Don’t Assume Too Much: Teaching the ‘Digital Natives’

by Baynard Bailey

In Academic Computing Services, we supervise a number of students that are truly experts in multimedia production in a variety of forms. They continually wow us with their outstanding project work. The students create remarkable multimedia in a variety of forms (video, web sites, sound projects etc.). Based on these wonderful projects, it would be easy for us to believe that all college students possess this remarkable level of digital fluency. Faculty that have also been ‘wowed’ by student digital projects could be lured to into making this assumption as well.

According to the British Journal of Education Technology article, The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence, despite students’ nearly 100% fluency in email, word processing and web surfing, “only a minority of the (students 21%) were engaged in creating their own content and multimedia for the Web, and that a significant proportion of students had lower level skills than might be expected of digital natives.” My experience working with Vassar students confirms this conclusion. Despite being very facile with computers, most students need guidance and support when it gets to the nitty-gritty of multimedia production, whether it is video editing or posting to WordPress.

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Alex Levy's ability to create beautiful video is the exception, not the norm.

If an assignment for class requires students to create some kind of media that isn’t a standard part of the course (like a podcast, movie, poster, website or digital story), arrange for mandatory skills training for the students. I’ve witnessed the best results when the workshops are scheduled as part of class time. In a pinch, arrangements can be made for something outside of class, though I’d encourage making it required. My experience is that if something is optional for students, they will opt not to come (and regret it later). In general, the students  have a tendency to overestimate their own digital production abilities, and then find themselves ‘stuck’ later on (e.g. two weeks after the workshop) when support is not available. At the very least, students should be put in contact with someone who can provide one-on-one help. Providing skill training as part of the curriculum will empower all students to have their best chances for success.

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