Monday, June 30, 2014

Where I stand in the digital world

After watching Mike Wesch's video "The Machine is Us/ing Us", I felt a sense of simultaneous awe and dismay at how much we are able to do with technology.  As Wesch flew from phrase to link to HTML in the course of four intense minutes, I watched with admiration of the process, but with a sense of foreboding that I am unable to race from screen to screen, understand embedded language, and manipulate web pages with such ease and grace so as to quickly reformat information in my own blog.  Prensky would likely point out that Wesch's video is attuned to the mind of the digital native who multitasks, no longer reads linearly, and is easily bored by the traditional "lecture"/textbook format that is not relevant to their lives. While watching Wesch's video, I instantly thought of the "techies" in my life, NONE of whom are my students.  I pictured two math teachers, a debate coach, and my professor, Dr. Rudolf Krauss, from last semester.  I picture Wesch as an adult; a middle-aged white male, even though I've never seen him.  After reading chapter 7 of Danah Boyd's It's Complicated, I began to think even more about the term "digital native" and its implications on today's youth.

I wholeheartedly agree with Boyd's thorough dissection and analysis of the digital native- the term used for young people raised in a technological world and are often assumed to be able to navigate the technology at their fingertips.  Boyd points out that technological savvy may vary greatly from teen to teen; not all teens are necessarily proficient with technology and even fewer truly understand how to navigate the internet while being aware of biases.  First and foremost, technical proficiency depends on access, and not all students have the same level of access to computers and laptops.  If access is limited to public places like schools and libraries, how is that a level playing field compared to students with unlimited access to the internet in their own homes?  How can a student with no home computer in an impoverished school district be compared to a student in a wealthy district where every student is issued an iPad at the beginning of the year, as has been in Weston and Dover Massachusetts?

Boyd shows just why it is important for us as educators to help guide our students.  She writes that some students knowingly go on "forbidden" websites to cite information that they know their teachers will likely not check. Boyd uses the example of the oft-reviled Wikopedia as a teacher-labeled "untrustworthy" source of information because it can be edited.

I actually was reprimanded by my own students this year in Spanish 2 for using Wikopedia to provide background information on Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.  I was thinking that everything seemed valid, however, I cross-referenced all of my information with other websites just to ensure I was providing accurate information.  I was actually impressed with Wikopedia's explanation of Kahlo's volatile marraige and bisexuality- it was valid.  Boyd shows that the admonition of Wikopedia may be premature; in fact, the site provides multifaceted view of historical events which are direct critiques of traditional textbook renditions.  It is both stides of the coin verses one side, and it is and evolving document. Wikopedia has an edit page containing histories and explanations behind edits.  Furthermore, they post their most common hoaxes.  Boyd demonstrates that Google, teachers' "trustworthy" search engine, is often skewed based on your search history.  I imagine a liberal college debate student being led to liberal websites that resemble past searches. Similarly, a staunch republican college debate student may be led to different sites based on his or her previous searches.  In other words, it is a manipulation of what Google thinks we want to read; it also can be biased.

Whether we are talking about the teenagers we teach or the colleagues with whom we work, it is imperative that we not only use the media wisely, but help to navigate our students and colleagues through sites while understanding and keeping in mind the hidden messages in the media.  Just because our students may use Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram like pros does not mean that they are computer experts who know how to find and even produce relevant information.  But as Prensky points out, our students want information easily and are used to acquiring it quickly via the internet, a quick Google search, and through the instant gratification of accessing friends online 24/7.  The assumption that students are "digital natives" is often oversimplified; they are born into a world of technology, yes; but does that give them a "native" instinct as to how to use it?  In my mind, the answer is no.  Again, the "digital natives" I picture happen to be middle-aged white men who work with computers as part of their livings.  Maybe these men are "immigrants", but they've mastered the native language as well if not better than most "natives" I know.  I would hate to be an imperialistic immigrant who squelches the culture of my digitally native students.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the discussion about Wiipedia that Boyd offers, and I appreciate your tale about Frida Kahlo. Boyd gives me a good way to explain why I like wikipedia in spite of its reputation!