students and technology
This is not about my laptop ban.
So I’ve now been teaching for almost three months. For the most part, I really like my students. I think they’re smart and funny and, generally, willing to do the work. Whether their smarts actually make it onto the written page is one thing, but I still find myself mulling over what one student said in a review session I held last week. I’d asked them to think about big themes and to make connections, and one of them said something that I think is incredibly perceptive. So what follows is not a rant about how dumb my students are, because they’re not.
That said, what’s going on with them and technology? We hear so much about how these students are of the digital age. They grew up with computers, etc etc. They can tweet. They use facebook, blah blah blah. Well I’ve gotta say: I’m finding no evidence of special technological savvy amongst them.
Now granted, I’m in a different position vis-a-vis my students that most of those doing this kind of commentary. I’m young, only six years older than my oldest students. This means that, when it comes to tech, there isn’t that much of a gap between me and them. I was in college when Facebook came out, and my university was one of the first handful to which it was rolled out. I didn’t have my own computer at home, but my dad bought me a laptop for freshman year. All of this to say that while I did not grow up with computers in the same way that my current students did, they were around enough that there isn’t a significant gap between me and them when it comes to access.
But here’s what I’m finding interesting.
When I send students to the Chicago Manual of Style website, they report back that it was confusing.
They don’t have the foggiest how to find information with a basic internet search.
So problem one: Whatever they’re doing with tech, they don’t know how to use the internet. They don’t know how to find information.
But the real reason I’m writing this post? It’s now becoming increasingly clear that students don’t know how to use word processing programs.
I’m reading papers in which font size shifts within a sentence. Multiple times.
I’m reading papers in which the footnotes are in a different font to the body of the text.
I have students who didn’t know how to insert footnotes into their text.
In other words, somehow students are entering (and leaving) one of the “best,” most elite schools in the country, and they don’t know the basics of making a word-processing program work for them. They are controlled by the whims of Microsoft Word’s default settings.
Now clearly, this is a failing of high school to insist that students learn these skills. It’s probably happening because overambitious parents don’t think their children have time to take a semester-long elective in middle school on basic computing. (It helps to have a mother who was a secretary in a former life.) But I think it’s also happening because we assume that increased contact with and early access to technology equals competence and familiarity with it. And I, for one, am finding that to not be the case.
(And, to be clear, I’m no tech guru. It’s now becoming a running joke in one of my classes that the projector setup will never work when I’m using it. I even got the projector to work and was discussing an image on the screen when it cut out on me mid-sentence.)
So what to do about this? I’m now thinking about it for my classes next semester. I’m certainly not getting paid enough to really care, but at the same time, I do feel like I can’t wonder what’s going on in other people’s classrooms if students in my classroom aren’t being exposed to these things either.
So how do you work on teaching these skills–and if we use the language of transferable skills, these would certainly count–within the context of a history course?
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