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facebook : Are We There Yet?

There is no “now” now.

October 29, 2009 · Posted in citizenship, culture, social networking · 8 Comments 

A few days ago I had a conversation with a colleague that went something like this:

C: I just want to do what I do now with technology. I don’t want to know about social networking. It’s too hard to keep track of everything.
Me: I…ummm…it’s…did you get the time for the next faculty meeting?

What I wanted to say, and what I’ve been thinking about for some time, is that there is no such thing as catching up. There’s no “now” with technology. If you’re not constantly moving forward, then by default you’re moving backward. Particularly with technology, moving backward is an express ticket to irrelevancy. I liken it to being the best typewriter repairperson in the world–you may be very good at your craft, but who cares?

Two years ago, we weren’t talking about Twitter, and not much about Facebook. In a bit less than four years, YouTube has gone from a cautious startup to serving over one billion videos a day. Fifteen years ago we were just starting to talk about the World Wide Web. The processing power used for the first moon landing is roughly equivalent to the processing power of a Furby, a toy that was interesting 5 or 6 years ago. As quickly as things seem to change, we’re probably still on the early curve of an exponential explosion of technologies that will vastly change the way we do just about everything.

But we seem to be stuck on viewing technology as an object and not as a process. Much of the daily work I used to have to perform on my laptop (which replaced my desktop when it became much more important to be able to carry my work with me) can now be performed on my iPhone. The vessel is irrelevant to me as long as I can do what I need to do. Technology isn’t my laptop, or my iPhone. It’s a process for communicating, collaborating, creating, producing, and (somewhat recursively) for keeping up with technology. For an educator, it’s simply a tool of the trade. If you don’t understand how to use it professionally and instructionally, you’ll soon be looking for an office next to the typewriter repair shop.


Digital Consumers

February 26, 2008 · Posted in citizenship, Studies, Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

In a recent article on Ars Technia (The “Google generation” not so hot at Googling, after all), Nate Anderson reviewed a study by the British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee that examined the internet researching habits of the “Google Generation”–those born after 1993 that have no memory of life prior to the World Wide Web. (The full report is available as a PDF file and is well worth reading.) One of Anderson’s statements struck an immediate chord with me:

“Knowing how to use Facebook doesn’t make one an Internet search god, and the report concludes that a literature review shows no movement (either good or bad) in young people’s information skills over the last several decades”

It was somewhat gratifying to see empirical evidence of a trend that I have observed anecdotally for quite some time. We tend to assume that, because post-secondary students typically have laptops, WiFi enabled cell phones, and other digital tools that they are expert technology users. I would agree that most of the “Googlers” are highly facile with the tools and processes that they use, but I would also assert that these tools may be limited in scope and are not necessarily the tools that will bring academic success. Students are quite adept at using social networking tools such as FaceBook and MySpace and with shopping sites, but many do not know the basics of productivity applications such as PowerPoint, Word, or image editing tools. Many do not know how to install software or add a printer. Wikipedia is often the first and only source of information for a research topic. And, for as much time as they spend Googling, many do not know how to form cogent search queries.

We tend to call students of this generation “digital natives.” I would assert that they may be more properly called “digital consumers.” And, we tend to blame them for their lack of skills when, in reality, we–their teachers–are the culprits.

One of the roles that educators at all levels need to embrace is that of a guide to the appropriate uses of technology for learning. Social networking tools such as blogs and wikis have tremendous potential for engaging students in the learning process if they are applied thoughtfully and evaluated rigorously. We should be teaching and reinforcing good research skills every day in every classroom, including instruction on how to compose search queries and where to look for reliable sources. (Check this web site from CollegeDegree.com for 25 sites for reliable, researched facts.) We should be working digital content creation–digital photography, digital video, podcasts, etc.–into our lessons on a regular basis. And we should be good models to our students, using technology in our own teaching and learning processes.


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