Are all kids really computer wizards?

I began reading a conference paper from 2007 called Developing educational websites: investigating internet use by students and right away I found something that really resonated with me. The paragraph on page 2 and accompanying quote is:

The authenticity of content on the internet was a major concern for students and teachers. Teachers reported that students often had difficulty judging the validity of online content and felt that teaching computer literacy skills was of primary importance. Teachers in this study generally set online tasks for students that involved critical thinking, research and visual literacy and set tasks that go beyond the simple cutting and pasting of information. Teachers preferred to focus on the process rather than the product through using the internet as a learning tool. It was felt by some of the participants that many students and teachers generally lacked the fundamental skills for using the internet and new media, for example:

Kids today have a surface level knowledge of technology, but if you scratch below the surface, they often don’t have much more than that. There’s a big misconception out there that they have this deep understanding of how the technology works, but they don’t. They’re consumers of technology, and that’s probably not a good thing. (Teacher Mixed Group, Male)

It reminded me of a blog post I read a while back. It is rather provocatively entitled Kids Can’t Use Computers… And This Is Why It Should Worry You by a school teacher in the UK who teachers Computer Science (there may be some mild language in the link to be aware of if that bothers you.) It’s a long piece, and is clearly a personal account which is in part an outlet for some of the frustration that the author experiences. With that put aside though the main focus of the post is that:

“The truth is, kids can’t use general purpose computers, and neither can most of the adults I know… Not really knowing how to use a computer is deemed acceptable if you’re twenty-five or over. It’s something that some people are even perversely proud of, but the prevailing wisdom is that all under eighteens are technical wizards, and this is simply not true. They can use some software, particularly web-apps. They know how to use Facebook and Twitter. They can use YouTube and Pinterest. They even know how to use Word and PowerPoint and Excel. Ask them to reinstall an operating system and they’re lost. Ask them to upgrade their hard-drive or their RAM and they break out in a cold sweat. Ask them what https means and why it is important and they’ll look at you as if you’re speaking Klingon.

They click ‘OK’ in dialogue boxes without reading the message. They choose passwords like qwerty1234. They shut-down by holding in the power button until the monitor goes black. They’ll leave themselves logged in on a computer and walk out of the room. If a program is unresponsive, they’ll click the same button repeatedly until it crashes altogether. How the hell did we get to this situation? How can a generation with access to so much technology, not know how to use it?”

He explores some of the causes and offers some solutions. The post was discussed on the social news and entertainment website Reddit. One theme in the comments of the Reddit discussion which came up again and again was that it is not specific technology knowledge that is important, rather the process of developing and improving problem solving and critical thinking skills by using technology as a tool to achieve this outcome which is valuable. I have included some of the responses below:

“Basic problem solving and critical thinking are not optional, that is the core of what he is talking about. Every case he mentioned can be covered by basic problem solving and critical thinking. fixing your car requires expert knowledge, it after all a precision engineered machine, same with a computer. I would not suggest you try to fix a dimm, or cpu. But I would expect you to change your oil (run antivirus), clean your car (basic file system use), and maybe if you are mildy brave change your spark plugs (replace ram).
His cases are basic use, and we coddle people so they cant figure it out. It is an enormous problem. More so than fixing a car.”

“Do 99.9% of the people need Shakespeare, Calculus, the periodic table, or knowledge of various rocks in our daily lives? No. But they are part of our education. Just like various part of a good curriculum, they promote critical thinking, problem solving, application of learned concepts and philosophical thinking.
Having vast and diverse exposure to various topics and subjects in school is also what helps kids identify their passion and/or strengths in life.
Which is why I agree that IT knowledge and programming, while not essential to most people, should be essential to our education. And the education of “computing” to our children should not be restricted to MS Office. But dig into the more “useless” aspects of IT. Like we do with the Maths and Sciences. (Even if like you said, most kids dump it after the tests.)”

So are all kids really computer wizards? No, and the good news is that you don’t have to be either.

How to Infuse Digital Literacy Throughout the Curriculum introduced me to the CRAAP test (apparently the acronym was intentionally chosen, students never forget it!) The method explains how to evaluate a source based on its Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose which is helpful to determine the validity of online content . It can also be applied to non-digital sources as well.

How do you feel about digital literacy in your school or workplace?

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