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.
"Sleeping Student" photo with kind permission of Tapasparida
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