The “ECAR Study of Students and Information Technology, 2005: Convenience, Connection, Control and Learning” (PDF) should be required reading for educational administrators at all levels. At 134 pages long, it is doubtful many in our busy and harried culture will read the entire thing, but at the least each should read the Forward (4 pages titled “Growing Up Digital”) and the Executive Summary (11 pages).

For those of you wanting a shorter synopsis, I will summarize the summary. Main points include:

1. Today’s students are digital natives, members of the “Net generation.”

2. According to Richard Katz, educators should

…take it to be self-evident that college-bound digital natives are in fact digital cognascenti, sophisticates, and perhaps even digital connoisseurs who will arrive at our nation’s institutions of higher learning with digital gadgets of every imaginable shape and function, with insatiable appetites for all things digital, and with limited patience for the charming but antiquated artifacts of the analog academic world.

Would this statement make many current educators feel at all uncomfortable, challenged or even threatened?! I think it most certainly would.

3. Content management systems need wider adoption

The following “corroborative finding” should have impact today on what your organization is doing with content management systems:

Students are overwhelmingly positive about course management systems but want greater consistency in their use and availability.

What does this mean? All secondary and university-level teachers should be using content management systems, and that CMS system should have a consistent face within a given institution. Upset by this? Challenged by this? Probably. These are dynamic days filled with disruptive technologies. Get used to being uncomfortable and challenged. This is the 21st century, and the pace of change is only going to get faster.

This is a great quotation from the forward:

…asking a kid about technology is like asking a fish about water.

What an accurate picture that paints of the digital natives and their teachers in our classrooms! Who are the teachers and the professors in this metaphor? The caretakers of the fish tank? The dolphin trainers swimming in the water with makeshift fins and snorkels, but never able to achieve the fluidity and graceful motion of their students, the dolphins? Perhaps.

This ECAR 2005 finding should motivate secondary-level administrators to immediately implement mandatory distance learning / online course requirements for graduating seniors, and beef up direct, hands-on instructional technology support for classroom teachers in all content areas:

[Surveyed students] …had not gained many of the necessary skills to use IT in support of academic work. We found a significant need for further training in the use of IT in support of learning and problem-solving skills.

The four quadrant matrix of the study on “Current Student Expectations and Preferences” summarizes well the challenges as well as opportunities posed by our developing digital educational environment:

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According to the study, students want supplemental course information provided via digital means, but are not wanting to forgo the entire face to face educational experience in favor of an online experience. So what are teachers where you live and work doing to adapt to the needs and desires of digital natives? The times they are a ‘changin. So why are so many teachers still giving the same assignments they did five, ten, or twenty years ago? That’s a topic for another post or podcast!

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