Digital Immigrants

Let’s just pretend it hasn’t been another long stretch of time since I last updated and plow right along into a little rant that’s been growing at the back of my mind since I first started settling into my new job at Mount Pleasant Library.

What I was taught in graduate school and almost every cranky adult I meet: “Kids these days! They are digital natives! They are more adept at manipulating online media and computer programs than you are. You will struggle to keep up! Every time you blink, some new tech craze begins, and these kids are already on it – or maybe even over it.”

How it actually is, especially in lower-income areas but elsewhere as well: How do I copy/paste? How do I print? How do I save and/or send myself a file? What’s an email address? Why do I need one? The audio is on mute, why can’t I hear anything? I plugged my headphones into the wrong jack, why can’t I hear anything? Why does this game not load on Internet Explorer? Why did the computer freeze after I slammed my  hands on the keyboard? What do you mean, right click? What do you mean, double click? Why/how do I sign out of Facebook? My password is…

Granted, some of these are simple problems with easy fixes and I can get past those because everyone is entitled to the occasional brain fart, or maybe because they’re six years old and this is the first time they’re using a computer on their own and everyone has to learn the basics at some point. Okay, sure. However, the majority of these questions come repeatedly from the same older kids, which raises several red flags. Three red flags, actually – one for subpar teaching methods, one for poor economic standing, and one for an abysmal lack of varied thinking strategies being taught/encouraged/modeled. To me, these issues mean they’re not retaining the information I’ve imparted to them (which may be at least half my fault, of course), not practicing on their own time (due to a lack of access to the proper tools), and who are exhibiting a clear lack of problem-solving and exploratory skills. Oh, and also a total disregard for privacy issues.

I believe the biggest component of the low digital literacy skills that I’ve encountered since coming to MTP can be attributed to the socioeconomic status and the fact that these kids most likely don’t have computers at home, or advanced smart phones/tablets/other devices, which is an enormous disadvantage, of course. This, on top of all the other negative consequences of poor economic standing – overcrowded classrooms, lack of individualized attention, out of date text books and other materials, improper nutrition, etc.

However, similar instances have occurred several times at North Scituate Public Library, which is a service area that is considerably better off financially and otherwise than MTP, which to me means that these issues also relate on a much broader scale to how kids are being taught to think. More directly, I suspect that this is yet another side effect of standardized testing and the subsequent method of teaching-to-the-test – in the interest of keeping scores up and funding flowing (or, rather, trickling) in, students are not being taught to consider why something is as it is and employ reason or thoughtful experimentation, but just to accept facts at face value and ask for help at the first sign of a problem. That’s my hypothesis, anyway – clearly, plenty of actual research is required, so I am in no way pinning blame on anyone or anything…yet.

That said, I’m glad that they ask – I really, really am. And I’m happy to help, of course. But now I’m on a quest to discover what the best ways to teach basic digital literacy skills to kids, since they already assume they know everything anyway because they’re at that age to begin with (joy!), and because they are probably also being fed the same generic rhetoric about being the legendary “digital natives” that I was taught to expect (along with the Second Coming), when in fact, they’re what I would consider digital immigrants. </run on sentence>

To Pinterest, to Pinterest! To DIY a new approach to digital literacy! I don’t anticipate that conducting a full-on class would be particularly useful, well attended or well received, nor would leaving out flyers or signs with quick tips because they are easily overlooked to start with and the whole issue is that the kids don’t want to fix anything themselves anyway – or perhaps they do, and they’re just don’t know that they can. Maybe there’s some way to disguise the heart of the issue (free thinking, problem solving). I’m not sure.

The point is, this has become my latest big-picture pet project. You heard it here first.

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