Kids Today

from School CIO

Peter Grunwald is the founder and president of Grunwald Associates, a market research and strategic consulting firm that has been conducting industry-wide surveys on education and technology since 1995 . School CIO recently got Grunwald's perspective on why today's kids are more tech-savvy than ever, and what that means for educators.

Q. How do you think this generation of students is different from previous ones?

A. Kids are taking control of the media they use, whereas the model in previous generations was passive consumption. Students today are producing content themselves, which is reflected in the explosion of personal Web pages, profiles on social networking sites, blogging, podcasts and so on. The whole definition of a cool kid has changed. Now, cool kids are often smart about technology and use it to amplify their voices. From a school's standpoint, this has implications for the expectations about technology that kids bring with them to school.

Q. Your current study investigates students and social networking. What should CIOs be aware of in this domain?

A. There's a lot of focus on the dangers of the Internet and social networking sites in terms of kids connecting with people they ought not to or being exposed to inappropriate content. There is some of that, as there is in a variety of other media. There hasn't been much discussion yet of the educational benefits of social networking. It's hard to predict, but connecting kids in geographically diverse locations to collaborate on projects or learn about each other's realities and cultures can be useful. Multiplayer games and simulations also have educational value. The possibilities are going to become more obvious as the dangers are dealt with or, better yet, put into perspective.

Q. Do new technologies mean that old tools like television have less value?

A. We have found that kids who have the Internet at home are also watching TV, listening to the radio, and talking on the telephone. So the issue becomes how to deal with attention spans that are a product of multitasking. Sometimes that means that kids have shorter attention spans. Or it can mean that the student is used to being in control of where his attention is. That doesn't mean throw out the TV as a deliverer of instructional media. TV is just part of a broader package of technology. The more important matter is understanding the role of all kinds of media in engaging and reaching students.

Q. How can technology be used to engage students?

A. Technology needs to be seamlessly integrated into the classroom rather than making it something that students have to get up and walk to. If I'm playing a game or answering a quiz question, the fact that I'm calling on information that I may have on a handheld device, laptop, or on the Internet becomes less relevant as the technology becomes more robust. Technology as a discrete activity, separate from everyday learning, is going to become less important.

Q. Have you found that school districts use technology more for administrative rather than instructional purposes?

A. I wouldn't want to quantify one over the other. It's easier to figure out, "How can we more accurately record information such as attendance?" The benefits are more readily apparent than the benefits of using technology to help deliver instruction and engage students in the subject area. However, taxpayers and the public think first and mostly of technology's benefits in the classroom. Since taxpayers are significant stakeholders in how schools construct and spend their budgets, it's important to keep in mind that from the public's standpoint, using technology for instruction is the primary consideration.

Q. What advice do you have for CIOs based on your research?

A. What is often most surprising to school district leaders is the importance of supporting and encouraging parental participation in technology decision making. In some ways it's counterintuitive. It means one more set of stakeholders to deal with, which can complicate the decision-making process. But the data is pretty compelling that when it is done intelligently, there is a strong connection between the level of parental participation and the size and health of the technology operation as a whole. It's really all about buy-in. Whenever you are dealing with a constituency, if they feel that they have a stake in the decisions, they'll be much more likely to back technology initiatives.

Lindsay Oishi is a graduate student in Learning Sciences and Technology Design at Stanford University.

Grunwald Associates is conducting a study on student social networking with the National School Boards Association in January 2007. CIOs can volunteer to participate in the telephone survey by contacting Grunwald Associates through its Web site, The Web site also reports research discussed in this article.