Teens and tech
It’s always inspiring and motivating to read what others have been doing with technology in their classes. It seems that the so -called ‘digital natives’ are ready and willing to go after every single opportunity they might have to use the computer and web 2.0 to boost their learning. Most of the work that’s shared online is so good that they make my jaw drop. Students can pick and choose the tools to use and, most likely, teens are the ones who teach teachers about the tools – after all, this is their expertise. They’ve been born with a keyboard and a mouse in their hands (when will they come with touchscreen-designed fingers, I wonder?) and they spend all their time in front of the computer. This is all inspiring as I’ve been using a computer since I was 6, but it turns out to be a bit frustrating for me, I’ve got to say.
I’ve been teaching pre-teens and teens almost exclusively for the past 4 years. They range from 10 to 19 years old mainly, and the vast majority of them have more than 1 computer at home. I always start the semester by asking them to share a bit about themselves. I like listening to them and this is what will help me cater for their needs and try to make sure I can put together lessons that will be meaningful to them. Pretty much all of them tell me that they usually spend all their free time online. “Great!” I used to think to myself, but lately this hasn’t been the case. Even though they spend pretty much all of their free time online, all they do is chat with their friends on MSN and use Orkut, which is the largest social network in Brazil. Apart from that, most of them have never heard of other online tools. And this is not what I think, it is what they tell me.
Of course they all use the web to do research for school, but as long as teachers fail to adapt to the shift from encyclopaedias to the web, most students will not go beyond a quick (and very simple) Google search and “the best” invention of all: Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V. In the past students at least had to go through the trouble of copying word for word what they read. Nowadays, I’ve found myself reading compositions in which not even the hyperlinks had been removed – a clear sign to me that the person who wrote and printed out the page hadn’t even read the whole text. I still don’t get why this tech generation still insists on printing out their papers instead of using emails, wikis, blogs, Google Docs and what have you.
But wait, perhaps I do get it. The answer is fairly straightforward when I question them. “I don’t know how to use that,” is a common answer, “I have never heard of that,” is also often said, but my favourite is, “What???” Most of my 11 – 15 students dislike the idea of submitting their work online. Even after I encourage them to do so, and tell them explicitly that I’d rather receive their compositions and papers online, and give them options to choose how they’d like to do it, most still write their work by hand. I’ve already spent time with them inside and outside class talking about such tools, demonstrating their usefulness, and showing examples of successful work online. I’ve already shared with them all my enthusiasm for all that I see online – all that kids all over the world have been doing, and still, nada! Even though I won’t give up on that, I won’t give up on my beliefs as well – it’s much more important for a teacher to listen to his or her learners and adapt to suit their needs than to ask them to adapt to your likes and dislikes. Therefore, I feel it’s important to give them options, but not to push them too hard. My job is to teach them English and to educate global citizens, and tech is most definitely not the only one solution to that.
I’ve recently started a project with volunteering students on a wiki – none knew how to use it and only 1 out of 17 could relate the word to wikipedia, and, oh, none knew what a wiki was. I’m looking forward to the results of this project. However, even though they’re learning their way around a wiki, I don’t think they’ll use such tool out of free will. They use it because we chose it as the media for our project – but many would rather write something on a piece of paper and rip off the page to give to the teacher. Mind you, they’re having lots of fun with the project, but I still hold none (or very few) will make use of wikis in the future by their own accord. I truly hope I’m wrong on this one.
I’ve always been very skeptical of the idea of ‘digital natives’, ‘digital immigrants’ and etc. When I mention this to my students, they themselves laugh at this idea and most say their parents know a lot more about computers than they do. Perhaps it just happens here, but to be honest, I don’t think so (am I that unfortunate?). The games they play may change, but not the fact that they’re looking for games, fun, and talking to their friends – and we, teachers, have to struggle hard to engage and motivate them to shift that energy to learning.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic as I’m planning to write some more about it.