I recently attended a workshop at my home institution where I heard teachers confidently assert that today’s students are so adept at technological tasks that we can rely on them to help their older teachers develop important technological skills.
For more than 15 years, I’ve introduced Classics students at Holy Cross to XML markup. To build on any prior experience they might have, I routinely begin by asking who has ever peeked behind a web page to view its HTML source. Fifteen years ago, I would usually find anywhere from a quarter to a half of the students would say yes. Today, if I ask a group of 20–25 students, I will get one or two “yes” answers.
I do not know if my students were telling me the truth fifteen years ago (or today), but that doesn’t much matter for my present point. Fifteen years ago, far more students either had seen HTML or felt some kind of pressure to pretend that they had.
What does it mean? I suspect that the “digital natives” I teach have indeed grown up so familiar with information technology that they are more oblivious to it than their elders. I worry that they are also incurious, or at least need to learn to be curious about it.
My personal experience makes up only a limited sample, of students in Classics at a small liberal-arts college, but the trend among those students is very clear. Unless someone can show me better evidence, I’ll remain very sceptical about a priori assertions concerning the skills that “digital natives” will confer on their teachers.
Note: new tags
I’m using a couple of new tags on this post: “sceptical” (for obvious reasons), and “yam” [yet another meeting] to help me find posts responding to ideas I’ve gathered from yammering at meetings. I hope to post soon on a couple of additional “sceptical” topics, and several “yam” topics (since January is a big month for meetings in the academic world).