How Digital Are They?

I’m not sure if today’s high school students are the digital natives they are made out to be. Some of my recent student interactions seem to indicate that while they may be using their computers (and of course cell phones) frequently, the majority aren’t necessarily as tech savvy as I thought.

Of the 49 unique students who signed up on the on-line registration site for student council, only 21 responded that they check their email at least once a day. Another 21 stated that they check email 2-3 times per week. 5 said they check once a week, and a surprising 2 people selected the, “I’m supposed to check my email?” option. Luckily neither of those two ended up as a class officer.

More than a few students reported having troubles accessing the on-line site. I asked if they had Java enabled and they looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. I then asked what browser they were using. Again, they didn’t understand the question. Heavy sigh. I ended up asking, “Is it a blue e? A blue globe with a red fox?”. That didn’t get us anywhere. As there was no login required, I couldn’t figure out what would be causing them difficulty. The site was hyper-linked from my school web page, as well as typed on their petitions. I finally figured it out… they thought I left out the “www” on the url and were adding it in.

In the past week, three students have found me in the hall or at the football game to tell me they aren’t getting the student council email. We checked my group list and everything was entered correctly. I suggested they check their spam folders. None of the students knew what I meant. Teachable moments, yes, but somewhat disappointing nevertheless.

Finally, I was discussing a recent post in a student blog with the author and another student. Somehow the conversation turned to RSS readers. The student claimed that he doesn’t use a feed reader. He simply bookmarks the blogs he reads and checks them for updates.

So, yes they are using their computers. Are they creating/editing content on the web? I doubt it. Unless of course it is on Facebook. I suggested they create a group for Freshmen student council. That caused quite an uproar at our first meeting. I told them that I couldn’t join though, as I’m already in too many groups. I don’t think the Freshman have yet picked up on my sarcasm.

I’m open to suggestions (that don’t involve Facebook) as to how to facilitate communication and project management with my 50+ student council members. I’d prefer something with an RSS feed. Right now I’m thinking of a registration required wiki (if the school will allow it). Anyone have any ideas?

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13 Responses to How Digital Are They?

  1. mathmom says:

    My son, who is a freshman, is about as naive as you describe these freshmen as being.

    He does know the difference between IE and Firefox, but would have no clue about enabling java, he doesn’t check his email unless I tell him he has email waiting (I get copies of all his emails), and doesn’t know how to deal with spam filters. He doesn’t read blogs or do Facebook. This despite the fact that his dad and I are complete computer junkies, his elective this semester is a computer programming class, and he has a computer in his bedroom! He knows how to email me his homework so I can print it out on my computer. He goes to his science teacher’s website weekly to complete the extra-credit problem she posts there.

    I think that the extent to which most freshmen are tech-savvy it is PM’ing and text messaging, and using sites like Facebook (none of which my son is yet interested in, and I’m glad, quite frankly).

    As to suggestions as to how to facilitate communication and project management, maybe you need to go lower-tech? These kids may have limits on their computer use, so communicating with them that way may be difficult. Surely student councils managed projects before there was email, facebook, rss feeds and wikis?

  2. Jackie says:

    I know councils existed before the e-tools existed (I was on one of them back in the dark ages). I also know the importance of the face-to-face meetings and the fun activities that will foster relationships and keep kids involved, so those will be ongoing (we just had a great time working concessions at the football game – post is coming soon about that).

    There are a couple of reasons I’m looking for an e-option for communication/project management. First, they are all very involved in other activities (sports, band, drama, speech, cheerleading…) and having a meeting with everyone there is next to impossible. I could put in announcements – but very few listen to them during the day. Second, the RSS feed is for me, as I don’t want a ton of documents emailed to me. Third, I’m trying to create a student-centered council where they are making the decisions and doing the planning. I’m just there to provide guidance. So I want a way for them to collaborate with each other (that I can oversee). Lastly, I just think this is a good opportunity to introduce them to the stuff that is out there. They need to know that there is more to the web than Facebook/IM.

  3. Robert says:

    Jackie, as you know I’ve been blogging about the spurious notion of the “digital native” for over a year now. Most recently:

    The simple fact is that those who push the digital native hypothesis…

    (1) have no evidence other than anecdotal to back up their claims,
    (2) pull their anecdotes usually from one or two people close to themselves, and who therefore share the same set of values regarding technology and have the same socioeconomic background,
    (3) are technophiles themselves who really want the current generation to be digitally native and are therefore susceptible to confirmation bias, and
    (4) consist in large part of people who are not actual classroom teachers but rather professors in university ed departments or people who somehow make a living from hopping from one ed conference to the next.

    I’m like you — my students are plenty bright, but their tech-savvy-ness extends roughly to Facebook, text messaging, and IM and that’s it. The digital native hypothesis is really dangerous because it makes assumptions that students know things, when in reality they don’t and need to be taught.

    I’m seriously considering approaching a colleague of mine who’s a sociologist to try to get some kind of actual research program going about just how much of the digital nativist philosophy is really true.

  4. Pingback: Wednesday link-fest « Casting Out Nines

  5. Jackie says:


    I agree these skills need to be taught to students, which is part of the reason I’d like to include a web-based communication/collaboration piece to my work with student council. I think teaching it in a meaningful context would make more sense to them than in a stand alone course. I’m attending a workshop in November on student activities. One session looks promising, so hopefully I’ll get some ideas.

    I’d love to see the results of this program, so approach your sociologist friend. Also, I meant to trackback to this post , and somehow I didn’t, so I apologize.

  6. Jackie,

    A realistic, sensible approach to technology and new media? Where are the Digital Cheerleaders?

    Wonderful post – it echoes both my feelings and also what I’ve observed. I understand that many of the edutechers are “visionaries” of sorts – and we do need visionaries and theorists – but it’s important to honest and realistic.

    I’m also glad to see someone else prodding Robert to talk to that sociologist friend – sounds like a good project!

  7. Robert says:

    Geez, I didn’t realize I had people waiting for me to pull the trigger on the sociological study thing! I’ll have to get on that once Fall Break is over.

  8. jd2718 says:

    “A blue globe with a red fox?”

    That’s a fox? Ya think they could’ve googled themselves a better logo…

  9. Jackie says:

    Isn’t it a fox? Firefox? I rather like it. It is better than the red “O” I see for Opera.

  10. jd2718 says:

    It might be a fox. Looks more like an orange stole? Maybe a curled up wheat stalk? Like I said, maybe a google image search could have helped…

  11. Ben Chun says:

    Funny, I just wrote about the same sorts of things last month:

    Glad to see I’m not the only doubter of all the hype about “digital natives”. And it’s good to be back in the blog world here, following along with Professor Talbert and Mr. 2718!

    Have you thought about using Google Groups with your students?

  12. mathmom says:

    The fox is ok, but for their Mozilla replacement, Seamonkey, the logo looks like a bird. I just don’t get it!

  13. Jackie says:


    I just received permission to use Google Groups today (never been done in district before). I’ll be getting started with the kids on Google Groups next week.

    I’m open to advice/suggestions.

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