How Engaging 21st Century Work Keeps Students Interested in Learning

When the Kentucky Department of Education’s Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP™) first began in 1994, National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS) were not part of the technology culture as they are today.

However, when NETS was established, it became part of Kentucky’s statewide STLP, which is currently in all 176 school districts, representing about 1,100 of the 1,400 schools and more than 5,000 students across the state.

Just how did the STLP help plant NETS into school culture? Community members, students and district leaders created the STLP program as a way to move technology into the building and to assist teachers and students in acquiring technology skill sets.

Due to the technology infrastructure of statewide Email and Internet, equitable distribution of hardware and software and university-supported listservs, teachers and students can easily communicate with peers and partners.

As part of the school technology funding (half local, half state funds, called KETS), school districts in Kentucky are encouraged to have each of their schools involved with STLP. Research conducted by Appalachian Technology in Education Consortium (ATEC) and CNA Corporation in July 2002 indicates that STLP offers benefits to students and schools. STLP also was recently listed as a resource for student tech support in schools.

Schools within each district select an adult to guide the students as they carry out any of the five kinds of projects. These may come from direct technology skill needs of the teachers as they gain ISTE Teacher Standards (Kentucky Teaching Standard X) or from student needs and interest. Projects may be instructional and tied to Kentucky’s Core Content for Assessment. Technical projects run concurrently with instructional projects, sometimes with other partners and district support.

As each school becomes comfortable completing instructional and technical projects, the school begins to reach out and utilize its technology skills to impact the community with service-learning projects that assist a community agency or business.

STLP students also may undertake a project called entrepreneurial thinking. This activity helps prepare students for a knowledge-based economy. The students take an idea, provide a product or service and have the potential to turn this into a business. Many of the school projects help support some of their STLP events.

In order to spotlight, reinforce and nurture the projects, we developed a three-tiered recognition program. Schools create projects, products and services at the school level. The best from the schools are brought to the regional level to be displayed and judged. The best in the state are invited to participate in the state education conference.

So, no matter their geographic location, all students in all schools are welcome to join STLP. This open policy helps close the gaps in gender and ethnicity when it comes to students acquiring technology skill sets.

With school, regional, state and national recognition, Kentucky’s STLP program enables students to be empowered to use technology to assist them in lifelong job opportunities and learning.

How are STLP students demonstrating NETS? Students can demonstrate the NETS standards by developing and keeping an electronic or hard copy evidence of NETS and be recognized as an Outstanding STLP Student each year at the annual state conference. NETS also guide students and teachers.

Technology Foundation Standards for Students All engaged learning opportunities of STLP tie to core content (learning standards and expectations). Basic operations and concepts

  • STLP students, via the six STLP goals, focus on being proficient in the use of technology. Students demonstrate their achievement. They use technology skills in authentic projects that impact the school and community.

Social, ethical, and human issues

  • Responsible use of technology is a key part of each project.
  • Project-based activities allow for peer and teacher collaboration. Many STLP students support technology both instructionally and technically for classrooms and staff. This positive interaction makes for better relationships.
  • Many students are interacting either in real time or virtual time with community agencies, businesses.

Technology productivity tools

  • Students can submit digital art and music, utilize multimedia, programming languages, Web site development or networking skills to produce products and services.

Technology communications tools

  • Students can create and submit technical writing, radio and video productions.
  • At the regional and state level, students are interviewed for network and technical engineer positions and quizzed about instructional classroom or community projects on display. Communication skills are a must for a student to be selected to these positions.

Technology research tools

  • Many projects undertaken to help the school and community must be researched.
  • STLP students create ThinkQuest Web sites, which develop and hone research skills.

Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools

  • STLP services are centered on maintaining hardware and troubleshooting software issues in school and community agencies. This could be done informally or via a school or district help desk.
  • STLP students are put into leadership roles to use critical thinking and problem solving. Fellow peers and teachers look up to them as mentors, troubleshooters and problem solvers. This student tech support is accepted in most schools.

What are some hidden benefits not recorded by NETS?

Growth in technology skills is not the only benefit. Students who may not normally be involved in a school’s extracurricular activities often do so due to the technology. Some students not active in sports may find a place in STLP. Anecdotal records from district and school coordinators report improved attendance and behavior. Many students must learn to work as team members, since many projects depend on this format. Being part of a team, for some special needs students, has been cited as a plus.

STLP regional showcases usually are held at local universities, bringing some students to a college campus for the first time and encouraging postsecondary possibilities and interest.

Another benefit is that some students gain technical positions within the district during breaks. The skills also assist students when applying for jobs before graduating high school or during postsecondary experiences.

What do others have to say about being part of STLP?

For an outstanding district’s collection of STLP data, visit STLP News and Resources

From A Student: Without STLP I would have never had the confidence to apply for and get a job as a network technician at a young age. Without STLP I also would have never understood the value of an industry certification and would have never achieved A+ Certified and Microsoft Certified Professional. What I am trying to get at by saying all of this is how STLP helped me in my life and how much I want STLP to benefit others who have the will to achieve success.

From A Parent: How much the experiences you all have provided Ben at each conference have matured and challenged him, with technical and social situations — a seriously great vehicle for young adults.

How can your school become involved with empowering students and helping them gain NETS?

STLP is a simple concept. The needs of the building or community drive the program. Look around your building for technology needs or opportunities for students to learn using technology. Ask students to form teams to accomplish the projects to meet the needs. Allow students to solve a problem, produce a product or help someone else. This is STLP. Call it any name, but an empowered student is the essence.

Elaine Harrison