Just Get Out of the Way!

I was reviewing my last column after I sent it in and realized that I had expressed a prejudice which I accuse others of holding. It surfaced when I spouted off a few caveats regarding what type of wireless Netbook you should buy as a student computer. The line that made me realize my prejudice was, “You need a larger unit with a keyboard approaching normal size (the small ones are virtually unusable).” Whose standard am I using when I say a small keyboard is virtually unusable? Mine! A fifty-five-year-old with fat fingers who hates to be forced to learn a new version of Microsoft Office and is slower than molasses when trying to send text messages on my older, not very smart, ghetto phone (as defined by my crack-berry-addicted wife).

Someone my age may think that a keyboard is too small to be of practical use, but it is not about me. It is about the students who use those devices, and they do not interact with or view the world the way I do. 

A fellow by the name of Marc Prensky wrote a paper in 2001 entitled, “Digital Natives Digital Immigrants,” that very succinctly presents the argument that today’s students learn in a radically different manner than their predecessors. To paraphrase, he defines a “digital native” as someone who cannot remember a time when there was no technology (phones, computers, the Internet, etc.) Therefore, he or she is fluent with the digital language of technology that is a constant presence/tool in life. A “digital immigrant” is someone who can remember a time when they had no technology, but has learned and adopted technology into his or her life (most of you readers fit into this category).

Most of us are not native speakers of the digital language. By the way, his suggested differences in learning styles driven by this difference have been corroborated through a number of studies since 2001. They want it faster, they prefer the graphics and then the text, they like to multi-task, they like parallel processes, they learn better when they do it for themselves rather than someone telling them, etc.

The fact that I do not currently own any type of smart phone is driven more from an economics issue, in that I have to upgrade my customer relations management software to a Sequel database to enable my software to work with a newer smart phone. However, the reality is that my youngest son, who is in college, sent 2,717 text messages last month while I sent 103. Hmmmmmm.

I do not expect to ever reach that level. There is a huge generational difference and disconnect behind those numbers that we need to recognize in our technology planning and acquisition processes.

Now, I am not suggesting that texting skills on a phone relate to typing skills on a keyboard. Writing a paragraph in a high school creative writing class using texting abbreviations would not enable that student to develop the written communication skills he or she will need throughout the multiple employment opportunities he or she will encounter during this or her work years. What I am suggesting is that the definition of how small a keyboard has to be before it is considered unusable should not be defined by the adults, but by the students.

All of the projects I am involved in are well-intentioned attempts to adjust our technology purchases based on the “best practices” we adults have observed. None of them include students in the verification process. We need to develop processes and opportunities for small-scale “pilot tests” that obtain validated feedback from students regarding what aspects of instructional technology do or do not work for them.

Unfortunately, as indicated by my prejudicial statement, I do not believe that those of us who control the budgets (facilities directors, technology directors, instructional technology personnel and consultants like me) are even aware that we are prejudiced. Most of us will promote and fight for the technologies where we have personally experienced success or have been convinced by other adults that it works. Yes, we must verify that a specific technology works for the teachers but, more importantly, we need to verify that it works for the students. We, including myself, need to shed our technology prejudices and “Just Get Out of the Way,” enabling students to assist in verifying what works. Do your students assist in determining the instructional technologies that work for your school district? 

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at [email protected]