Candid Ed Tech Advice from Five Tech-savvy Students

Guest blog post by Sue Hanson, PR with Panache!

As part of its Storytelling Suite at TCEA 2016, PR with Panache! hosted its second Youth Voice Panel. The event gave educators, vendors, and the education media a chance to hear how students really use technology for learning—and what teachers can do to make tech tools work better in the classroom.

The panelists were a mix of middle- and high schoolers from Eanes ISD in Austin:

  • Rachel Gardner, a senior at Westlake High School, is the CEO/founder of Chap Research, a nonprofit innovation program that gives students the opportunity to acquire real-world skills. Rachel was also the lead inventor on the patent for the ChapR, a remote control for robots. Rachel has managed 13 projects using Chap Research's project-based approach to teaching both technical and soft skills.
  • Riya Aggarwal is a sophomore at Westlake High School and the CEO-in-training for Chap Research. She has been featured on NPR Marketplace and is currently working on a game, “AR Battles,” that uses robotics on a whiteboard interacting with projected items, which she will present at an upcoming TEDx event.
  • Kevin Fang, a junior at Westlake High School, has developed many apps, including the homework app QuickHW and the math puzzle MADS 24, both of which are available on Apple’s App Store.
  • Katie Denton, a seventh-grader at West Ridge Middle School, runs the MakerKatie STEM blog and YouTube channel. A custom 3D printer that she built in sixth grade was featured on the Raspberry Pi blog. Katie also participated in the Women@NASA STEM Mentoring program.
  • Andrew Lee, an eighth-grader at West Ridge Middle School, has programmed in Python, Processing, and RobotC. He has competed in Future City Engineering, VEX Robotics Competition, and multiple debate tournaments.

Moderator Chris Piehler, the editorial director of PR with Panache!, began the conversation by asking what devices the students use for school. Eanes is a 1:1 iPad district, but all five panelists said they also use a personal laptop (and sometimes a smartphone) for academic purposes.

The panelists all agreed that their iPads often felt slow when asked to multitask. What does “multitasking” mean to this connected generation? Fang said that his laptop usually has 20 to 30 browser tabs open, and Lee said his personal best was 67 windows at once. And what does “slow” mean? Lee remembered waiting a full 19 seconds for Safari to load on his tablet.

When Piehler asked them about software, the students said they most often use collaboration and productivity tools such as the Google suite, Edmodo, Notability, and DocAS, a document annotation app that Gardner prefers because it lets her “import a PDF or Word doc then write right on top of the document.”

Another favorite was Quizlet, which helps students review for tests by creating virtual flashcards. Lee said the app “makes it more fun to review than just looking at your notes over and over again.”

Denton called game-based learning platform Kahoot the “best app ever invented” because studying is “more fun when it’s competitive. You want to beat your classmates.”

Ed Tech Pet Peeves

When the topic turned to what they don’t like about the technology they use for school, Gardner was ready with a list that included the fact that “one student’s technology can distract everyone else. One student’s playing Whale Trail and every other student is looking at it.” Meanwhile, she said, “We’re all trying to do a million things at once,” so she dislikes platform-specific apps and software that makes switching between tasks unwieldy.

Denton agreed, saying, “If you have your assignment in one app and you’re writing in another app, you have to keep going back and forth to see what you’re supposed to be doing next.”

Aggarwal’s biggest pet peeve was simple slowness, whether it was caused by a device or a network. “Being slow,” she said, “leads you to not want to work with technology”

Lee said that turning homework in on different platforms for each teacher “gets confusing,” and went to observe that “Some of the teachers don’t know how to use the technology or they’re not talking to each other about the technology.”

Teaching Their Teachers

When Piehler asked the panel how many of them have helped a teacher with technology, every hand went up. They then offered sound, practical advice to educators who are still adjusting to a classroom full of connected devices.

Fang observed that some teachers simply need to “realize how powerful technology can actually be.” He talked about a tech-phobic teacher who could use an app like Quizlet to make “class a lot simpler and make it easier for her to organize things.”

As a solution to her own pet peeve of using multiple apps for one assignment, Denton suggested, “All the teachers and students should have a meeting and talk and all agree on what platform they should use.”

Gardner cautioned that teachers need to “be aware of how technology can be used for cheating,” citing the example of a student taking a smartphone to the bathroom during a test. She also recommended picking services “that most teachers use” and that work on devices other than iPads. Finally, she said, “You can never underestimate how important games and competition are to students.”

Aggarwal advised her teachers to be willing to give up on outdated software. If a platform isn’t working in class, she said, “We’re willing to help you out, but if we’re stuck with something that doesn’t work anymore, it’s really frustrating, because there are better products out there.”

Lee suggested that teachers go to YouTube and look up videos that show shortcuts for getting technology uploaded or downloaded faster. But most importantly, he said, they should “talk to the students, because the students usually know more about technology than the teachers.”

You can read more coverage of the panel on Tech & LearningPR with Panache! will hold additional Youth Voice Panels, including one at ISTE 2016.

Digital Issues