Choosing new ed-tech? Try asking students what they want

Students disengage when school environments rely only on control and compliance
Grace Lee
Grace Lee

Inviting student perspectives into technology selection is meaningful, and the consequences of not considering student viewpoints can be counterproductive and detrimental to learning.

School environments that rely only on control and compliance deter autonomy, which leads to disengaged students. Whereas fostering student agency leads to ownership. This same principle applies when making technology decisions for classrooms.

The student perspective is unique

Logitech researchers recently surveyed parents about what influences their family’s technology purchases. The good news is students are getting more involved with technology decisions at home. In our research, over half (55%) of parents involve their kids in tech purchases. We found that kids who are involved in purchasing decisions at home feel knowledgeable, powerful, important, confident, responsible, and excited.

Schools have incorporated the student perspective more over the years, but not when it comes to tech. Superintendents, principals, IT directors, and teachers all have roles to play in working with students to find solutions that work.

As it is in many cases, student opinions about technology differ greatly from adults. Middle school-aged children focus on functionality, while early elementary-aged kids really value aesthetics. For example, older students can elaborate on how they plan to use the tech, whereas younger students can provide insight on the color or size of the design they like best.

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Students also use the technology differently. Most students, of course, aren’t fully physically mature or are still developing certain motor skills, so where they tap on a screen or how they use a mouse may be different. Involving students in the decision-making process can reveal particular needs or possible unique solutions in the classroom.

How schools can involve students

Getting students involved in technology decisions can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. Just as digital learning is best when it centers on choice, so should we also engage students in decision-making for the technology tools that enhance the learning experience. Choosing one or many of the strategies below can help administrators and teachers effectively engage students – and foster student agency in the school.

1. Conduct surveys and polls: Surveys and polls are the easiest ways to gather feedback from a wide range of students. Best of all, even the youngest of students can participate. Students in kindergarten can participate in a “raise your hand if…” poll led by a teacher. Surveying and polling students can help gather input on features and capabilities, as well as opinions and reviews of tech they currently use.

To increase student ownership, administrators and teachers can invite students to lead surveys and polls (as well as the next tip: focus groups). In addition to giving students agency, student-led research teaches young people how to collect and analyze data as well as consider others’ opinions–skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

2. Host focus groups: Students rarely hold back their true feelings–teachers can certainly attest to that. Focus groups provide students the opportunity to air their authentic opinions. Hosting student focus groups can reveal opinions and considerations that will be missed if schools only talk to adults.

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We talk to students to ensure all voices are heard throughout our development process, from the weight of a tool to how students will use it to learn. For example, while developing the Logitech Pen, input from over 100 students led to the addition of an extra-long silicone grip to ensure comfort for beginners who are still learning handwriting techniques.

3. Invite students to form or join a technology committee: A technology committee might seem like a novel idea, but plenty of student groups, such as student councils or student boards, already exist. Asking students to join or form a committee gives them the opportunity to be part of decision-making and creates a space for students to explain what they would use the tech device for and how they would use it.

Involving students in committees will depend on existing school rules and cultures but there are a few opportunities to explore. Students could:

  • Run their own committee, leading efforts such as initial research and gathering input from the larger student body.
  • Work with school leaders to co-create a list of desired features and capabilities. This provides students an up-front opportunity to share their thoughts.
  • Join vendor demonstrations to ask questions and give input.

An important part of involving students in committees is making sure they are empowered. Administrators and teachers should frame the objective for students, intentionally engage them in conversations with adults, and create real space for them to be heard.

4. Give students individual choice (when possible): Many of the tips above relate to how to involve students in district- or school-wide technology decisions. Creating opportunities to apply choice to personal decisions is just as important. When possible, administrators and teachers should give students choice in technology tools.

Consider allowing students to choose between tools such as a keyboard or a stylus, make choices such as the color of a product, or customize a solution to work better for them. Keeping these opportunities in mind when evaluating technology will create a throughline of choice from the district level to individual students.

Co-creating an experience through choice

As administrators and teachers continue to explore ways to activate student voice and choice, technology procurement is an area that will have a meaningful impact on districts, schools and students. By joining in the process of choosing technology, students will have the chance to co-create their learning and also practice skills like decision-making, initiative, and data analysis that they’ll continue to need in their school journey, life and career.

Grace Lee is the head of design for education at Logitech.

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