Kids Log On to Boost Tech in Classrooms

Children in all 50 states on Wednesday had a chance to give the Bush administration ideas on how to give the nation's education system a jump-start and to ensure teachers are willing to latch on to modern educational tools.

"Students are the digital natives, if you will, and we're still trying to catch up with them," John Bailey, director of education technology at the Department of Education, told "In our minds, this isn't about boxes and wires but about teaching and learning."

NetDay, a national group working to make sure all classrooms are wired and encouraging more use of technology at school, organized Student Voices' Speak Up Day (search), which began Wednesday.

Other groups involved in the effort include the American Association of School Administrators, Consortium for School Networking, Florida Virtual High School, the Software & Information Industry Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and State Education Technology Directors Association.

"This is a truly authentic student voice, not filtered through what the teachers think the students want," NetDay CEO Julie Evans told

Students born into the cyber world were expected to go online from their classrooms to share their ideas on how technology can be integrated more into schools to help develop the federal government's National Education Technology Plan.

"We hope to see students identify what about technology use at school currently excites them and what they think is not important," added Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (search), which is helping to develop the national plan.

"We sort of hope to rekindle the agenda of, what is appropriate use? Can you really have qualified teachers without technology skills and knowledge? Can you really have modern schools without technology tools?"

And what began as a one-day event now will last until Nov. 5, Evans said, so more schools have a chance to go online and give their input.

"Our goal had been to have input from 500,000 students and we think we're going to hit that mark," Evans said.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (search) — the centerpiece of President Bush's education plan — the nation should adopt a strategy on how to effectively use technology to improve student academic achievement. It's also to ensure there is sufficient investment at the federal, state, local and business levels in maximizing technology's use. The Education Department wants feedback from educators, K-12 students, college and university leaders and business representatives on the plan.

"We decided that the best way of doing this is by making it student-centered, making it focus on who are today's students and what are the type of education they're demanding to be competitive in the 21st century," Bailey said.

Bailey said he hopes to send the technology plan to Congress by spring 2004.

The idea is "not just to give lip service to students ... but to incorporate students into the decision making process at all levels," Evans said, such as making sure students familiar with technology are put on school boards, education councils and other groups that make decision on education technology.

"The students are truly the natives of using this tech and they have some very exciting and interesting ideas on how to use technology in the classroom."

One component of the plan will be how to get teachers to embrace technology and what to do with "that archaic artifact [of a teacher] that doesn't know what a URL is and isn't willing to entertain digital resources," Knezek said.

A study released Wednesday by the Center for National Education Statistics (search) found that nearly all schools have Internet access and more children and adolescents use computers at school than at home. But it also discovered that while 78 percent of kids access the Web from home, 68 percent go online at school.

"Clearly, for the quality of access in schools is nowhere near the access that kids enjoy at home and in some other settings," said Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, which has released reports on kids and Internet use.

Grunwald said teachers are more apt to use computers in classrooms and not in computer labs and if the school has a modern infrastructure to support increased technology use.

"Kids have very high expectations about technology given that they live in a digital world quite often outside of school," Grunwald said. "Given some of the infrastructure problems of schools, those expectations often times are not met."

"What's clear … is that students' satisfaction with technology is significantly increased when quality technology and connectivity is available," added Knezek.

Bailey said teachers need to realize that the potential of an Internet connection and a computer can't be maximized unless they're viewed as a means to end — such as helping kids better their algebra scores. The technology also needs to be reliable and adequate training needs to be provided, he added.

And with 99 percent of schools now connected to the Internet (95 percent hooked up with high-speed connections and one computer for every 4.8 students), there's really no excuse why kids shouldn't be logging on to the Web more from school, experts said.

"That's actually the divide we're really concerned about — how do we have such widespread access but so little usage," Bailey said. "Students are just expressing a lot of frustration that they see amazing opportunities to use this type of tool in their education but they're not using it more."