Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Digital Natives Aren't that Restless

As I bounce from tweet to tweet and blog to blog these days, I bump into presumptions about students and technology are at odds with my experience “in the trenches.” Constructionist gurus would have us suppose that A) Kids today are fabulously techno-savvy in the way their elders are not. B) If only we would reach kids through social media their zest for learning would ignite and they will hurl themselves at society’s problems, hell-bent to solve them. It's time for some balance.

Sorry for the downer, but I find that students often treat Web 2.0 activities as, well, assignments. At my school, where we have a one-to-one HP Tablet program, even a group of supposedly college prep sophomores will get bogged down in a simple matter like registering for a Google account, let alone, setting up a Google Site or Blogger. And many, when they get frustrated, simply stop in their tracks (so much for their intoxication with technology), demanding instant help, (“It’s not working, It’s not working....”). This same kind of impatience marks their searches rather than the intuition, judgement, and perseverance we might expect from “digital natives”. They will announce they “can’t find it”. Of course this is not the case for a majority, and, yes, some students dive right into the tech (and help others). But the online dimension in and of itself does not assure motivation or deep engagement for a large segment of students. Designing a project that takes into account such a broad spectrum of attitudes and skills is no easy matter.

I had a conversation with my AP class on the supposed tech generation gap. In their opinion their grandparents better fit the stereotype of the without-a-clue adult than their parents. They noted that many moms or dads were glued to Blackberries and iPhones. Though the parents weren’t Facebook junkies like their kids, they too were heavy texters, and in some cases participated in professional social networks. Of course most of the parents were compelled to learn tech skills by their jobs.

I think we teachers perpetuate the urban myth of the tech generation gap due to our own peculiar myopia. We can trudge up the salary scale despite resisting innovation. And it will probably be the newer, more tech adroit teachers who get laid off when budgets get cut. The national emphasis on standards-based testing also mitigates against innovation.

I am completely convinced that American students must learn to access information and communicate with the latest tools. This won’t happen if “grandparent” teachers / administrators don’t embrace the new and create learning environments that prepare our kids to take their places in the global community. This calls for a real cultural change up and down the educational system. Contrary to some popular notions, this will be far more daunting than plugging our tech-savvy kids into Web 2.0 , and letting their curiosity and skills power the curriculum. There are huge issues confronting the educational system, which are conceptual, not generational. A critical mass of "grandparents" of all ages stands to hinder acceptance of and adaptation to the tremendous communications revolution we are experiencing. Students, teachers, and administrators who "get it" need to be nurtured, and moved to the head of the class or a hard rain is gonna fall.

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"Sleeping Student" photo with kind permission of Tapasparida

14 comments:

aml said...

That the kids are not as tech savvy as we would believe (or like, sometimes) has been my experience since pre-Moodle days. Even then the staff would remark about how the students knew so much about computers, but oh, the complaints I got about things like e-mailing me an assignment or the mechanics of participating in an online discussion. You are right, too, that it's still homework. I experimented with starting a Facebook group to generate some out-of-class discussion, and students were quite excited to join, but there has not been a lot of action there -- even for extra credit.

I have started to "see the light" and understand that there are tech skills we need to teaching our students, if we want to be able to say that we are preparing them for the world. Too bad I have to figure it out myself, first!

Larry Baker said...

Very interesting comment. It would be SO helpful if our school developed specific skills and emphasized a set of core applications so that every teacher was not floundering on his or her own. Instead there has been an incredible investment in hardware/software without a concrete vision for where the actual instruction is headed. I think this has an awful lot to do with the presumption that once the teachers put the technology out there, the kids will just lap it up. I love doing it, but under present circumstances it is a major commitment to design a new Web 2.0 project and put it in play.

Rick said...

Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science? (Monty Python quote)... It gets worse in the workplace, Mr. Baker... Exspecially (sorry, had to substitute for especially) the quick frustration and the “It’s not working, It’s not working....” I hear it every day!

Rick said...

Outstanding topic, Mr. Baker! Off the top of my head, these are five “basic” tech skills that would give students an “edge” in the workplace…

1) Ability to make a proper “presentation” using PowerPoint. Ability to effectively use graphics, animation and transitions. Understand color and PROPER TYPE SIZE. Ability to export in different formats. Tip: Create PowerPoint presentations in oldest available version. Never use the “latest” version… It won’t display properly in older versions.

2) Strong Word skills. Know how to import pictures and graphics and remove “text wrap.” Know how to use “text boxes” and WordArt. Know how to use “Mail Merge.” You wouldn’t believe how many youngsters do not have this skill. Mail Merge is used ALL THE TIME! Good working knowledge of “headers and footers” and pagination. Know how to insert a “page break” or change format after a “page break.”

3) Strong Excel skills. Know how to use “formulas.” Understand the powerful formatting options. Understand the powerful “shortcuts.” Understand how to use “formulas” between pages.

4) Master Acrobat Pro… What an advantage in the workplace if you know how to create a lean, searchable PDF. Or if you know how to create a “fillable” form and collect data for a spreadsheet. The brightest workplace stars can add watermarks and “notes.” …or can make revisions in the PDF mode or… gulp… can change the “optical character recognition” running behind the PDF.

5) Know Web Design. Ability to understand and repair html code. Ability to OPTIMIZE graphics and pictures for the web. Know the difference between .jpg and .gif art (and when to use them). Understand hyperlinks and ability to identify and repair “broken” links. Understand web safe hexcodes for color. Understand web code basics (so pages display in all browsers and computer platforms). Ability to create basic forms.

Advanced skills that will get you noticed!

1) Flash animation.

2) PHP and ASP.NET coding for web interaction with database.

3) Microsoft Access database.

4) PageMaker or InDesign desktop publishing.

5) Ability to stream audio and video for the web.

6) Image editing (PhotoShop and Illustrator).

Larry Baker said...

Rick This is intriguing! Please expand on your insights about skills in the work place.

Rick said...

Thanks for the opportunity... But your passion for this topic has got me going!

Not only is your tech preparation of students going to pay off when they apply for a job, but it will help them "keep" their jobs! I've noticed a recent trend of "consolidation" of positions in the workplace. The workers who demonstrate a broad spectrum of tech skills will survive the chopping block! Trust me!

You touched on video skills before. It is a wave that needs to be taken seriously! Student who demonstrates proficiency in editing and crunching video are in high demand! So, get out your iMovie and play! The "timeline" skills will pay off in so many other programs (e.g. Final Cut, Adobe Premiere and even Audacity).

And students need to know about "optimization" of graphics for the web and become comfortable with all the different formats of video (e.g. .mov, .dv, .avi, .mpeg, .wmv and especially the Flash formats .flv and .swf).

A "whole nother" topic is the trend toward the Web 2.0 web site. A great example is your "English Companion" site. Again, you are on the cutting edge! Many experts think that this type of web design will take over the industry in the near future. Hey, kids! Better be ready!

Bridget said...

I agree with you that young people aren't as technologically savvy as one might think. But I think that argument primarily applies to high school students. When I was at Mercy (~4 years ago), I remember being a little bit thrown off by fellow classmates not understanding simple technologies. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that students were still using the main family computer at home to do their homework, web browsing, etc*. Plus, it didn't help that machines in Mercy's computer labs were about 10 years behind, or that the technological education offerings were few.

*Though I'm sure that has changed now that all the students have the tablets.

It was a completely different story once I came to college. In college, if you don't have your own laptop, you're behind. If you aren't doing a presentation in class with Powerpoint that includes video or some other form of multimedia, you're behind. And if you aren't getting most of your reading sources from the web (including assigned readings), you're behind. Not to mention EVERYONE seems to have a Blackberry/iPod/iPhone/etc.

At Michigan, the computer labs are constantly being upgraded with the latest software. I'm not saying the technology environment here is perfect, but other students and I have really benefited from professors forcing us to use these tools in projects. In one of my classes, for instance, my professor makes us blog. It's a good exercise for students looking to write for the new web.The fact that we can use a lot of expensive software programs for free (i.e. Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, etc.) also lets students experiment with these new tools.

In no way am I trying to say that college students are superior to high schoolers when it comes to technology. But I think that in college, you're forced to learn about and use a lot more of the new technologies for projects than you are in high school. Also, I still stumble across the occasional college student who doesn't know how to use technology. But that percentage is much smaller than it was for me in high school.

As for your argument about tech-savvy teachers, I'll just say that it's in the educational system's best interest to keep and promote them. I think this video kind of explains why http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpEnFwiqdx8

Bridget said...

Oh, I'd also like to add that I that I think college professors are still a little behind on their social media instruction. Not all of them, of course. But I've never had to create a wiki for a class, for example.

Larry Baker said...

Thanks Bridget, as usual your insights are very worthwhile. And I recommend that anyone who Twitters follow you @bridgers . You are in my Top Ten group on TweetDeck! (there is no higher honor).

Alison Kline-Kator said...

I love the idea of developing a core set of technologies - I think this might some some folks who might be more resistant to using technology to incorporate it. We're exposed to a lot of great things right now, but it's really up to an individual teacher to have the initiative to develop some direction for using those tools. I think students will also have a better overall experience in their four years if we can make sure that all students will have a similar experience with technology, instead of current students, who may or may not have a decent range of learning experiences depending on which teachers they have along the way.

aml said...

I agree with you, Alison, and I think we are perhaps moving in that direction, slowly, as CC looks at what students should know and where it could fit into the curriculum. Maybe we should be looking at Rick's list as we go.

The list is exceptional, but daunting! A humble religion teacher like myself needs a place or two to focus, maybe.

Ann

Larry Baker said...

Responding to Alison and aml--- I think I would start our 9th graders "in the cloud" with Google. When the kids register, give them a Google Account (Steve's idea). They would be able to use the same basic skills with Google Docs, Google Sites (which is working VERY well for my 90 sophs), YouTube, and Picasa. It's all free, its cloud computing which is clearly the future for applications, and the tools are Facebook-like, so they will pick it up. Great help on-line. Since its Google, the skills are highly transferable. Toss that out to CC if you get a chance, Ann. Blank stares comin' back at ya?

Katy K. said...

I agree with Ann and if she doesn't bring it up at CC I will. Getting staff to be proficient in Rick's list of skills is a need also. What do you all think would be the best way to do that? I know, on my own, I'm not persistent enought to keep at it. It I had a class commitment, "assignments", presentation deadlines or something like that I probably would. Some people might do better in a group atmosphere with a combination of real and virtual teachers. Interested in your suggestions.

Larry Baker said...

Thanks, for the question Katy. I expressed some ideas on this subject in my three part Staff Development Series. Please check it out: http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=1812217222251052574&postID=5999847098904314379

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