Technology: Why Are Students Better Than Teachers At Using It?

I have been a teacher since 2003. I qualified in Primary education, and went on to be Head of ICT and Head of Year in a secondary school London. I now work as a consultant, helping schools make the most of their technology. I spend my time showing schools the most appropriate use of free web resources, advising them on how to implement and embed ICT in their classrooms practically, and discussing all kinds of ICT issues with other educators, based on their individual and unique needs. I believe that ICT can help both teachers and students, equally and easily. You can follow me @heartofsol and find out more about how I help schools at www.21cln.org.uk

When it comes to technology, students always seem to be one step ahead. They were probably wasting time on YouTube, blogging, creating photo albums together, and Tweeting before many staff even knew what those words meant. Why is that? I don’t think the answer is that difficult – children have had technology in their lives since they were born. Most teachers, on the other hand, have seen it slowly invade their lives – almost invisibly, but always semi-conscious of it…

Students are used to having to deal with ever-changing gadgets and gizmos, and they manage to accept and drop interfaces and ideas much easier than their teachers.

More than this, students now process information differently to their teachers, because they actually get information in a totally different way – students today can get information practically whenever they want. As a result of this, they don’t need teachers as a source of knowledge in the same way as students did a few years ago.

Because information is easy for students to get, they deal with problems, projects, and learning in a different way. Communication, for example, doesn’t need to be in real-time any more. You don’t need to remember facts or data any more (before mobile phones and GPS, I am sure most of us could remember a dozen telephone numbers and locations). If students want to find out about Paris, it is just as valid to consult a fact based website, as it is to consult a tourist forum. Sport arguments can now be settled immediately, with proper stats, rather than having to rely on subjective points.

So, there is a gap between students and teachers. I can’t say for sure how wide the gap is, but it certainly seems to be getting smaller (that’s the good news). But, it is not happening fast enough (that’s the bad news).

What teachers have to figure out is which tech will disrupt their life the least – students already have, and just try it all, and get on with it without fuss.

Consider this: most teachers probably, intentionally work harder at resisting technology and finding excuses for not using it. Students, on the other hand, actively seek out new tech – and they do it for fun. Does that happen at your school? If you ask the students, would they agree?

It’s not hard to imagine, though, that in a few years, when today’s students are tomorrow’s teachers, they laugh at us for not embracing technology. And it’s not a bad thing for a teacher to learn something from their students.

Another difference: teachers seem to prefer finding a routine or practice, and sticking to it until they are forced to change. I understand why – there is not enough time in a teacher’s day to do the essential tasks, let alone throw something that works just to try something else… and yet, this thought does sadden me. Isn’t a school the place for new ideas and experiences to be forged? Isn’t it the teacher’s job to show new things to the student? And not just concepts that are new to the students, but concepts that are new to the world?

Traditionally, it has been the teachers showing the students something new – now, it seems as though the students are showing something new to their teachers. That’s not an issue, it just means that teachers need to be aware of these changes, accept them, and make sure that students learn how deal with it all. The job is still the same – prepare the students for their future.

There is, perhaps, another crucial, difference. Even if they don’t like it, today’s teachers still adapt, learn, and utilise new technology very well, and it might be said that they are adaptable due to the way they were taught when they were at school, twenty or thirty (or more) years ago. Can we be sure that the way that students are taught in today’s schools will allow future adults to adapt, learn, and utilise any new technology they come across? Because becoming familiar with and using technology in the class will play a huge part in pupil success. And any teacher that isn’t using technology in their classroom is taking a huge gamble in their role on preparing their students for their future.

It will take time, it will take teachers many steps, but it is happening. Share your experiences with others. Try these new services that the kids are using. Support your colleagues, try something new whenever you can, and don’t be afraid of making a mistake.

 

Feature image courtesy of Flickr,  Podknox

  • Yasnoori

    Really good read and a valid point made……. But can we ever close the gap??

    • N6eed2000

      I agree with Yasnoori we will have to see what the future holds for the next generation.

  • Jim

    The premise for this article is flawed: just because students were “wasting time on YouTube, blogging, creating photo albums together, and Tweeting before many staff even knew what those words meant” does not mean they know how to use these as learning or working tools. Entertainment and distraction does equate with intelligent use of tools. The Digital Natives (DN) idea sounds intuitively right, but I seriously question the malleability of the human brain that this implies. Neurological processing of information developed over millennia, and I’ve seen little evidence that the invention of the internet or the smartphone can have had the fundamental effects that DN advocates claim.

    The access to information has become much easier, and the role of teachers does need to change. Think of Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction and the flipped classroom concept for examples. However, simple access to the information does not bring a command of the uses or implications of that meaning. The students still need guidance in how to accurately place that information in the universe of knowledge, and how to construct that information into knowledge with which they can take intelligent and reasoned action. The blog states, “most teachers probably, [sic] intentionally work harder at resisting technology and finding excuses for not using it.” I will happily dispute and provide examples from across the nation to disprove this claim. After throwing this out, the author walks away from it, a clear sign of a red herring.

    Altogether, a disappointing post.

  • http://twitter.com/deerwood Doug

    I’m not convinced by your statement that students are better with technology because they were born with it. Nobody is born with the skills to use technology, we all have to learn how to use the technology.
    I do find it interesting though that you say that spending time on YouTube, Facebook etc. is ‘wasting time’. I’m not sure students would necessarily think of it in that way. By using such sites, they are exploring their world (albeit the virtual world) and learning about it. Perhaps it is because as adults we might be more inclined to view such activities as ‘wasting time’ that adults may have more difficulty in adopting (or adapting to) technology? Maybe as adults we need to see some purpose in our use of technology?