I’ve moved through several pedagogical zones of affect and modes of thought concerning the implementation of new technologies in the classroom. Curmudgeonly Luddite (“turn off that cell phone! It’s unnecessary and confusing!”) gave way to Controlling Enthusiast (“Look at this website! I am so impressive and tech-savvy!”) which yielded quickly to Good-natured Bungler (“Let’s play with these shiny things I don’t understand!”). Good-natured Bungler, captured in one of my former blog posts, saw some encouraging results when she counted on students to dive into new technologies, flail about and, essentially, teach themselves proficiency with unfamiliar tools. Now, I like the Good-natured Bungler. I think the Good-natured Bungler destabilizes the instructor/student power dynamic in productive and enjoyable ways. The Good-natured Bungler encourages students to count on themselves, to embrace inevitable failure, and to find learning techniques that work for them.
Lately, though, I’ve started to worry that being a Good-natured Bungler when it comes to technology might mean ignoring the real needs of students who have not developed the necessary skill set to dive, flail and teach themselves, at least where the digital is concerned.
I have always worried about presupposing that students come to my class with particular tools in their kits. From the definition of “thesis” to how to log in to Canvas, I have been foiled time and again my assumptions of shared experience and knowledge. That’s part of the reason the Good-natured Bungler appealed to me. Doesn’t the Good-natured Bungler take it for granted that skills have to be actively acquired before they can be used? Doesn’t she encourage students to try new things?
My first semester using Canvas, I urged students to try to solve their technical issues on their own before emailing me. Would a “Frequently Asked Questions” page or section answer their query? Had they tried uploading several different formats? The idea that they could figure out a program or a problem on their own honestly seemed novel and wicked to some. “Did you Google it first?” became a veritable refrain in my interactions with students.
But what about students who lack the basic digital skills to even begin to conceive of finding answers to their issues?
I’m wary of giving up on my current tactic of encouraging students to use unfamiliar programs and actively seek out the acquisition of new technical skills, but I also worry that I am unwittingly embracing the myth of the digital native.
I think I’m going to focus on teaching digital skills necessary for acquiring new digital skills. Digital research skills, if you will. That nested idea will probably involve a workshop on how to use Google efficiently and an overview of what sorts of digital learning tools, like the Lynda videos and Youtube.