Whose job is it to address the undergraduate tech skills divide?

I confess that I am guilty of thinking of the majority of my students as “digital natives.” While I try to be mindful of issue of access because I am teaching in a public school system, thinking of my students as from post-computer (and these days, really, post-internet) generations, often causes me to make assumptions about how skilled they should be with the basic tech we use in the academic environment, which to me includes email, Word, Power Point, and–if they are not first semester freshmen—Blackboard. But as both the pieces by Maura and Mariana Regalado and Lee Skallerup Bessette note, even when students are surrounded by tech they don’t always know how best to use it.

Leaving aside the first digital divide—the problem of access, a socio-economic issue that feels outside the scope of this class—what do we think our responsibilities are in relation to the second digital divide, skilled versus unskilled tech users in our classrooms? If your course is not geared toward learning a particular technology or software (and is not a hybrid or online course), is it up to you to provide computer help? If for example, you ask for a PowerPoint presentation do you need to provide a lesson on basic PowerPoint skills? What about a Blackboard, which they may not have encountered outside of school?

The Smale/Regalado presentation asserts that a student’s experience with technology in school affects their academic and professional lives so addressing inequities is “especially pressing for traditionally underserved students, who will potentially graduate with less experience than their more privileged peers (who both began college with more tech experience and had more tech access in college).” So, who do we think should be addressing them, and how?

4 thoughts on “Whose job is it to address the undergraduate tech skills divide?

  1. Hamad Sindhi

    Like Aleksandra and Christina, I also think this is a very important question. I tend to agree with Christina – as whatever type of teachers (undergrad, k-12, etc.) we should put the emphasis on showing students how to learn something they are unfamiliar with. Part of preparing students for the ‘outside world’ is showing them how we prepare for our ‘outside worlds’ on a daily basis. I think that becoming a ‘transparent’ guide (guide by the side) is most likely the best way to both engage students and welcome them into our scholarship communities.

    That said, we cannot ignore the questions of class, and who gets to play with and fail with technologies. This new and interesting digital divide question posed by Bessette is, I think, at the core of the learning divide in general. Who gets to play with ideas and theories and who does not have the time/money/resources to play and fail (forward) with cutting-edge scholarship is also an important question to ask of the analog pedagogies. What I think we should try to do is remove the fear of playing and failing forward that stigmatizes underprivileged students, create safe platforms for students to play and fail in, and advocate constantly for the resources required for this type of learning. This cannot be an individual effort on the part of the teacher alone, but needs to leverage the power and resources that come with a larger social movement.

  2. pthielman

    @Aleksandra Kaplon-Schilis
    Aleksandra, your point about teacher tech skills is well taken. The undergraduate school I teach at holds plenty of faculty tutorials on Blackboard, for example, and I’ve been to some. It is sometimes troubling to see how far behind some of the professors are with a technology that runs CUNY-wide (and in other systems as well). Not to mention that it is a small group that self-selects and decides that these skills are worth taking the time to develop.

    I would hate to think that teachers should be forced to “test in” to a school or school system, something that seems to me to be problematic for adjuncts in particular because that could put unreasonable onus on them to learn several different programs. But I also agree that preparing learners for the world outside the classroom is a serious aim of any educational environment and teachers do have some obligation to be conversant with the same basic tech tools that they want their students to use.

    Comment Tags: tech skills divide
  3. Christina Shane-Simpson

    Pamela and Aleksandra,

    You both asked very interesting questions in your posts. While I agree with Aleksandra to some extent, I also think that we (as teachers/instructors/professors) put too much of the burden on ourselves to train our students how to use the technology that will make them successful outside the classroom. The affordances of the online environment encourage exploration and discovery, essential elements to all of my classes (and I’m sure yours as well!). I see the teacher in a very Vygotskian role, guiding the students towards the resources they’ll need in their intended careers. Yes, we can take the time in our class to teach students how to use some of these digital technologies, but I also think that there are wonderful resources on the web that can provide (oftentimes better) instruction. As teachers I believe it’s our role to GUIDE student towards these resources by pointing out the Youtube videos that illustrate examples of social experiments, using R for statistics, and “insert your program-relevant content here.” Has anyone else begun to rely on these online resources to supplement their in-class assignments? Or am I just taking the easy way out here?

    Aleksandra, your problem seems to be a much larger one – How do we teach the teachers? Unfortunately, I have no idea and I’m not even certain that our classrooms are prepared for these tech-savvy teachers. While some K-12 classrooms are equipped with SmartBoards and interactive tablets, other classrooms I’ve visited still have blackboards (not the learning management system, an actual blackboard) instead of whiteboards. I think the Digital Divide speaks to this disparity, but doesn’t propose any concrete solutions for us. I’m left wondering, so what do we do now? Can we do anything short of dropping out of our doctoral program, advocating for progressive education, and eventually running for a political office? Okay, that’s a little extreme, but I too often feel powerless in this respect.

  4. Aleksandra Kaplon-Schilis

    Pamela, this is such an important question. I totally believe, that teaching our students on how to best use technology should start at the elementary school or rather at training our k-12 teachers. They are the ones that should introduce how to effectively use basic technology while they are preparing their students for colleges and their future careers. But what do I mean by basic technology? What programs should they teach and use with students on the daily basis? The standards for using technology (by both teachers and students) in k-12 schools are very broad. And are our teachers ready, or prepared well enough to teach on how to use technology and when to use technology with their students? There is growing expectations that teachers – regardless of age or experience will train students to live and work in an information society as independent, creative and lifelong learners.
    I am currently teaching two graduate classes on using technology to teach math and science in elementary setting. However, some of my students (actual k-12 teachers) do not know how to use MS Word, or PowerPoint or BlackBoard. If they do not know how to use technology how are they going to prepare students to do it effectively? Teacher education programs are expected to prepare teacher candidates with theoretical and hands-on experiences to use digital technologies in learning and teaching. But do they? Some colleges offer extensive training with technology for new teachers; some require future teachers to pass technology competency test before graduating their programs (like Hunter College), but others don’t.
    Or maybe, there should be an entrance test measuring technology skills. This way, our undergrad students would know what was expected from them (and hopefully prepare) before they entered college.

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