“What was the file name?”
She was only passingly familiar with the idea of “saving a document,” and the idea of being able to save it in different “locations” was completely alien to her. She was not underprivileged at all. In fact, she was fairly typical.
We assume that each generation will be more skilled with computers. People bandy about the term, “digital native.” I know a few teachers that are coming to the realization that I have: kids today, in high school and middle school, are actually quite clueless about computers.
They can use cellphones and social media adeptly, but these are limited. Using basic word processing programs is a dying art. They may be able to open a document, but creating tables and manipulating the text is beyond their abilities. Some students have submitted essays written in the notepad programs on their smartphones.
Their attempts at cheating are hilarious. Students have cut web content and pasted it, colors and sans-serif font and all, into a word document.
Even scarier is the acceptance, without reservation, of the first results of a Google search. “The internet said so.” Many students do not even read beyond the short summary under the search result. Hand them a textbook, and many students have no idea how to use the index. I’m not kidding.
People between the ages of 30 and 45 form, I assert, the “Digital Greatest Generation.” We are old enough to understand the analog world and young enough for computer use to feel natural.
All this talk of teaching coding in schools is great, but most students today need much more basic skills. Here are a few suggestions:
- When asking students to conduct research, have them find a mix of online and print sources. Force them to look at actual books.
- Never research facts. Ask higher order questions, like comparisons. “Can anyone find a presidential campaign similar to Donald Trump’s?” Many students will complain, “The answer is not there.” Push them.
- Teach Microsoft Excel (or Numbers, or any spreadsheet). It is a gateway drug to more sophisticated computer use. It shows students how computers actually “think.” Excel is very exacting; excellent learning moments will be when they type one term of a formula incorrectly and start tearing out their hair trying to figure out what is wrong. Let them struggle.
The title of this blog post is not meant to trivialize the accomplishments of the WWII generation, but there is a parallel: they lived through the transition to a globalized world. We have not made the personal sacrifices they did, but we lived through the transition to an online world. It is our responsibility to prevent the younger generations from getting lost in it.