A (Somewhat Surprising) Survey of Digital Natives

Inside Higher Ed shares some results from a recent survey of college students about their uses of technology. Among the more interest findings:

Instead, students appear to segment different modes of communication for different purposes. E-mail, Web sites, message boards and Blackboard? Viable ways of connecting with professors and peers. Same for chat, instant messaging, Facebook and text messages? Not necessarily, the authors write, because students may “want to protect these tools’ personal nature.”

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed :: Students’ ‘Evolving’ Use of Technology

This trend reflects what I have been seeing in my classes this fall — many students are used to doing online research, will email me, and participate in Blackboard to the extent that I require it. The other tools for communication are popular amongst them, and I do not “invade” those spaces (for instance, even though I know nearly 100% of my students are on Facebook — because I asked them in class — I have not looked them up or tried to make them my friends).

What I find more compelling though is that many colleges and professors are not responding to the “sea change” (noted later in the article). Our digital natives may be able to use Facebook, but the article notes that using a tool like Google Docs is still seen as innovative for both students and professors. At risk of sounding a little self-congratulatory (but noting that much of what I do in my classroom comes from my colleagues in the NWP), I don’t understand how professors can not be using Google Docs or other read/write web tools. For instance, I have students (some of them at least) submitting papers to me through Google Docs and, later in the semester, will be composing collaboratively written papers in there. None of my students knew about Google Docs at the beginning of the semester, and I hope to have them all proficient at using it by the end.

At any rate, the final note in the article from the report was this:

The report also finds challenges in addressing skills gaps for using spreadsheets and CMS software, highlighting the need for colleges to provide instructional technology to bring students up to speed.

Indeed, this skills gap needs to be addressed in all classes, not just a Computers 101. We need to continue to offer contextualized and useful technology learning. For digital writers, at a minimum, that should include tasks like blogging, collaborative word processing, creating and collaborating in a wiki, tagging, social bookmarking, online citation managers, composing multimedia including video and audio, and giving and getting feedback in multiple formats (written and aural). I look forward to continuing to teach these skills in my courses and hope that the ECAR survey, like the annual Horizon Report, continues to push us in that direction.

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