by Sandra Miller
Say hello to the free agent learner—also known as a typical middle school student!
Students are not waiting around for educators to provide a new type of environment for their learning. On the contrary, they are creating opportunities for themselves—especially middle school students who view learning in new, often very different ways, from even today’s high school students.
High school students are more traditional in their use of technology, using it for things like checking grades, taking notes, accessing online texts, writing papers and doing homework. By contrast, middle school students who participated in Project Tomorrow’s “Speak Up” survey are more apt to use their mobile or other devices to:
Collaborate with classmates on problem solving
Tap into Facebook for schoolwork help
Text their teachers with questions
Solve real-world problems
Find podcasts/videos to learn about something
Access online textbooks
Use mobile apps to self-organize
Access online tutors
Use online writing tools
Take online tests or assessments on their own.
Teachers and administrators will need to work together to re-create learning environments for these “Free Agent” learners. Many have smart phones and want to use them. Parents support these students’ use of technology, using smart phones themselves and often using technology in their own jobs.
Administrators hesitate to embrace mobile technology due to concerns about Internet safety and district liability, digital equity, network security, and teacher training. Teachers hesitate with worries about distraction, digital equity, cheating, and knowing how to integrate new devices. At the same time both recognize that there are potential benefits to integrating new technologies such as:
Increasing student engagement
Reviewing classroom material and extending the day
Providing access to online resources
These “Free Agent Learners” need new paradigms for learning. Can we as educational leaders shift our thinking? As Charles Darwin (English Naturalist 1809-1882) said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
The Free Agent Learner has already incorporated an expanded vision of education into their own learning beyond the school walls. It is up to us as educational leaders to help teachers incorporate these new learning environments. Let’s get on with it!