Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed running tech support to their online learners? Several times a day I am called down the stairs to troubleshoot zoom, help my kids add an attachment, locate a file or get something to print correctly. Conversely, teachers are incredibly frustrated with kids not attaching assignments correctly, being unable to locate resources and generally being pretty bad at practical applications of technology. How can this be, when so many parents and educators have been fighting the specter of screentime for over a decade?
The assumption that kids are inherently good at using technology is a fallacy. These digital natives do not have a leg up on their teachers in some very critical ways. Assuming kids are good at online learning because they are good at making TikTok videos and playing video games makes about as much sense as assuming someone good at miniature golf will seamlessly figure out how to shoot 18 holes on a real golf course.
Growing up with technology as entertainment might have actually put today’s students at a disadvantage for online learning. Personally, I am a Gen X digital immigrant. Just before the turn of the century, back in the 1990’s I took typing as a high school senior. My first computer class was in college. It consisted of a big, thick Microsoft user manual. We painstakingly practiced things like naming files, changing margins, double spacing, using calendars, creating footnotes and other equally thrilling skills. While I value my education in many ways, these two classes are the ones that stand out as those who actually gave me practical skills that I use every day.
Professionals use technology for productivity, organization and executive function. This application of technology for students is largely new to them. While they have high levels of proficiency in using technology for socializing, entertaining and content creation, they are the same children with messy notebooks, lost papers and forgotten lunch boxes. Why did we assume they would take to this like fish to water? Adults and kids use and view technology in completely different ways.
Adults and kids have also acquired technology skills in a different order. Kids have started with macro applications of technology and we have to teach them how to drill down into micro uses of technology. Conversely, adults often start with micro applications of technology and learn how to scale them up to macro applications. As teachers scramble to learn how to create videos, online communities and design websites, students are struggling to learn how to navigate student portals, organize their files and manage their time. While adults were chastising kids for spending so much time socializing on screens, they were developing skill sets we didn’t know how badly we would need as coping mechanisms to continue life, education and the economy during this global crisis.
So, since my kids like to tease me and say “OK Boomer” every time I am not up to date on the latest YouTuber or Meme, I finally get to say it back when coaching them through a fillable PDF. If your students are driving you crazy with misplaced attachments, not being able to find assignments or other seemingly straightforward skills, it may be time to stop, take a time out and just focus on those concrete yet monotonous skills just to make your life easier in the long run. Just like the first days of school in a traditional setting, procedures, policies, rules and habits need to be explicitly practiced. If you didn’t have them in place on day one, it is not too late to do a reboot and start.
This is a challenging year for many reasons. Assume good intentions and remember that students of all ages honestly might not know how to do some of these things. We are all learning. Be kind to them and to yourselves. This year, we might actually be preparing kids for the “real world”.