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A look at the technology culture divide

Today's students live in a technology-rich world.

Today's students live in a technology-rich world.

The arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century fundamentally changed our students.  Today’s students represent the first generation to grow up with this new technology.  These adolescents have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, video games, digital music players, video cameras, text messaging, and cell phones.

Today’s students use technology such as Instant Messenger, Facebook, Flickr, and Skype to be constantly connected to friends, family, information and entertainment.  As a result, 21st century students think and process information differently. While educators may see students every day, they do not necessarily understand their students’ habits, expectations, or learning preferences–this has resulted in a technology cultural divide.

The technology cultural divide

The Net Generation has arrived.   Don Tapscott in 1998 found that this new demographic group of digital mastery created a social transformation.  The Net Generation is a demographic wave of youth that is the heart of the new digital media culture.  The Net Generation learns, works, plays, communicates, shops, and creates communities very differently than their parents.

Today’s schools are taught and managed by individuals who did not grow up with technology–Digital Immigrants.  Many educators today still teach with the premise of being all-knowing.  Technology-illiterate educators may teach under the premise of, “Come into my classroom, sit in rows, remain quiet, listen to me, and I will pour all the knowledge I have into your brain.”

Students are very comfortable with technology and generally become frustrated when policy, rules, and restrictions prevent them from using technology.  Students become frustrated when administrative restrictions, older equipment, and filtering software inhibits them from in-school technology use.

Traditional schools, generally staffed primarily with Digital Immigrants, often provide very little technology interaction compared to the digital world in which students are actually living.  Digital Natives can pay attention in class, but they choose not to pay attention, because in reality, they are bored with instructional methods that Digital Immigrants use.

Digital Immigrants are often confused, and sometimes upset, by the strange worlds in which children are spending large chunks of time. Educators need to think more deeply about the growing gap between the lives that children and youth lead outside school and the ones that are available to them within its walls. When educators do this, they will have to acknowledge the simple fact that technology has been in schools for more than 20 years, even though they persistently think of it as new.

Today’s Digital Native students have developed new attitudes and aptitudes as a result of their technology environment.  Although these characteristics provide great advantages in areas such as the students’ abilities to use information technology and to work collaboratively, they have created an imbalance between students’ learning environment expectations and Digital Immigrants’ teaching strategies and policies, which students find in schools today.

Solving the technology cultural divide

Some researchers believe that if our schools are going to prepare Digital Native kids for the future, Digital Immigrant educators need to update the curriculum.  For students to be successful in a technology-oriented global economy, educators must recalibrate their focus.  Educators must reframe what they teach so that students understand the significance of what they learn.  When educators make these changes to the curriculum, both students and teachers are invigorated by adding rigor and relevance to the old reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Today, educators must revisit established policies that prohibit students from using technology within the confines of the school building.  Educators must relinquish the idea of being all-knowing and replace that concept with an attitude of being a facilitator, knowing that the world of information is just a “click” away.  Teacher training programs in the area of technology will be paramount in the success of the Digital Native.

Educators today must address the technology cultural divide created by educators who are Digital Immigrants and students who are Digital Natives.  Twenty-first century educators must begin to answer these questions: Do the educational resources provided fit the needs and preferences of today’s learners?  Will linear content give way to simulations, games, and collaboration?  Do students’ desires for group learning and activities imply rethinking the configuration and use of space in classrooms and libraries?  What is the material basis of digital literacy? What is different in a digital age?  What are kids doing already and what could they be doing better, and more responsibly, if we learned how to teach them differently?

Addressing these questions will contribute toward bridging the gap of the technology cultural divide and result in schools where all students have greater potential to achieve academically.

Randall Hoyer is the superintendent of the Lampasas Independent School District in Lampasas, Texas.

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Comments:

  1. thekingster

    April 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    While it’s true that today’s students are digital natives in the sense of ubiquitous access to technology: one thing has not changed – they still are behind the curve when it comes to processing information. Many modern students seem to lack the capacity for cogent thought, which, I would counter is only raised through a more traditional approach to learning.

    This superintendent provides more drivel for the plumb line: teach the way students want to learn. Translation: don’t hold students accountable but kow-tow to their interests. Case in point: allow your students to have access to cell phones during your instruction and then monitor how much they “retain” information. My bet is that you will see students are quite aware of the minutiae that accompanies their daily existence but won’t really learn much about your subject matter.

    Additionally, what of all the research that indicates our proclivity toward interconnectedness doesn’t really “connect” us, after all? Twitter, FaceBook, and MySpace are portals of self-aggrandizement: hardly venues of higher learning.

    Now it will be – integrate iPads as quickly as possible. “Howdy, here’s another bandaid for our educational woes in America.”

    I am not convinced. Force your students to read…and help them for a lifetime.

    “Oh, I’m sorry Mr. medical student…you don’t like reading about neurophysiological processes? Then maybe you should find another career…like web design.”

  2. thekingster

    April 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    While it’s true that today’s students are digital natives in the sense of ubiquitous access to technology: one thing has not changed – they still are behind the curve when it comes to processing information. Many modern students seem to lack the capacity for cogent thought, which, I would counter is only raised through a more traditional approach to learning.

    This superintendent provides more drivel for the plumb line: teach the way students want to learn. Translation: don’t hold students accountable but kow-tow to their interests. Case in point: allow your students to have access to cell phones during your instruction and then monitor how much they “retain” information. My bet is that you will see students are quite aware of the minutiae that accompanies their daily existence but won’t really learn much about your subject matter.

    Additionally, what of all the research that indicates our proclivity toward interconnectedness doesn’t really “connect” us, after all? Twitter, FaceBook, and MySpace are portals of self-aggrandizement: hardly venues of higher learning.

    Now it will be – integrate iPads as quickly as possible. “Howdy, here’s another bandaid for our educational woes in America.”

    I am not convinced. Force your students to read…and help them for a lifetime.

    “Oh, I’m sorry Mr. medical student…you don’t like reading about neurophysiological processes? Then maybe you should find another career…like web design.”

  3. hhhhh

    April 8, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Superintendent Hoyer makes some excellent points concerning technology integration in the classroom. On the other hand, the classroom is only one part of the digital divide challenge. The larger challenge is the current achievement gap between the students that have computers and Internet access at home, and those that do not.

    Students are assigned to a grade level based only on their age, not their academic level. Students who have computers and supportive parents at home tend to start school at academic levels far above their peers. Children lacking these resources usually enter school far below their peers. This gap increases at every grade level.

    All across the country, we have elementary school teachers who must teach 5 different grade levels in their own classroom. Many students are far below grade level and many are above grade level because of technology and parental help at home. It is challenging meeting the academic needs of all students.

    Now, the economic crisis has made the situation even worse. Class sizes are being increased by 50%, and the mobility rate is increasing as families have to relocate due to economic issues. Teachers are adding or losing students almost every month or other month. New students require additional entry testing, paperwork, teacher time, etc.

    Superintendents who cut supplemental resource services, while maintaining a large office full of highly paid district staff has become the norm rather than the exception. The classroom environment is becoming more challenging. Some of the factors are external, but others are from superintendent decisions.

    The challenge is not technology in the classroom. Superintendents should look at the challenges of the classroom first. Technology can help, but most teachers have found that superintendents have been out of the classroom and teaching for so long that they have very little understanding of the current challenges.

  4. hhhhh

    April 8, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Superintendent Hoyer makes some excellent points concerning technology integration in the classroom. On the other hand, the classroom is only one part of the digital divide challenge. The larger challenge is the current achievement gap between the students that have computers and Internet access at home, and those that do not.

    Students are assigned to a grade level based only on their age, not their academic level. Students who have computers and supportive parents at home tend to start school at academic levels far above their peers. Children lacking these resources usually enter school far below their peers. This gap increases at every grade level.

    All across the country, we have elementary school teachers who must teach 5 different grade levels in their own classroom. Many students are far below grade level and many are above grade level because of technology and parental help at home. It is challenging meeting the academic needs of all students.

    Now, the economic crisis has made the situation even worse. Class sizes are being increased by 50%, and the mobility rate is increasing as families have to relocate due to economic issues. Teachers are adding or losing students almost every month or other month. New students require additional entry testing, paperwork, teacher time, etc.

    Superintendents who cut supplemental resource services, while maintaining a large office full of highly paid district staff has become the norm rather than the exception. The classroom environment is becoming more challenging. Some of the factors are external, but others are from superintendent decisions.

    The challenge is not technology in the classroom. Superintendents should look at the challenges of the classroom first. Technology can help, but most teachers have found that superintendents have been out of the classroom and teaching for so long that they have very little understanding of the current challenges.

  5. PatrickA

    April 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Not the Net Generation but Gen-i: Generation Interactive
    If it is not interactive meaning if you just passively watch you have already lost them. This means having a meaningful discussion with them through a user generated content system – a blog for starters.
    checkout mine http://patrickaievoli.wordpress.com

  6. PatrickA

    April 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Not the Net Generation but Gen-i: Generation Interactive
    If it is not interactive meaning if you just passively watch you have already lost them. This means having a meaningful discussion with them through a user generated content system – a blog for starters.
    checkout mine http://patrickaievoli.wordpress.com

  7. computerhead

    April 12, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Well-done article. Maybe the focus should shift from the tension between the two cultures to how we can take advantage of the educational potential that is in the new media.

    Whatever else it is, it certainly is an explosion of human knowledge that is available to all. An exciting educational cornucopia. The digital immigrants have a place in guiding the natives. Like all immigrants, they bring a multicultural perspective to the schools :-)

  8. computerhead

    April 12, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Well-done article. Maybe the focus should shift from the tension between the two cultures to how we can take advantage of the educational potential that is in the new media.

    Whatever else it is, it certainly is an explosion of human knowledge that is available to all. An exciting educational cornucopia. The digital immigrants have a place in guiding the natives. Like all immigrants, they bring a multicultural perspective to the schools :-)

  9. dowaskew

    April 13, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Lets see Western Civilization or Facebook, Social Studies or Tweeter, geography or My Space…?

    Computers and technology provide access to a vast data base that in theory should promote critical reasoning in Students. A Social Networking site is an infirm and self centered alternative to builidng actual interpersonal skills required in life.

    Inspired Educators know we will become nation of intellectual snackers relying on such gimmicky sites. The more pressing issue, is one in four children are growing up in an unemployed household and one in three are likely to achieve less because of their parent’s current circumstances.

    The fish here is the computer, fishing for life simply translates into exploration and discovery derived from personal research but that comes with hard and fast learning committed to long term memory.

    Submit to a voyage but leave the harbor first to test yourself.

  10. dowaskew

    April 13, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Lets see Western Civilization or Facebook, Social Studies or Tweeter, geography or My Space…?

    Computers and technology provide access to a vast data base that in theory should promote critical reasoning in Students. A Social Networking site is an infirm and self centered alternative to builidng actual interpersonal skills required in life.

    Inspired Educators know we will become nation of intellectual snackers relying on such gimmicky sites. The more pressing issue, is one in four children are growing up in an unemployed household and one in three are likely to achieve less because of their parent’s current circumstances.

    The fish here is the computer, fishing for life simply translates into exploration and discovery derived from personal research but that comes with hard and fast learning committed to long term memory.

    Submit to a voyage but leave the harbor first to test yourself.

  11. lyndabradford

    April 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Thank you, “thekingster”! You have definitely addressed the true concerns of educators with their eyes on the real prize! Our students may have their PalmPilots in their hands, their ears plugged into MP3s, but they still must learn to process information and think critically.

    Any child can push a button, but can they read the caption for the button? Graphics are wonderful, and help the visual learner to a degree. However, the visual learner must be able to articulate and/or document their observations in some format other than drawing pictures.

    Reading is fundamental to print, media and technology!

    Again, thank you, “thekingster” for your reality check!

    If you have not checked out youTube updated versions of “shift happens” 4.0 and 5.0 — any other .0 out there — do so. I found the videos interesting.

  12. lyndabradford

    April 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Thank you, “thekingster”! You have definitely addressed the true concerns of educators with their eyes on the real prize! Our students may have their PalmPilots in their hands, their ears plugged into MP3s, but they still must learn to process information and think critically.

    Any child can push a button, but can they read the caption for the button? Graphics are wonderful, and help the visual learner to a degree. However, the visual learner must be able to articulate and/or document their observations in some format other than drawing pictures.

    Reading is fundamental to print, media and technology!

    Again, thank you, “thekingster” for your reality check!

    If you have not checked out youTube updated versions of “shift happens” 4.0 and 5.0 — any other .0 out there — do so. I found the videos interesting.