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Students aren’t so web-savvy

Apr - 30 - 2008
Nicole C. Engard

This is an interesting interview:

Eszter Hargittai, an assistant professor in Northwestern University’s sociology department, has discovered that students aren’t nearly as Web-savvy as they, or their elders, assume.

Ms. Hargittai studies the technological fluency of college freshmen. She found that they lack a basic understanding of such terms as BCC (blind copy on e-mail), podcasting, and phishing. This spring she will start a national poster-and-video contest to promote Web-related skills.

Eszter goes on to explain her study and its results. I found the comments as interesting as the interview itself. One comment in particular made me laugh:

Finally someone says it. We listen ad nauseam to administrators and journalists blather about tech in the classroom and this generation’s web-and-computer savvy. Bollocks. My students (at an R-1) have had enormous difficulty posting documents to Blackboard and WebCT; don’t know how to use a program’s tutorial; don’t know how to save documents in different file formats than the default; don’t realize they can discover basic information about our university (e.g. a phone directory, a registration calendar) through our webpage. They are as tech savvy as they are anything-else savvy: not so much, unfortunately.

Here’s my question – the first time you tried to use Blackboard or WebCT were you able to post info to it? As a very web-savvy person I have to say that Blackboard at least (since I never had to use WebCT) is one of the most user-unfriendly tools I’ve ever had to use. Do not use Blackboard as a measure of your students web savviness. Also – I’m really glad I didn’t have this person as one of my professors. How can any instructor be so negative about their students? If you think they know nothing then how can you teach them effectively?

All that said – I agree with the studies results. I found it interesting that my sister who recently finished college didn’t know about things that are part of my everyday web life – RSS, Blogs, etc. We should never make assumptions about our students/audience. We should always start at the beginning – as educators it’s our jobs to teach students about these tools and how they can be used in the professional world.

5 Responses so far.

  1. Victoria Petersen says:

    Interesting! I find this too with others; I used to live in Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale!), and when I talk to my friends who have jobs in the computer industry – they have no idea what Twitter, Google Reader, Second Life, etc.. are! I always think that by living in a small rural area in Colorado, I will be behind the times. It gives me hope that librarians / library workers keep up with these things, use them, and tell their patrons about them!

  2. ez says:

    The first time I had ever seen WebCT was in 1999. I worked the library reference desk as a student worker. Students, professors, and visitors were always asking how to use the computers. I agreed to try and help a student trying to figure out WebCT. I thought it an easy to use tool and lamented none of my professors were using it for my classes. Admittedly, WebCT 2.0 was waaaaaay simpler than Vista 3, especially at administration, my chosen profession.

    I have always spent a lot of time using computers doing a wide variety of things, so I understand how to use them better than most people. The estimates about computer use rarely mention the users typically are doing a few very specific things. This is because there is assumption skills easily transfer. All too often users need to replace habits for one thing with habits for another.

  3. eszter says:

    Thank you for taking an interest in my work. I find it intriguing, however, that you would draw conclusions about my teaching style based on that interview given that it doesn’t address that issue at all. I care very much about student learning and figuring out ways to help students learn and grow. The student evaluations I get attest to the fact that man of my students appreciate my teaching and get a lot out of my classes.

  4. eszter says:

    Hi again, Nicole. Michael over at TTW suggests that I misread the post and it wasn’t my teaching you were criticizing, rather, the commenter’s. I guess I found it hard to parse the meaning of “this person” in that sentence. It makes sense that it would refer to the person talking about Blackboard, but I guess it wasn’t clear to me. Apologies if I misunderstood your note.

  5. Nicole says:

    No problem at all!! Michael is correct – I wasn’t talking about you :)


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