We Need More Tech Skeptics

I’ve never liked the whole “digital native/digital immigrant” meme, and an administrator at the University of Kansas seems to agree we need to look at how people understand “technology” in new ways.

She says that many of those digital natives we call students, in both K12 schools and colleges, are actually technologically illiterate, at least under what she says should be an updated definition of “tech literacy”.

The assumption that today’s student are computer-literate because they are “digital natives” is a pernicious one, Zvacek said. “Our students are task-specific tech savvy: they know how to do many things,” she said. “What we need is for them to be tech-skeptical.”

Zvacek was careful to make clear that by tech-skeptical, she did not mean tech-negative. The skepticism she advocates is not a knee-jerk aversion to new technology tools, but rather the critical capacity to glean the implications, and limitations, of technologies as they emerge and become woven into the students’ lives. In a campus environment, that means knowing why not to trust Google to turn up the best sources for a research paper in its top returns, or appreciating the implications of surrendering personal data — including the propensities of one’s bladder — to third parties on the Web.

I think I like the idea of teaching tech “skepticism” instead of “literacy”, for adults as well as kids.

It ties right into helping people develop their crap detector, a concept Neil Postman wrote about in the 70’s and that Howard Rheingold is discussing now.


Thanks to Shaun Johnson for the link.

Please Stop Saying That

As 2009 and the aughts come to a close, lots of people are presenting retrospectives on the year and decade past.

A few pundits and experts (not necessarily the same thing) are offering predictions of what to expect ahead.

This rant is neither of those.

Instead I have a request in the form of a short list of phrases that need to be retired from the public lexicon as we begin 2010.

21st Century skills

As we enter the second decade of the century, this is a cliche that has lost whatever meaning it might have had. Mostly it’s used by politicians and education experts as a catch-all for whatever concept they’re currently pushing.

The skills most often included – creativity, critical thinking, communication, etc. – are nothing unique to this century.

And they are, for the most part, the diametrical opposite of the test-driven crap that has been passed off as education reform during the past decade.

digital native/digital immigrant

As outlined in the original 2001 article, Marc Prensky’s concept of how kids differ from adults in their use of technology had some validity.

Today, it’s degenerated into another edtech cliche, far too often used by adults to excuse themselves from having to learn about the every expanding array of tools for communication and collaboration that have become part of daily life for many of us, not just kids.

web 2.0

New rule: anyone who wants to use this term, must first identify what on the web isn’t “2.0”. That should kill it fast.

And finally…

back to normal

This phrase has been used excessively during discussions about the economy but it is also invoked by leaders of companies and organizations (including those in our overly-large school district).

However, isn’t “normal” where we were when the wheels came off the bus?

In education, “normal” is the traditional system most people remember growing up with – and which isn’t working for a growing number of kids.

When it comes to teaching and learning (as well as the rest of American society), instead of longing for something called “normal” we should be working to rebuild into something better.

Ok, that’s my list. What would you add or delete?

Taking Aim At Cliches

Gary Stager is one of those writers who is not at all shy about letting you know just where he stands. In two recent posts, he lets loose on two different ideas that transformed from useful concepts to abused cliches.

In the first one he takes a well deserved swing at the cult of web 2.0 and the glorification of the “digital native”.

In the social upheaval of the 1960s and 70s, young activists used to say, “Never trust anyone over 30.” It seems that popular middle aged ed tech keynote speakers and bloggers have embraced that slogan as a form of self-loathing. The Digital Natives/Immigrants cliché and other similar nonsense is built on the assumption that Twitter (or whatever replaces it an hour from now), somehow makes you smarter, a better citizen and reduces the chances of male pattern baldness. Such ageism makes me a bit queasy.

When Marc Prensky first wrote about digital natives vs. digital immigrants six or seven years ago, he introduced a useful metaphor for discussing the dichotomy between how kids and adults used technology.

Since then the concept has been morphed into a cliche that is used as an excuse by too many people unable or unwilling to learn what’s going on.

The World is Flat is another example of an idea that went from useful discussion point to flat out cliche in record time.

And in another article Stager also has a few wonderfully pointed opinions on this subject as well.

I have not moderated my 2005 appraisal that The World Is Flat is chock-full of sloppy facts, simplistic reasoning and dopey rhymes. My greatest concern is that school leaders are much more apt to quote from books written by men who have never run a business than from those written by educational innovators. An administrator’s quest for a quick fix and misplaced faith in the advice of charlatans is much more alarming than Mr. Friedman’s ignorance of technology, education or policy. He just wrote a book. We bought it.

I don’t fault Friedman’s book as much as Stager does. However, I do object to the way the author and his supporters have converted his observations into a cult.

The World is Flat is certainly an interesting read and has some ideas that need to be discussed. It’s just not the revealed word as some would have you believe.

While I don’t agree with everything Stager has to say, I do love the way he rants.