Monday, July 14, 2008

A recent conversation on Twitter with Robert Talbot about technology and what it means to be a truly competent user of technology, sparked my thinking about this topic. It all goes back to Marc Prensky's Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants article from 2001. According to Prensky, today's students are born into a digitally rich world and therefore will always be ahead of those born prior to the explosion of information and availability of tech toys and tools.

Is this truly the case though? Is simply using technology for socialization online making today's youth tech competent? Or instead, does this perpetuate the myth of the disconnect between digital natives and immigrants? Is it possible to be of the OLDER generation and be technologically competent? Is it possible to be a young person today and be technologically incompetent?

Part of the problem with this discussion is the definition of technology. Does being able to text to one's friends, acquire new ring tones, play Wii, seamlessly find wireless signals, and play online games make a 13 year technologically competent?

Does some of the problem stem from the want of using technology? If a student in class needs to practice integer operations at a online review site, many of them balk - "I don't get it!" "How do I make it work?" " It says my popup blocker is on." They are unable to figure out this simple process assigned to them. However, give them time to play online games of their choice, and suddenly, not only can they play them, they can get around the filter installed at school to the games that are blocked, they can message friends using IM programs that are blocked, all while they are listening to YouTube videos, that are also blocked. So then, why can't they "play" a review quiz such as the ones at which are a million times simpler than the other things they are able to achieve.

Prensky says, "Today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors."

He goes on to quote Dr. Bruce D. Perry, "thinking patterns have changed. "

Interesting to think about. Do students truly think differently today? I remember sitting reading and studying with The Eagles blaring from my 45's on my record player, with my mother complaining I couldn't possibly be learning anything with all that noise going. But, I was.

So back to the intial question: What does it mean to be technologically competent in today's world? To me, a simple answer would be: able to manipulate technology to meet your needs, in any situation. It means figuring out how to use that new iPhone, hooking up your new Wii, and chatting with friends on MSN or Facebook, sure.

Beyond that, it means using technology to find answers, manipulate data, and find creative ways to share with others.

Technology is the way to work with people far from your own geographic location, whether to learn in your own career, or about things which interest you outside the world of work.

Technology is the answer to all the questions you have, whether it is where is the best place to go to college if I want a degree in chemical engineering or how do I decide what is the best treatment for my latest diagnosis.

Technology expands your horizons beyond what previous generations were able to even imagine. However, technology also limits our ability to communicate face to face when we become so locked into a virtual world we do not talk to those in the same room. It also opens up dangers and possibilities for exploitation beyond the confines we once felt the safety net of.

Only by teaching students to use technology competently on all these arenas are we preparing them for the real world.

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