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Tech Schmech

May 18, 2011

I got an iPad yesterday. Amazingly enough, my college bought it for me (and all my other colleagues) in the hope that I will do something more productive than watch Netflix and play Infinity Blade on it.

That said, I sat through a day-long workshop today to try to get a handle on what I can do, pedagogically, with the shiny new toy. We heard a lot about what the iPad will do and a lot about what “digital natives” (our students, born after 1980) are like. According to Bennett et al. (2008), digital natives “possess sophisticated knowledge of and skills with information technologies” who “as a result of their upbringing and experiences with technology…have particular learning preferences or styles that differ from earlier generations of students.”

While I think I agree with the second part, I have some issues with the first part. On the basis of my experiences with students which, while anecdotal, are extensive, I think that digital natives are good at consuming the fruits of information technologies while their “sophisticated knowledge of and skills with information tehnology” may be very narrowly focused on only certain aspects of that information technology. Digital natives may text 3000+ times a month and have 1200 facebook friends but they do not know how to write a formula to calculate their grade in an Excel spreadsheet or how to format text in a Word file or generate a meaningful representation of data using any of the variety of digital methods of doing so.

Steve Waddell tried to convince us that data are not of interest to digital natives. Perhaps. But as a scientist, I think the beauty of our new digital, technological world is that it enables us to deal with the increasing crush of data being produced by the exponentially expanding digital universe in meaningful ways…if you have the skills to handle the onslaught. When I have my students read older scientific literature, they are amazed that all the data are arranged in complicated data tables. Why? We did not have the computing ability to prepare nice summary graphics that are a given today. Yet it does not occur to ANY of them to open up their MacBook Pro/iPad and create a graphic representation of those data that they would find more meaningful.

Waddell also tried to convince us that our students are out there creating content in collaborative hordes who don’t need to actually know anything because they will just Google it. But Kvavik et al. (2004) found that, while 99.5% of college students are emailing, word processing and surfing the net for pleasure only 21% of them are creating and distributing their own content. Benett et al.’s conclusion is that we are engaging in “an academic form of ‘moral panic'” in planning for the educational needs of the new generation of “digital natives” and they recommend a more deliberative approach informed by actual research on the objects of our panic.

So, in the end, what do we do with these “digital natives” and the shiny new toys we have been given? Perhaps I should ask my students to help me create a youtube video (which I have never done) to demonstrate how to use computer software to run a regression analysis or an ANOVA (which they cannot do). Maybe this is the collaborative, creative learning activity that relies on technology and actually leads to content knowledge gains…on both sides of the digital generational divide.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Theresa Teltschik permalink
    July 27, 2011 9:14 am

    Great entry! This really helped me locate some relevant material for a project I’m researching at work.

  2. May 18, 2011 4:55 am

    Good point! I agree that it’s a myth that all digital natives are technology experts, and you make a good case that they have much to learn from faculty about understanding, manipulating and representing data (conversely, as you suggest, faculty canolearn from them as well.)

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