How is it that a generation of teenagers born into the middle of a veritable maelstrom of technological advancements – a generation that we’re told is the most “plugged in” and “techno-literate” in history – strikes me as increasingly clueless when it comes to instructional and educational technology? I know that if I were to ask my classes nicely (or at least to offer them extra credit), I’d have more than one student in every period download me a copy of Star Trek Into Darkness before it’s released in theaters. Or at least before the end of the school year. But I guarantee you that those same students couldn’t embed that video into a multimedia presentation if their lives depended on it.
My students can almost universally Tweet and update their Facebook statuses from their smartphones. And most of them do. Often during class. But ask them to reset the default line spacing in Microsoft Word to 1.0 (not 1.15 – whatever the hell that‘s all about) or to turn off AutoFormat so they can properly type an outline? They look at you like you asked them to perform open-heart surgery with a blindfold and a spork.
They can Skype and FaceTime and Instagram and post memes and GIFs and YouTube videos. But ask them to animate a PowerPoint? Not a chance. And they’d collectively curl up into a ball and cry if they saw the myriad options available to them and the number of choices they’d have to make with a tool like Prezi.
At the same time, I’ve made no bones about my general ineptitude when it comes to social media. I ignored the advent of Myspace and turned a blind eye to the rise of Facebook. My only real exposure to Twitter has been via Entertainment Weekly and SportsCenter. And I genuinely don’t know if I’m allowed to use “Instagram” as a verb or not. I’m not the most social of people, and I’m a shit at networking. But I’ve been turning over a new leaf in the weeks since I published my ebook so I can get in touch with other writers and reach out to potential readers.
So what separates me from my students? The shortcomings in their technological education that I find tragic I’m sure they dismiss as trivial. And my insistence for the past several years that I DO NOT have a Facebook page (and still don’t, so far as they know) causes them to pity me on a scale normally reserved for productions of Sophocles, even though I’ve never given it a second thought.
Is it worse that a high school junior has no concept of how to conduct a Boolean search and can’t understand why the top six results returned by Google when they type their entire thesis statement in the search bar aren’t the six magic bullets they’ll need to write an A+ research paper? Or that a 33-year-old man can’t figure out how to make his blog and his Facebook page talk to each other and can’t understand why the “Help” link on Facebook.com routinely fails to provide any helpful information?
I suppose it depends on who you ask.
But I can tell you this much: While they’re content to lose points for having all the text on a presentation slide appear at once…or for having to exit PowerPoint to open YouTube…or for failing to upload a paper on to turnitin.com because they don’t know how to save a document in a different file format, I’m willing to learn.
And I’m trying to.