Students Urge Teachers to Embrace Digital Tools

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Every morning, Nikhil Goyal, a 17-year-old rising senior at Syosset High School in Long Island, opens his Twitter page on his cellphone and takes in the trending topics of the day. On the way to school, he peruses the news on his Kindle. Technology for him, as for many of his peers, is ubiquitous, and he uses it to stay informed.

But once he is at school, he is banned from using these devices because the adults in charge consider them distractions and potential cheating aids. Speaking at a recent panel on bringing technology into the classroom, Mr. Goyal and other students made passionate pleas to educators to embrace technology as a way to teach better. They said teachers should not let fears drive policy.

“When I suggested using Twitter and Facebook in the classroom to one of my teachers, I was told, ‘I don’t want to be replaced by a computer,'" Mr. Goyal said.

Matthew Resnick, 17, a rising senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Manhattan, said the city was “overlooking a great opportunity to build trust with students.”

In keeping with the spirit of the conference, hosted by “#140edu," a large screen placed behind the panelists showed real-time responses on Twitter to the discussion. Though most largely agreed with the students’ viewpoints, some educators pointed out important caveats.

“'We' does not include everyone. Not all kids have this access and we can't forget that,” tweeted Josh Stumpenhorst (@stumpteacher), an English and social science teacher from Chicago.

Amanda Scheerbaum (@AScheerbaum), a senior academic adviser at the Rochester Institute of Technology, cautioned that social media was a tool, not a panacea.

“Unlocking social media in schools isn't the solution — you need to have goals & plans for use,” she tweeted.

After the panel, both Mr. Resnick and Mr. Goyal acknowledged that they were speaking from positions of privilege.

“It’s almost embarrassing how much we have,” Mr. Resnick said, referring to his school’s trove of MacBooks, iPads and desktop computers.

Mr. Goyal, who is set to release his first book on education policy, said an investment in technology upgrades across the school system was expensive but he stressed it would be money well spent.

“Textbooks become obsolete the minute they’re out,” he said.