their favorite way to communicate is:

•text messaging:
38 percent

•talking face-to-face:31 percent

•social media sites:
16 percent

•talking on the phone: 13 percent

•email: 2 percent

In contrast, the same question was asked in a survey of our school administrators. Their favorite way to communicate is:

•email: 47 percent

•talking face-to-face: 29 percent

•texting: 13 percent

•talking on the phone: 11 percent

•social media sites:0 percent

This illustrates generational differences between students and adults.

Our students are also different in how they communicate. In our student survey, 86 percent report access to mobile devices such as smart phones, laptops, netbooks and tablets. Prior generations had no access to this kind of mobility.

Another difference is brain development. Researchers conclude that 90 percent of Digital Natives are visual learners. Previous generations of students were auditory learners. Today's technology allows teachers to better engage visual learning students.

Finally, Digital Natives are different in that they want to be active participants. Today's students communicate with technology. They use technology to communicate by using Twitter, posting videos on YouTube, and posting a picture on Flickr. Students use technology as their medium of expression. In the student survey more than 90 percent of our high school students have an account on a social media website such as Facebook.

Our teachers understand that our students are different. In a survey of 800 of our teachers 83 percent assign lessons to students encouraging home use of technology. And 90 percent believe mobile computing devices are an essential tool in the 21st Century.

We strive to provide the kind of technology-connected lessons our students deserve. Continuous professional learning focusing on technology in the classroom is essential for our teachers as well. Newton County Schools provides these opportunities.

On July 27, 285 teachers registered to attend our 3rd Annual Technology Conference held at the Newton College and Career Academy. Newton County Schools is meeting the needs to our Digital Natives by preparing them to become citizens in a global economy.

Gary Shattuck is the director of technology and media. He can be reached at shattuck.gary@newton.k12.ga.us.

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