Tag Archives: digital native

A test for tech literacy

The National Assessment Governing Board has announced plans to develop a standardized test to gauge the technological literacy of K-12 students, according to a BusinessWeek article. They plan to deploy the test to a sample of students in grades 4, 8, and 12. The article doesn’t say what, exactly, is going to be on the test. But, interestingly, there are some hints in the article that the test will include mechanical and scientific concepts under the umbrella of “technology”. (Lest we forget, there are all kinds of technology out there besides cell phones and MySpace pages, and being really skilled in technology has to mean more than just the ability to twiddle buttons on a gadget.)

I’m not sure what the K-12 system in this country needs right now is one more standardized test. But on the other hand, it would be awfully nice — for once — to have a standard means of gathering statistically viable data on technological literacy, rather than relying upon unproven assumptions and anecdotal evidence. Or, as it says in the article:

Companies like Intel need people who not only know how to use a computer, but also have a sophisticated understanding of concepts like security, privacy, and intellectual property that will evolve with technology in coming years, [Paige] Kuni [of Intel] says. Her hope is that a national tech test will spur more schools to teach these skills since many educators just assume that kids are naturally tech-savvy and can pick this up on their own. “Adults in our society and in other countries assume that because kids are digital natives, they automatically know how to use technology in meaningful work,” Kuni says. “Just because a kid can use text messages doesn’t mean they know how to [do things like] analyze data deeply.”

I hope that the edu-blogosphere, especially that huge chunk of bloggers and conference-hoppers on the ed-tech side who are endlessly enraptured by the notion of the digital native, is listening to those emphasized quotes. We need to stop assuming that kids have these skills and start teaching them.

So this test could be of some real value to the education community. On the other hand, it seems a little naive of the NAGB to think, as the article says, that this test — no matter how well it measures technological literacy — can play a significant role in “revers[ing] the slide in U.S. test scores and enrollment in such subjects as science, math, and engineering, and ultimately address the more generally waning competitiveness of the U.S. in technology”. It seems that the NAGB people think that the existence of the standardized test will make classes which emphasize technology more prominent in the curriculum (“What’s assessed is what’s taught”, as Hofstra’s David Burghardt economically puts it).

Maybe . But when’s the last time a generation of young people got fired up about something because there was a big test on it? You can develop curricula and test it all you want, but when the popular culture still virtually criminalizes the idea of being smart among teenagers and younger kids — especially being smart in math and science — then it’s merely wishful thinking to expect a significant change in direction. But I’d love to be wrong on that.

[ht Joanne Jacobs]

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Actual research on tech literacy!

Finally, a professional sociologist has done some actual research on the concept of the digital native. Her view is a little more measured than others‘. From this interview

Q. Why do people think young people are so Web-wise?

A. I think the assumption is that if it was available from a young age for them, then they can use it better. Also, the people who tend to comment about technology use tend to be either academics or journalists or techies, and these three groups tend to understand some of these new developments better than the average person. Ask your average 18-year-old: Does he know what RSS means? And he won’t.

The importance of having empirical findings about digital literacy among young people — as opposed to anecdotes and assumptions that tend to affirm what we want to believe — is that the more we assume, the less we teach. As Prof. Hargittai puts it: 

Q. Are there implications for workplace readiness?

A. There are positive outcomes for those who know how to work and employ tech information, and those who lack information will confront a different situation. In terms of a link with demographic differences, those people who seem to be more savvy are the ones who tend to be in more-privileged positions. There will be an increase in social inequality if this divergence continues this way.

I’m not a fan of the concept of “privilege”, but it’s plain to see that some demographics have better access to technology than others. And it’s all fun to suppose that students these days are technologically literate and then craft way-cool tech-centered curricula around that assumption. But the problem is that the students who are not technologically savvy — whom Prof. Hargittai identifies as “Women, students of Hispanic origin, African-American students, and students whose parents have lower levels of education”, which is to say, an awfully big percentage of the people we teach — end up getting left behind while we have our fun. 

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Wednesday link-fest

You know, there’s some good stuff showing up in my RSS reader once I get a chance to read it:

  • There’s a 21-page paper titled “Are There Infinitely Many Primes?” over at arXiv. How do you write 21 pages on a question that was answered “yes” about 2500 years ago? You’ll have to go see for yourself.
  • xkcd turns the Turing Test around.
  • IHE has this article on dual enrollment (high school students taking college courses) and its benefits. I agree. I’ve been involved with a dual-enrollment program at my college, and I’m definitely preferring this approach over taking a so-called AP course taught and designed outside the auspices of a college that may or may not prepare students well for actual college courses.
  • Dana Huff is wondering whether there are programs out there that will donate laptops to teachers. There’s this program from the One Laptop Per Child project, but I’ve not seen a similar program for teachers looking for “grown-up” laptops. Anybody able to help her out?
  • Homeschool2.0 has a cartoon to share about the socialization of homeschooled kids.
  • Jackie at Continuities joins me in my skepticism about digital natives.

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