The myth of the digital native

Source: Anthony22 at en.wikipedia

I had some interesting interactions with my students today. In several of my classes they did a crowdsourcing activity to gain background knowledge on different topics quickly. One student began his search by going to Bing, typing in "Google" in the search bar, clicking on the first result and then entering his search criteria when he finally got to Google. Many students wrote the question I had asked them in the search bar, worded in just the way I had asked them (but in English), instead of using keywords. Another student was convinced that the website she had found had no information, because she did not scroll down to see the table of contents, and the first hyperlink on the page led to an unrelated topic. In my 1:1 iPad class, both the students and I struggled with hiccups in document workflow on Showbie (see my post about the usually seamless app here). In all of these classes, I was not able to maintain speaking only Spanish as we troubleshooted these issues, and I know other content was sacrificed today due to the inefficient way that the technology was being used. It makes me wonder: In a 21st-century classroom, how can technology support learning, rather than get in the way? And how can teachers and administrators make sure that students know how to use technology effectively?

My school district (whose views I do not express in this blog) is planning to roll out iPads to half of the school body in the fall. Students and parents will have half-day orientation sessions in the summer about how to use the iPad, and then ideally there will be a student-run "help desk" in the library. I think these are good ideas, but I fear that they will not be enough.

If I've learned anything from the 1:1 iPad pilot in my classes last year and this year, it's the importance of flexibility. Because things go wrong. All the time. Many things go right, and I love the opportunity for innovation, but some days I just want to tear my hair out. The iPad class is consistently behind the traditional class in terms of curricular content, and I know I have had to eliminate parts of lessons because 45 minutes is often not enough time for students to meet a learning objective as well as learn the ins and outs of various apps.

The digital native is a myth. Just because teenagers text at the speed of light, it doesn't mean that they have some innate knowledge about how to use technology efficiently and effectively in an academic setting. Our library media specialists do a good job of helping our students refine their research skills, but there are only two of them for a school of 2,200 students. Plus, the technology landscape has changed pretty dramatically even in the past year (going paperless was giving me nightmares at this time a year ago). Apps are updated, overhauled, eliminated or made obsolete within months, if not weeks or days. Currently, there's no consistent or reliable way for students to develop the adaptability and flexibility required to make the best use of technology to support their own learning. I'm not against helping my students develop their technology literacy skills in my class, but when it comes at the expense of delivering the mandated curriculum effectively, or even at all, both the students and I lose.

What I envision is an additional required course in technology literacy. It could meet every other day or twice a week in addition to the other classes that students take. The class size would be small, no more than ten students. There would be minimal curriculum; rather, it would be a place for a teacher specializing in technology could act as a resource to support students' work in other classes. So, for example, if a student wants to make a Prezi for a presentation for her biology class, she could have time in school to create it and have a knowledgeable person to help her solve glitches and learn how to maximize the capabilities of the tool. And, of course, teach her how to do a proper Google search.

Have you had similar experiences with technology in your classes? Do you agree that the digital native is a myth?