Debunking the Digital Divide

Carla at the English Teacher Blog posted on rethinking our assumptions about integrating technology. The first assumption she critiques is one that I’ve heard a lot and have a pretty strong opinion about: that “students know more about technology than teachers do.” I wholeheartedly agree with her position that this is proving to be further and further from the truth. I just want to make three very simple points about this.

1. Students knowledge of technology is very limited in scope. As Carla mentiones, students are generally fluent in the things their friends are fluent in – MySpace, YouTube, etc. However, when they need to use technology with specific, school-related functions (i.e. Word, wikis, etc.), they still need to be taught how to use it. For example, I have to spend time each year teaching 9th graders how to use the basic functions in Word – double-spacing, margins, indenting, and so on. Obviously this shouldn’t be surprising; when have they ever needed to type an MLA formatted essay before?

2. Students still need to learn how to learn – just watch them try to learn a new tool. Last year, I tried to use a wiki for my students to post book reviews and other class-related information. It was surprising (because I fell victim to this assumption) that students struggled to use the wiki. Again, I had to try teaching them how to use it. However, some students still struggled to learn. That was yet another example of students who need to learn how to learn – they still need to develop the thinking skills and habits of mind we try to focus on.

3. While they may show some skills in using technology, students very rarely know how to use technology ethically. The students we teach are typically more adept at using and learning how to use technology. They set our VCRs for us because they’re not afraid to hit all the buttons. They navigate the web quickly because they’re willing to click on just about anything. Of course, while these are positive behaviors (taking responsible risks is one of our habits of mind), they can also lead to some less desirable, and often illegal, behaviors. Look at the preponderance of music and movie piracy and the ease and frequency of copy-paste plagiarism as evidence.

Of all the things our use of technology in the classroom should focus on, it seems that this last one should be the most important – we must find ways to teach our students how to use technology in a morally responsible way. Any suggestions?

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