Sunday, July 18, 2010

Technologically illiterate students...

Interesting article in Inside Higher Ed on Technologically Illiterate Students.

At my institution, all of us "old" professors keep getting told that we're digital immigrants while our students are digital natives. In other words, they grew up with digital technology like computers while us older folk came to it later in life. What typically follows is the idea that we then have to modify our teaching to reach these Generation Z students - maybe by incorporating "cool" things like Second Life, Twitter, and podcasts.
There is some truth to this digital native business in that my kids were using our computer since they could move the mouse and I never used one until I entered college. We have to remember, however, that my generation invented the fucking Internet to begin with and some of us "older" computer users learned numerous programming languages (Basic, Pascal, Fortran, C) and used computers that required MS-DOS commands or, better yet, UNIX commands (biff, grep, ls, emacs).  I may have started using computers later in life, but I think I'm more knowledgable about how they actually work than many of the so-called digital natives!
Anyway, speaking for myself, I view these various technologies (Second Life, Twitter, etc.) as tools and just as I wouldn't hammer a nail with my carpenter's level, I don't feel the need to Twitter things to my geology students.  It simply doesn't fit in with how I approach the material, the class, and my students.  It's true I blog, but this isn't for my students (even if they stumble upon this and read it), it's for me.
I suppose I could create some Second Life world where my students meet and examine some imaginary rock outcroup and learn how to take strike & dip measurements with a compass.  Then again, I could just drive them in the college van to a real rock outcrop, hand them a damn compass, and have them do it in real life with me looking over their shoulder.  Which do you think would be a more effective teaching method?

The problem I have with students in my classes is not that they don't know how to use technology in general - for the most part they do.  It's that they don't know how to use technology effectively in a learning environment.   They can snap pics of their drunk friends with their cell phone and upload them into Facebook but they can't take collected data points, put them into Excel, and plot a best-fit line.  They can look up information online but don't have the sense to understand why gathering information from a Wikipedia article is unacceptable as their source (sole source!) for a research paper in a college-level science class.
A final thought, learning something takes effort.  No one likes to admit that, but it's true.  Just as you need to work out to develop muscles or lose weight, you need to read, study, and ponder the material to learn it.  It really doesn't matter if the material is delivered through a book, traditional lecture, podcast, blog, or hundreds of tweets.  There's effort required on the part of the student receiving the information.

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