Friday, November 9, 2007

For All They Know

It still surprises me that very few of my students know how to use the “Track Changes” function in Word, or, for that matter, how to correctly add MLA headers to their essays using the “Header and Footer” option. Each semester, I am asked repeatedly to show students how to change the margins in Word, how to set tabs, and how to create tables. Apparently I am not alone. In his recent post on Sicheii Yazhi, Eric reflects on a similar phenomenon in his classroom:
“If that’s the case for an “ancient” tool like the word processor, imagine the implications for wikis, blogs, and social networks. And that’s just the basic skills. Wanna lay odds on how much thought they’ve put into the effective and ethical use of those tools? How about moving beyond the tool and returning to critical analysis of the content, the interplay between content and form, or the connections to any content created more than five years ago?”

With technology evolving so quickly, teachers often feel lost in a sea of acronyms and digital coding while our students surf on ahead of us. However, like Eric, I’ve found that most students know how to surf the web but not how to navigate it. Students know how to find basic answers quickly, but do not spend much time learning the specifics of using any one application to its fullest potential. They hit a wall, encounter a challenge, and instead of spending time dwelling with that problem, they turn to Google in hopes that someone else will give them the answer. We live in an age where, on the surface, problems can be dealt with quickly by plugging simple questions into Ask.com.

I find this analogous to how students enter my classroom – they know how to read the words on the page, but do not spend much time critically analyzing the perspective presented or reflecting on the message behind the medium. As educators it is our job to help students decode the world around them, whether we are teaching our students about technology or how to understand a poem. We must teach students to slow down, to reflect and dwell on challenges. We must teach students problem solving skills because Google will not have the answers for the real problems they will face in life. As such, we can use the same teaching tools we have for years. Our goal as educators is not to learn every new technological trick. We don’t have to be experts in every new application available. Instead, we teach students how to become critical consumers of technology in the same ways that we teach them to be critical consumers of literature.

Whew! What a relief because I just figured out last week what the heck the del.icio.us tag at the bottom of everyone’s blog was all about!
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