Digital Literacy for Digital Natives and Their Professors
In yesterday’s Inside Higher Ed’s technology blog, Joshua Kim wrote about “Courses, Facebook, and Secret Groups,” in which he pointed out that “There is a world of social learning going on, and we (meaning us instructors, educational technologists – basically anyone employed on the instructional or administrative sides of the house), know nothing about what is going on.” He then explains how students are using Secret Groups in Facebook—as well as other technologies—to learn outside the classroom.
Kim argues that our response to this phenomenon is to do nothing; to not even let on that we know our students are using these technologies. Instead, we should “Rejoice that our students are findings ways around us and our systems to take control of their own learning.”
Overall, I agree with Kim’s celebration of students using digital technology to take control of their own learning. However, I believe we need to do more that “Trust that our students will find the technologies that they need to navigate our classes.” We need to help them find those technologies and to encourage them to use technology well.
Although most of our students are digital natives who grew up using computers and cell phones and other types of technology, most are not technologically literate. Just because a student can access information does not mean that they know how to apply critical thinking skills in such a way that they can use the data well. Nor do students know how to use technologies well for organizing and disseminating their research.
Too often, when students begin to think about their presentations for my classes they immediately begin organizing a PowerPoint presentation and ask how many slides they need. They know the technology of PowerPoint but are not literate enough to realize that PowerPoint is not an effective technology for all presentations. In fact, my experience is that most PowerPoints—even those designed by professors or teaching professionals—actually are so poorly done that they diminish the quality of the presentation and interfere with active learning. When students begin to talk about PowerPoint, I respond by telling them that they cannot decide how to effectively design a presentation until they know what they want to present.
Later today, I am giving a presentation at the Michigan Developmental Education Consortium Conference on “Digital Technologies, Real Audiences, and At Risk Students.” In considering how to most effectively prepare for the presentation, I decided not to incorporate digital technologies. I will argue for the use of digital technologies in the classroom without using a PowerPoint or Prezi or WordPress or videos or even a projector.
Why not use digital technologies when presenting about digital technology? Because doing so would be a distraction to the main thesis I am trying to develop and the one hour time slot does not provide me the time to demonstrate digital technologies well. My stack of handouts and the posters I have with me are far more effective technologies for today’s presentation. Part of being digitally literate is in knowing the limitations as well as the benefits of digital technologies.
Before we can make decisions concerning appropriate use of technologies, we need to know about them. And this is where I quibble with Kim’s argument that we must trust that our students can find the technologies they need. Wouldn’t it be better to help students learn what technologies are available to them, to discuss the benefits and drawbacks or various technologies, and to incorporate technologies into our teaching? Part of our work as professors is to direct students to effective technologies—not all of which are digital—as well as to provide them with course content.
A final issue we need to consider is our own lack of understanding of what technologies are available to or being used by the digital natives in our classrooms. For example, until I read Kim’s “Courses, Facebook, and Secret Groups,” I did not know that secret groups existed in Facebook. I learned about Google Docs when a team of students used it as an organizing tool for a project they were completing in one of my courses. And the first time I heard about Prezi was when a student used it for her presentation.
Although I quibbled with one sentence in Kim’s blog, he is essentially correct. Even if we do not trust that our students will find the technologies they need to navigate through our classes, they will locate and use technologies. As professors interested in quality coursework and preparing students for the 21st century, we need to take an active role in helping them navigate technology—digital and otherwise—well. Part of our active role is to develop the humility to realize that we also need to learn from those whom we are teaching.
This entry has been cross posted at Etena Sacca-vajenna, my teaching blog.