Sunday, January 23, 2011

Student Voices

In my work a lot of what I do is consult with groups to get input on new ideas and thoughts on proposed changes.  It wasn’t my normal practice to approach students for their input.  This year has been different…  In the fall I spoke to our Student Leadership Council (SLC), about 50 grade 6-12 student representing their schools.  I talked to them about technology and how I believe it will impact them in their lives.  But, what I consulted them on specifically was their thoughts on being digitally responsible.

It is interesting to try to figure out the best way to consult with students.  I wanted them to take the questions I asked them back to their schools and to meet with other students to bring back a broad representative input.  Initially I asked them to respond to a blog post I wrote for them – Thoughts on being Digitally Responsible thinking “hey, they’re comfortable with these tools, a blog is a great way to get input”.  Well, it didn’t work out that way – to be honest I think the way I framed the task was confusing for them.  I should have been far more clear and made the task simpler.  But, recently a couple of students have posted some thoughtful comments… 

SLC Student Spaces input 001I approached the SLC executive again this month to ask if I could speak to the full SLC again.  I wanted to follow up on the previous task and ask them if they could provide their school’s input, in what ever form they collected it, to me by February.  I also wanted to have them brainstorm input into a new idea I’m playing with, called Student SpacesSLC Student Spaces input 002This time I just used a blog post as a reference for them to pre-read then I used time in their SLC meeting for table group brainstorming – I asked them to have a recorder at each table and to respond to these questions:

  • If you had a Student Space, list up to five features and capabilities you believe it must have (think of Internet tools you use now like Facebook, a blog, Google docs, Windows Live, etc.)?
  • If you had a Student Space, list up to five concerns or issues you see with the idea?
  • In what ways might a Student Space help you to complete school assignments (think about it being a choice you would have, not a direction from your teacher)?
  • List up to five of your favourite Internet sites / tools that you think are useful for supporting or completing your school assignments and indicate why and how they are useful.

This worked very well.  I have input from a dozen tables or so.  I’m looking forward to compiling their input and using it to influence our efforts to support student learning in a digital environment.

Light bulbNotes from SLC and the Riverside Secondary digital immersion grade 9 students are now available here.

In addition to consulting with the students on the SLC, I met with a

Riverside DI9 class organizing to post input to student spaces
grade 9 class and asked them the same questions.  They organized into groups of 3 or 4 and wrote their responses live as comments on the Student Spaces blog post (these students all happen to have laptops).  There are eight responses posted with really good input.
Cassidy’s digital backpack and favourite tools for learning

While with these grade 9’s, I took the opportunity to interview a few students about their Digital Backpacks which tied in nicely with the fourth Student Spaces question (above).  I am impressed with how easily, without preparation or prompting, kids are able to share their opinions on important topics. 

Tryston’s digital backpack and favourite tools for learning
I think that we adults often think kids are just facebooking, texting, messaging, and consuming youtube video.  But, when given the opportunity, they do use digital tools to support themselves as students not just socializers and consumers. 

For me, the experience of tapping into student voices has been quite rewarding.  I think that those of us working at the District level in education should make a concerted effort to engage students and tap into their thinking and ideas about our work.  We can learn so much from them and it will help us make what we do, better!

I’d love to hear from you, your stories about tapping into student voices for your work.  Perhaps you’d like to share them with us here…