Technological Ignorance in the Age of Computers

Picture this.
A computer lab filled with grade 8 students.
Within that group are three girls, sitting side by side.
The girl in the middle stands up and walks away from her computer.  “Where are you going?” I ask.
“This computer doesn’t work.”  She replies.  The two girls on either side of her nod in agreement.
“Is it plugged in?”   Only blank stares answer my question.
I plug it in.  The light on the tower turns on.
A few minutes later, however, the seat is empty, the screen blank.
“Where did she go?”  The one of the two girls answers, “That computer is broken so she moved.”
I push the monitor’s power button and the screen flicks on in less than two seconds time.

Picture this.
It’s third period, and I am collecting student essays in Grade 9 English.
“I don’t have mine,” a ninth grade student states.  “My printer was broken.”
“Why didn’t you print it out during break?  Fifteen minutes is enough time to print a paper.”
“Well, I didn’t have the file.”
“You didn’t email it to yourself?  Or upload it on GoogleDrive? or Microsoft OneDrive?  Or use a USB?”
“Uh…. no….”

Picture this.
We have started to use Microsoft’s version of Google Drive.  It has all of the standard Microsoft Office programs, but in the cloud.  I have started to use the folders to share documents with students, which allows them to have digital copies and, for those classes that are more “Bring Your Own Device” focused, allow students to go paperless.
“Your instructions for today’s class are in the Shared Folder,” I announce as a reminder of the instructions.  I often tell the instructions twice–once, when we are in my classroom, and again, three minutes later when we have walked to the computer lab.  “Log into Microsoft 365, go to OneDrive, and open the instruction document.”
“I don’t have the document shared with me!” one student claims from across the room.  Even from a distance I can see the problem.  “Well, you are looking in your email right now, so that’s probably why,” I point out.
“I can’t log into Microsoft365!” another student states.  They were trying to enter a username instead of an email.
Later, students say, “Miss!  I can’t log out!”  I refuse to help them, instead saying “How do you think you log out?”
(Surprise, surprise, it’s the same way you log out of Gmail, Facebook, WordPress, Youtube…)

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I teach students from all over the world.  They are different ages, come from different cultural backgrounds, and have differing levels of English knowledge. Consequently, I try not to have any universal expectations for my students.

That being said, if you cannot turn on a computer or log out of a program, there is something seriously wrong.

Do my students experience economic barriers that have created a lack of exposure to technology in their lives?
No, my students are wealthy.  They all have new smartphones and the majority of them have top of the line laptops for their personal use at home.

I have come to expect basic technological literacy.  But, like I whenever my expectations are challenged, I stepped back and asked myself if this was a realistic expectation.

Is it unrealistic to expect my students to know how to turn on a monitor?
Is it unrealistic to expect my students to think “Maybe it’s not plugged in” when the computer doesn’t wake up?
Is it unrealistic to expect my students to investigate how to log off their program, before asking me?
Is it unrealistic to expect my students to know how to use a USB drive, a cheap piece of technology that has existed as a commonly used since they were toddlers?

I have concluded that these are not unrealistic expectations.

And yet.
I can’t get students to use the most basic of problem solving skills when it comes to technology.

This forces me (again) to the realization that I am more than an English teacher.

That, regardless of specialization, every teacher is a teacher of critical thinking.

When it comes to books, I love teaching critical thinking skills.  Critical thinking in regards to philosophy? psychology? Sign me up. Global issues?  There is a whole unit for that in my Grade 12 course.

But critical thinking, when it comes down to common sense?  When it comes down to knowing how to properly use the objects you interact with on a daily basis?  I can’t handle it. To me, that has devolved from critical thinking to basic problem solving.  It’s practically willful ignorance.  And I just. can’t. do it.

In the words of one of my favourite and intuitive ninth graders, who witnessed me turn on the aforementioned monitor and seethe silently in frustration:  “Miss, I think you need more coffee.”

Why yes, Rachel.  I do.


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