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Don’t Blame Technology

The acceptance letters are going out to all the Grade 12 students. I am reading lots of books about teaching and technology, and reflecting on the ways in which we talk about first year students and technology. I felt it was worth continuing this conversation.

The New York Times article “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” made the rounds, but since there have been other similar articles. It is to easy to blame technology on the disconnect that educators find with the current cohort of students in our first year courses. I am going to speak to this notion that the Net Gen are artful multi-taskers and think differently. Instead, what we really have is a cohort of young people who are used to using technology all of the time for gaming, fun, communicating, research, school work, and for making connections with others. Of course, some are using technology merely for gaming or social networking, but you get my point.

Part of my job is to acculturate students to the environment of higher education. This is why my course syllabus states that students should be taking notes or checking the course Moodle site, but not gaming during lecture. It’s distracting to those around them and frankly, if you want to game, download music–do that outside of the classroom. This notion of the Net Gen being better at multi-tasking has been disputed on several occasions this year with new research that states that the Net Gen are no better at multi-tasking than previous generations.

I am not a tech Luddite. I have an iPhone and have often been an early adopter of different technology or applications. However, I tire at the sheer number of articles that extol only the virtues of technology in reference to youth. This New York Times article doesn’t do this, but it opens up the door to excuse making for rude behavior in the classroom and in communication. If the Net Gen wasn’t spending hours online gaming or connected to Facebook, they most likely would be on the phone for hours with friends. Technology has replaced other great time vacuums that previous generations used. Here, all of this conversation is directed toward youth who have access to technology. These are really first world concerns and conversations.

We need to remember that ultimately lots of business and human interaction takes place face to face. This is where we need to remind the Net Gen about classroom etiquette and communication etiquette online and offline. In much the same way, though, educators need to be realistic about their teaching and make sure that the material and means of presentation of the information is engaging. And, we need to equip are students with skills to use the technology well. We are all in this together.

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