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.

5 Comments We Need More Tech Skeptics

  1. The Science Goddess

    Doyle and I are interested in putting in an Educon proposal for a “slow teaching” movement. We’d probably take things a step further than what is described here, but it seems healthy to look at the role of technology both in and out of the classroom.

  2. Delia

    Absolutely. It frustrates me when people use that “digital native/digital immigrant” metaphor. I’m not an “immigrant” to technological literacy even if I’m a boomer–I’ve been using computers since high school and social media since it existed–and my students may be “natives” but not in a good sense. They are often extraordinarily naive and uninformed about the tools they use. They are confident to a fault sometimes because they rarely think critically about the tools they use. My husband is a computer consultant, and he dreads calls to homes where kids have free rein on the Internet because the household computers are so often infested with viruses and Trojans to the point that they have to be wiped and reformatted. I really like the idea of “tech skepticism.”

  3. Scott McLeod

    This sort of blends the ideas of information literacy, network literacy (see Jeff Utecht’s recent post), and digital citizenship. Yet another indictment of our schools’ current inability to prepare students for the world in which they live. Also worth noting that most adults don’t get most of this either…

  4. David H. Wilkins

    I can only speak about my two kids’ habits. They are tremendously inquisitive, and if they *want* to do something, they’ll figure it out. They’re not interested in the *right* way to do it, just getting it done.

    Case in point: Everyone in my family, when asked to center a block of text in the word processor, will instantly go to the spacebar. Until they’ve taken Business Tech in school and learned about centering.

  5. Boweig

    Nativism is usually highly suprerficial and naive – the natives understand and can navigate the surface but not comprehend in any depth the inner workings, plumbing , history , and architecture of what they are using.

    When it breaks, how do they fix it? How do they make more without current easy bake tools?

    It is like a nature lover who sees the pretty bird, but knows nothing of biology or ecology


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