Even before Marc Prensky brought the term “digital natives” into our lexicon, the impression of many teachers has been that our kids are young Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, spending their time away from school building robots, coding mobile apps, or creating the next Facebook. The fact is that our kids do have far more technology skills than we did at the same age, simply because an iPad was placed into their tiny hands at the age of two. They cannot imagine a world without smartphones, iPads, laptops, or wearables. However, we are being remiss if we believe that the technology skills most students bring to our classrooms are enough to get them through life. Here, in no particular order, is a list, based upon personal experience, of a few of the types of technology (and life) skills techno-savvy kids still need to learn.
- Digital safety/security. Many of our students lack basic knowledge of email, preferring to use social media or texting, making them vulnerable to phishing, viruses, etc. Also, students are much, much less concerned with privacy than you or I probably are, making them more likely to share information that should be kept private. Students need opportunities to practice using email, interacting on social media, filling out online forms, even (gasp!) reading user agreements, so that they will know how to protect their identities, accounts, finances, and more.
- Digital ethics. This one is a challenge, but we should at the very least be encouraging our students at every opportunity to be responsible, ethical, thoughtful users of the internet and social media, in particular. The detached or even anonymous nature of life online turns even the most mild-mannered into people who spread discord, misinformation, even hate. While this primarily goes to the core of a person’s moral makeup, adults can model proper, ethical behavior and encourage our kids to follow suit. They should also know that, increasingly, there can be real consequences to forgetting to do so.
- Information literacy. The amount of information out there is really fairly staggering. There are 833 Tumblr posts, 463 Instagram photos uploaded, over 3800 tweets per SECOND online. Granted, much of these are nonsensical or pictures of some guy’s sandwich. Still, the cumulative effect is that students have to be smarter information users. They have to know how to wade through the inane or the inaccurate to find the inspired and informative. This takes practicing asking the types of critical questions that examine sources’ credibility, motives, currency, etc.
- E-learning. When I say e-learning, I mean in terms of the formal, organized stuff that schools love. Kids do know how to learn online–they do it through YouTube, peer networks, etc. Formal online courses, however, have specific expectations, skills, and deadlines that require students to work independently but on a time table, if that makes sense. They have to be organized and have the drive to meet deadlines without a teacher’s constant reminders and encouragement. If you have ever taken an online course, you know it is an entirely different animal, and more courses are offered in this format by the day.
- Higher tech skills. These are the obvious skills like coding or robotics, of course. They also include things like basic hardware knowledge, such as how a hard drive works and, maybe, how to change one that has crashed. Knowledge of the basics of a wireless network have transferability to most homes and business settings. Skills like understanding and creating electrical circuits, simple soldering, disassembling and reassembling devices are all useful and needed down the line. The processes of problem identification/diagnosis, strategizing, and solving problems are ones that are useful far beyond the technology or electronics realm.
- Electronic branding. Students need to be taught ways to leverage the internet and its relative permanence to their advantage. Creating “professional” blogs, websites, YouTube channels, etc. to document their accomplishments and learning gives students powerful tools to share with colleges, future employers, etc.
- Screen-off time. Studies expressing concern for kids neglecting physical activity in favor of screen time are everywhere and a very important area of concern. Less discussed, however, is how so much screen time actually affects the way our brains take in and process information, even being linked to a reduced ability to stay on topic or focus on longer text. Students need to learn these potential effects and strategies to restore cognitive function, physical fitness, and interpersonal relationships (like actually get together with a friend and take a hike in the woods).