Net-savvy students frustrated

The Digital Disconnect

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More than 78 percent of middle and high school students use the Internet

as a "virtual textbook" for homework and other assignments, but fault teachers

for not taking advantage of its power for more interactive and challenging

uses in class, according to a new national survey.

A wide variation in administrative and teacher policies regarding basic

technology instruction, quality Internet access and interactive online assignments

have contributed to the disconnect, according to the Pew Internet and American

Life Project, which released "The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between

Internet-Savvy Students and their Schools" Aug. 14.

"[Students] know more about the Internet's potential, and they're kind

of frustrated that their teachers don't grasp the same idea and aren't as

enthusiastic about using wonderful material on the Web," said Lee Rainie,

director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. With so much money

invested in wiring schools, kids say they don't see a lot of evidence of

day-to-day usage of the Internet in schools, he added.

The Pew study, conducted July 2002, is based on 14 "gender-balanced,

racially diverse" focus groups of 136 students from 36 different schools.

Nearly 200 students also voluntarily submitted online essays about Internet

use in their schools. While there are good past studies on teacher attitudes

toward Internet usage, there are very few "teenage voices" in the discussion,

he said.

Students, the study reported, use the Internet as primary and secondary

reference material for homework and research papers, with fellow classmates

in collaborating on a project, as a place to store school-related materials

and keep schedules, and as a "virtual guidance counselor" for decisions

on education and careers.

An interesting finding, Rainie said, is that students recognize the

reality of the digital divide — not only between those who do and don't

have any access, but also differences between the more and less Internet-savvy

students. This divide has resulted in teachers shying away from assigning

Web-based work for fear of further frustrating students, he said.

The study said the students recommended:

* Better coordination of students' usage of the Internet outside of

school for classroom activities.

* Significant increase in Internet access in schools as well as continued

support for better quality of information on the Internet.

* Greater professional development and technical assistance for teachers

to integrate the Web into coursework.

* More programs for teaching basic technology literacy and Internet

navigation skills.

* That policymakers take the digital divide "seriously" so every student

has an equal footing.

Teachers have made similar points in past studies, Rainie said, and

it's difficult for them to take on a new role without the professional development

and tech support, but as more tech-savvy teachers graduate, complaints will

"vanish."

The study, he said, is really aimed at educators, administrators and

other policymakers in the federal, state, district levels. He said they

needed to do more to encourage and support Internet access and usage in

schools.

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