Yesterday the Chronicle of Higher Education published a short piece on adult students returning to college during the recession and their lack of computer skills. The author noted a claim from a speaker at the Sloan Consortium International Conference on Online Learning that “This lack of basic computer knowledge is an increasingly common predicament as community colleges accommodate workers displaced by the economic downturn,” and goes on to give the example of a woman who had been in the same for 27 years before being laid off and who had not needed computer skills for that job.
What I found most interesting about the piece was the implicit contrast to traditional-aged students. While the article doesn’t come out and say so, there seems to be an assumption on the author’s part that traditional college students don’t suffer from the same problem — in other words, that they are coming to college with the computer skills that older students lack. In my experience, however, this simply isn’t true. Despite having grown up with technology and all the hype about “digital natives,” I find that my students also struggle with how to complete basic computer functions. I am not alone in this. Physics professor Chad Orzel also points out that:
But the students I see are not comfortable with computers in any fundamental way. A few of them know how to do useful things with Excel and Word, but if you try to go beyond what they already know, they freeze up completely, and demonstrate no ability to figure out how to make these programs work (which, to be fair, is often inordinately difficult). Many of them regard the idea that they should learn how to use the tools at their disposal to, for example, create properly formatted equations in lab reports as a grossly unfair imposition.
The comments on a recent Inside Higher Ed article make similar points and I know I’ve found that I have to give the students I’m teaching this semester much more tech instruction than I had intended (having also bought into the “digital natives” myth). What about others? What are you seeing? Are your students truly tech-savvy? Or just good at texting and Facebook? How do you incorporate the teaching of tech tools into your curricula?
[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Whiteafrican.]