"I'm Dissappointed in the Technology Skills of My Students."

Stephen Van Orden is a thinker. An accomplished German teacher out of Timpview High School (Provo, Utah), Stephen is also a member of my doctoral cohort at Utah State University. Stephen's concern also concerns me.

First some background, then my response.

Last Monday, I gave a presentation to the members of my cohort in connection with an Educational Administration class that we are all taking. The presentation discussed Marc Prensky's latest article. Upon completion of my presentation, class ended, and Stephen responded.

"To be honest, I'm very disappointed in the technology skills of my students," he replied - admittedly catching me off guard as we exited the building.

"Why, what do you mean?"

"Well, I've found that my students are great at playing on the computer. And they can text very well. But you'd be surprised at what they really can't do. Like PowerPoint. Not every student knows how to make a PowerPoint presentation. When we do PowerPoints as a class, I have to walk some kids through the entire process. And podcasting! We spent an entire week creating podcasts as a class and I can't help asking myself if the time spent was really worth it. Couldn't we have accomplished the same thing - as far as the German that they learned goes - in simply doing oral reports?"

To be honest, at that moment I had no idea what to say. These were Digital Natives he was talking about. These kids had grown up in the light, you know.

After a while, though, I came to my senses and emailed him a response:

While I admit that your questions expressed in last night's class caught me a little off guard, I have since given your concerns additional thought to the extent that I am actually able to offer a little bit of advice.

First, I think it's very important that you continually maintain perspective when using technology in your teaching. Technology is simply a tool. And like other tools, it may not be particularly effective in use - much like a hammer would rarely be used to open a bottle or to remove a screw. That said, however, some tools are indispensable. Have you ever tried to change the oil in your car without using a wrench?

I'm sure you will agree that in your teaching, there are some pieces of technology that have become just that: indispensable. Take your your Tablet PC as an example. How different would your teaching be, your routine in grading, taking roll, and presenting ideas, if you no longer had the use of your tablet? I would argue that there are some pieces of technology that have become more integral to what we do as a teacher than even the pencil (which, in and of itself, is also an educational technology).

In that vein, I have other kinds of educational technology that I would recommend you try with your students before abandoning all hopes in light of your students' current technological skill level. Remember, just because PowerPoint and podcasts may not have been as effective as you had originally anticipated, it may just be that you need to consider using a different hammer.

Rather than listing a few tools here, I'd recommend you check out the wiki I've started for ESL teachers in my district. These tools will really work for learners of any language:

Off the top of my head, I would recommend that you look into VoiceThread first.

Anyway, enough for now. Sorry for the long email.
He replied, thanking me for my response, and pledged that he wasn't jumping off the technology bandwagon any time soon. And then confessed an idea that just might be right:
My only concern is that I'm not sure the digital revolution is a ubiquitous as some proponents believe. I think we are still at the beginning of it. I think that the real digital natives are currently in elementary school.
So now it's your turn:
  • Is the digital revolution truly ubiquitous?
  • How old are the Digital Natives?
  • How did I do in my response to his concerns?
  • What would you have told Steven?
Thanks, in advance, for your thoughtful responses.

Image Source: Flickr user MarkHaertl.

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