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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

Working With the
Net Generation


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This little incident came across an educational listserv not long ago. While teaching her students how to find information on the Internet, an elementary teacher found that the Google search engine had been blocked by her district's filter. She expressed her frustration to her class. Quietly, one of her students sidled up to her and whispered, "Try google.ca (the Canadian version of Google). They haven't got that one yet." She did, it worked and class continued.

Ever feel that your students know just a whole heck of a lot more about technology than you do? That they are as comfortable in the virtual world as they are in the physical world? While many of us have sensed this from experience, the latest report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Teens and Technology verifies it.

Among the report's findings:

  • 87 percent of teens aged 12-17 use the Internet, compared to only 66 percent of adults.
  • Teen use is increasing at a faster rate than adult use.
  • Compared to four years ago, 38 percent more teens are getting news online, 71 percent more are shopping online, and 31 percent more are getting online health information.
  • 84 percent of teens report owning at least one "personal media device" -- computer, cell phone or PDA (Personal Digital Assistant).

Want More?

Want to read more about Doug and his thoughts on library media and technology? Visit his Web site. Got a compliment, a complaint, or just a comment to share? E-mail Doug at [email protected].

Now, I am of a generation that, when hearing the acronym PDA, thinks "Public Display of Affection," rather than handheld computer, and I find myself somewhat in awe of this wired "Net Generation" in our schools. And I am more than a little fearful when reading of how students use cell phone cameras to snap pictures of tests, rate their teachers on very public Web sites, and prefer Wikipedia to World Book as a reference source. My empathy for buggy whip manufacturers is growing.

Fortunately, I know some pretty savvy teachers and school library media specialists. I see them not just surviving, but thriving when working with this "Net Generation" and its enchantment with technology. How?

  1. They use the tools.
    Net Gen educators (NGE) use the Internet to post assignments, assessment tools, and study guides for their classes. They've started blogs to generate class discussions. They create assignments that allow kids to use technology productively. They give out their e-mail (or IM) addresses and respond to questions electronically. Rather than fight then introduction of technology, they use it to connect with their students.
  2. They consider themselves co-learners.
    NGEs, like the teacher at the beginning of this column, are learners -- with their students often giving the instruction. Students can provide "just-in-time" staff development opportunities. Reversing the student-teacher relationship not only builds the tech knowledge of educators, but also builds self-esteem in their students. Who'd have thought when plunking "life-long learning" into the school's mission statement that it would apply to teachers as well?
  3. They recognize that traditional skills are still at the heart of education.
    Too often we forget that technology is simply a tool used to achieve long-valued educational outcomes. Many skills, recognized as vital and taught successfully for years, are enhanced, not replaced, by technology. While students may be adept at formatting a word processing document, they still need to be taught how to write good sentences, organize their thoughts, and use compelling language. All the bells and whistles of a PowerPoint slideshow cannot replace good public speaking skills. Googling students still need to be taught how to critically evaluate the information they find. Innumeracy cannot be cured by spreadsheets alone.

Teachers cannot and will not be replaced by technology -- but teachers who don't use technology will be replaced by teachers who do. It will be far more productive and far less frustrating if we as educators change our attitude toward technology rather than try to change our students' attitudes toward it. Information technologies are here to stay in all our lives.

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10/04/2005