Small town public library life and library school topics of interest

Emerging Technologies and College Bound Teens

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Rural college bound teens are often behind their urban peers in adopting emerging technologies. It can take years before rural libraries and their patrons catch on to the latest technological trends, often due to lack of funding or staff to implement the technology. That said, I have found in my research this semester, rural college bound teens are computer savvy. About 40% of the rural college bound teens I surveyed have access to smartphone technology and 25% use laptops. They are well-versed in searching the web and using social media. So what do the rural college bound teens of the near future have to look forward to?

To answer this question, I went to a somewhat more urban area, Santa Barbara, California, and interviewed David, a current sixth-grader and Emily, a current fourth-grader at Washington Elementary School and their mother, Mary. Washington is a California Distinguished School (2000) that added iPads to their curriculum for all students, grades 3-6 in Spring 2014. This was huge transition for the school district involving policy decisions, funding and training for teachers, parents and students, and changes to the curriculum.

Students are issued school-owned iPads which come pre-loaded with various school-based software, including some textbooks, math programs such as Front Row Math, Kahn Academy, and DreamBox; and literature programs such as Lexia Reading Core. Some students with learning disabilities also have Speak to Type software to assist them with completing assignments. One of the most useful features of the tablet is the school’s own web program that allows both students and parents to examine grades and assignments. Mary, in particular, appreciates this feature. “Because it is in real time, I am able to check on my children’s grades and make sure they are completing all their assignments. If I have questions about any of them, I can immediately link to the teacher or an administrator if necessary.” Part of the school’s programming also includes internal email and messenger service; the student has access to a group of students (usually the class she is in), but not everyone in the school. All messaging is accessible by the teacher, so students have learned to be careful what they message to others.

Currently, most homework is completed on the tablet, while in-class use is between 10-20%.  Multiple-choice, spelling, and other tests are also taken on the iPads. Depending on what parents allow, students can add apps, use email, and access their iTunes accounts. This allows the parents to act as “filters” for their child’s specific iPad. FaceTime is also available, but is only to be accessed outside of the school day; parents are notified by email if their student is currently using FaceTime, allowing parents to keep track of who their child is interacting with (and when).

Teachers use their iPads to replace a variety of traditional teacher tools. Grade books are now all tablet-based. Because the school’s tablets are connected to large-screen monitors in each classroom, teachers no longer need overhead projectors to project their notes, and films are also accessed and shown from the teacher’s iPad. Student work on the tablets is stored on the school’s servers, cutting down on the amount of paper in the classroom as well. In spite of all this new technology, Washington Elementary School still functions as a traditional school rather than a flipped classroom; teachers still impart the majority of the information in the classroom while homework is completed at home.

This type of technology based learning is what the next generation of college bound teens needs to be prepared for; evidence provided by the Pearson Foundation (as related in Cassidy, 2014) shows that tablet computer use had tripled between 2011-2012, with 25% of college students using tablets in 2012 (p.125). In 2013, nearly 35% of students were using tablets (p.130).

Widespread tablet use can have implications for public libraries as well as schools, with patrons demanding wireless printing options and downloadable collections (Cassidy, 2014, p.127). With the use of Skype on tablets for public school student interactions, we may start seeing this technology used by reference desk staff, adding a personal element to remote computer access. Some ILS companies are already designing platforms that run on tablets such as the Polaris LEAP product by Innovative Interfaces (http://www.iii.com/products/polaris/polaris-leap); although this product is designed to make reference staff more mobile (they can take tablet computers with OPAC and Circulation software to the shelves as they assist patrons), it is not impossible that library staff could attend off-site gatherings of teens and others to promote library services. Library programs also have the ability to become technology based with speakers visiting the library via Skype or using online tutorials to demonstrate techniques. Libraries need to work with their local school districts to provide easy linking to library downloadable collections and reference databases for student access.

When asked what they liked about the tablet program at Washington Elementary, David and Emily were both strongly in favor of it. David said that he prefers to type rather than write his assignments because they are neater and he can edit them better. Emily finds that learning the technology prepares her for the future, giving her skills she will use for the rest of her life. I believe that this technological trend will continue to grow, and more schools will adopt programs similar to the one at Washington. In just a few short years, these students will be the next college bound teens; public libraries must also adopt some of this technology to stay a vital part of the community.


Cassidy, E., Colmenares, A., Jones, G., Manolovitz, T., Shen, L., et al. (2014). Higher education and emerging technologies: Shifting trends in student usage. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(2), 124-133.  Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/science/article/pii/S0099133314000147 

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