Students, Schools and the 21st Century Classroom

Recently released by CDW-G, “21st Century Classroom Report: Preparing Students for the Future or the Past?” explores how students, faculty and districts view and use technology in high school classrooms. This is the second year CDW-G has done this survey, and the results show how technology functions in public high schools from the perspective of 1,000 high school students, faculty and IT professionals. We talked with Joe Kurtz, director for K-12 education at CDW-G, about the report and how a 21st century classroom works.

Kurtz says that the key to the report is the student feedback where they had some interesting findings. There were also a couple of interesting results, the first dealing with differences from the report last year.

“The definition of the 21st century classroom as defined by the teachers and faculty was really changing compared to what we found in the prior year,” explains Kurtz. “They defined the 21st century classroom the prior year as basically an Internet connection and a laptop and a projector. This year we saw a major emphasis on wireless being essential to really promote the 21st century skill set, and that’s really an essential square one that they needed to have in the classroom.” Wireless Internet access is now viewed as a chief element in classrooms in order to fulfill a school’s vision for 21st century learning.

The report also has some interesting findings surrounding digital content. “We found that only 11 percent of the schools we looked at were using digital content.” Sixty-two percent were considering using digital content. “There’s a whole host of different questions the schools are going through when considering moving to digital content,” adds Kurtz. “There are some challenges … a lot of that comes down to affordability, which then puts a lot of the questions on the community as a whole: How do we get around the affordability piece knowing that 62 percent of the people are looking to do this but only 11 are using it now?” Future report results might yield some of these answers.

We know that wireless access is important, but what else makes a 21st century classroom? “It has devices — whether that’s tablets, laptops, any type of personal computing devices.” The classroom also has an anchor, according to Kurtz, with the interactive whiteboard (a “gateway technology” Kurtz mentions). Whiteboards foster classroom collaboration between the students using it at the front of the classroom to the teachers using it to present class material. The 21st century classroom also has a projector, digital content and audio.

“The big think outside of the devices,” Kurtz says, “is that the 21st century classroom promotes collaboration. This is really a catalyst to make sure you’re setting yourself up to achieve the end result of increasing your students’ achievement throughout the course of their education.”

Students also had a say about their 21st century skills. “The biggest thing we saw out of the study from the students’ perspective was 94 percent of the students are saying that they’re using technology in general throughout the course of their day; however, only 46 percent — again from the student’s perspective — are saying that their schools are assigning project-based assignments that require them to use technology.” Kurtz feels this is an area of opportunity for schools. “The students are basically saying, ‘We’re using this when we wake up; we’re using this when we go to bed. You can really engage us more by increasing the amount of technology required to complete our actual assignments.’”

These collaborative assignments could be large groups in the classroom or teams using information in the cloud based on real-life examples. Students are already using the technology, but only half of the time do they get to translate those skills to their education.

Results like these are opportunities for schools to see where they stand with regard to technology use and develop plans according to what they find. Kurtz suggests schools utilize the report to develop plans to move to integrated technology use or digital content in classrooms with the help of their community and possibly other school districts who have successful plans and implementations.

“It’s a really good temperature check for the schools to use to see how they’re doing if they asked their students what they want,” Kurtz adds. “A lot of schools may say they think they do, but they may really use this survey to say if we asked our students what they expect of us or are we just typically delivering this to them, assuming this is what they want.” Schools can download a sample copy of the questionnaire used in the report to help with their own research.

Kurtz concludes, “Districts can use it by number one, asking their students what they expect and making sure they are taking a true objective view of it — if they are able to deliver that or what their plan is to deliver that — and number two, collaborate with companies like CDW to put them in touch or help them plan how to truly get to where they want to go if they are considering more 21st century classroom installations/digital content moves.”

A copy of the report and survey are available at