Sunday, January 12, 2014

Digital Natives?

Today's post comes via the email I received from my principal last night about the topic of Monday's faculty meeting: the one-to-one technology conversation in the county. Essentially, students and teachers will each be given a laptop for home and school use. The conversion will be over the next 3(ish) years, during which time teachers and students (starting with elementary, then middle, and finally high school) will be equipped with their own computer (or tablet, or whatever company has the most competitive bid). This conversion is a part of the move to a digital future in education. One that leaves textbooks and paperbacks behind, and gives students a piece of technology outfitted with e-texts and e-books. While the roll out will likely a high up front cost, it should, over time, save money because the e-texts are far more cost effective than printed textbooks.

This all sound great, right? Shiny new tech toys for kids and teachers. Access to word processing, the internet, and other wonderful apps and tools at our fingertips. The perfect learning scenario for the digital natives that fill the seats in my room.

These natives are adept at texting. They can send a text message faster than I can blink. They know how to use the camera setting on their phones, taking selfies in the middle of class (maybe they should be called narcissistic natives). They can snap chat, and tweet. Beyond this, though, they seem a bit, well, lost.

The new English curriculum calls for a lot of computer time to complete lengthy writing assessments. Each assessment seems to have a tech piece built in that requires students to create a Prezi, or Glog, or Animoto (these pieces appear to be more for "fun" (thrown in just to say technology is in the lesson) than to serve a real purpose). Before each assessment, I explore the website that is in the lesson and learn how to use it, so I can teach my students. I write detailed directions on how to use the website and encourage the students to play with the features on each of the programs before they begin their assignment. And still, after all of this, my students sit at their computers confused. Then the questions come, "How do I embed a picture? A video?" "How do I add text?" "How do I change the colors?" I ask the kids if they tried to play with the features, and they say "no". It's too hard. Too confusing. They don't get it.

Don't get me started on the lack of understanding of Microsoft Word or Power Point. Their MS Office skills are worse than their ability to navigate a website.

Knowing all of this, it's no wonder I am a bit skeptical about one-to-one technology. That these digital natives, aren't so native at all. That my generation, one that was introduced to technology over a number of years, is likely better at navigating new technology than the students who were born never knowing a world without a smart phone.

My English class has moved so far away from anything an English class should be-- I essentially teach a civics course (and, even worse, the English 11 curriculum doesn't include a novel...not one novel)-- that I shouldn't even be called an English teacher.

Maybe what our administrators think the future will be, or should be, isn't what is best. Maybe, just maybe, that in looking forward at education, we only need to look back.

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