Digital Natives?

July 9th, 2012
Computer x 2

College students today are more tech savvy than ever before.

In how many posts, articles, and/or presentations have you read/heard this line lately? It is probably one of my biggest pet peeves – a reason for me to stop reading, get up and leave, or throw things at the person writing/presenting. Do we really still believe this? Apparently so – as I read an article today that started with this statement. There are so many wrong assumptions in this statement, it is hard to know where to start deconstructing it. But I’ll give it a try.

Let’s start with “college students” – we all know that the average college student demographic is rapidly changing – no more are we just referring to an 18-year-old, fresh out of high school, lacking world experience and spending all day on Facebook. To lump all college students into a “tech savvy” group is just ignorant – we have students of all ages, backgrounds and knowledge areas on our campuses today. The minute someone starts a post or presentation with this statement, they indicate their lack of knowledge of the true “college student” of today and make a very dangerous assumption.

Let’s also talk about what it means to be “tech savvy” – and fine, for just this instance, I’ll use the 18-year-old student assumption. Does this mean that they can work a smart phone? Does it mean they can navigate user-friendly websites like Facebook or do a Google search online? I’ve worked with students that can do all of these things, but then they are stumped when it comes to figuring out how to work the office phone or voicemail.  Some students might be able to blog, but they haven’t figured out the finer aspects of working in Microsoft Word or Excel. And students – or staff, for that matter – who use Gmail are not instantly acclimated to Microsoft Outlook – trust me on this one. And don’t even get me started with training them to use a copier or fax machine – argue with me that these may become obsolete some day, but they sure as heck aren’t yet, and if you work in an office, you should be prepared to use them.

For those of different generations, some have had to constantly learn how to use new technologies, didn’t have access to anything “user-friendly,” and even may have used – gasp! – rotary telephones. Does this mean they’re less tech savvy? Because I would argue that the opposite is true.

So why is the assumption that our students are “more tech savvy than ever before” so dangerous? It is a major disservice to our students. If we expect this of them, we set them up for failure. We don’t provide them with training or education on things that they will need to become digitally literate. We miss an opportunity to not only instruct them how to interact with technological tools, but to do so in a way that benefits them instead of harming them (Facebook privacy settings anyone?). Instead of graduating technologically competent students, we send them out even farther behind than when they came to us.

How do we combat this perception of “tech savvy” with our students, faculty and staff?

  • You raise some great points here.  We should not assume every young person is a tech expert.

    However, they may utilize certain technologies more regularly then say the baby boomer generation.