Don’t Overestimate Students’ Technology Skills

Students and Tech Skills“Oh, kids, they’re so good with technology!”  I hear that regularly, but I want to gently remind people that it’s not always as true as they think.  While my students appear to flawlessly navigate Twitter and Facebook, they often are missing some basic skills with productivity tools.  And it is these productivity tools that will serve them in the workplace more than Instagram or Pinterest.

Some shocking things I’ve seen from my high school students:

  • Inability to copy and paste (and inability to deal with wonky formatting during a copy-paste process)
  • Inability to save to a different location (i.e. save a file to a thumb drive instead of the desktop)
  • Trouble with Google search terms
  • Inability to double-space properly (hitting enter every line is not evident on a print out, but painfully clear when submitted digitally!)
  • Can’t adjust content in Resume Template (because it’s a Table, and they have no clue)
  • Don’t know how to email things to themselves
  • Do not know how to change the file format (such as saving as an RTF file)
  • Don’t know how to find a file they’ve misplaced

I assure you that this is not hyperbole..  And it doesn’t even get into topics like lack of familiarity with Excel (such as not knowing how to enter formulas) or trouble manipulating layered objects (like several pictures or textboxes in a PowerPoint or Word document), not that they know what an “object” is.

While many students do have solid skills, and others well surpass their teachers in technology skills and comfort, we do a disservice by overestimating their ability.  It’s important to remember there are students who have missed lessons on technology, students who ignored lessons because they are already “good with computers,” and students who were not taught something because another teacher assumed they already knew it.

Dont Overestimate Student Tech SkillsWe wouldn’t assume that a student who has books at home reads fluently… but we assume that a student who has a computer at home (or has used computers regularly in classes) has certain skills, often without verifying and without checking.  And without providing the support they need when lacking those skills.

When setting students loose on the computer to complete a task, I consider what skills they need.  And consider what they would need if they didn’t have those skills.  How can I support them, individually if need be (hey, differentiated instruction works here, too!) I find myself watching their use of the technology as much as their completion of the assignment, offering tips and support as I canI admit it helps that I am a computer nerd.

Just as those who cannot read printed words well are great at hiding it, those who struggle with technology are also proficient at covering up their deficiencies.  They can ‘get by’– but instead, they should be helped up.  And not just for this lesson or this activity, but because technology is such an integral part of personal and professional lives.  And more than just texting and Tumblr, but true productivity skills.

CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher (and computer nerd!), likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget.  Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
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One thought on “Don’t Overestimate Students’ Technology Skills

  1. Great points, Clair! I agree and see that many of my students don’t have some basic technology skills…especially the ones needed for school and work. I do a lot of modeling; in fact, I recently created a video tutorial to help my students set up a their papers for MLA formatting in MS Word.

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