Tech Confident Students

I previously wrote a post on developing confidence in the use of technology within teachers.   I therefore thought it would be appropriate to turn my attention to the issue of building student confidence.

One of the challenges with student confidence in the use of technology is possibly the outwardly perception they convey of being highly confident and competent.   They naturally seem to swipe ands scroll through different apps, taking on new apps as they arise.    This may be the reason that the idea of students as “digital natives” seemed to ring true; It just seems to superficially fit the situation and the appearance students convey.    The issue here is that it simply isnt, in my view, true.

One of the first things to pull out is student engagement with social media.   Social media apps are designed to be easy to use and are designed to grab and keep user attention.   As such it isnt that difficult to become familiar and comfortable with using social media apps, and then to spend many hours swiping and scrolling through their content.    The apps are designed this way, to be easy to use and to, dare I say it, be addictive.  As students likely spend a fair amount of their time on such apps, and as our perception of them as confident may partly come from observing them on such apps, we need to rethink our view as to how confident they really are.   

In discussing Digital Citizenship with students, the one thing which has often surprised me is students lack awareness of, and even lack concern, relating to the implications of their social media app usage.   Students are not fully aware of the extent of the data being mined about them through their continued use of apps.    And even when made aware, they express apathy; All our friends are on the apps, so we need to use the app.  What really can we do in relation to the data being gathered about us?    This for me is a very big challenge and one which I don’t have the answer for.   I too find social media useful to stay in touch, share ideas, etc, but am concious of the data being mined from my interactions.   Am I going to stop using social media to stop the mining of data?   I think not, however I think the key here is being concious and aware of the fact that data is being gathered, and then making balanced and informed decisions.   I choose to use social media as the gain in the ability to stay in touch and to share ideas and collaborate with others outweighs the risk associated with the data being gathered.   Aware of the risk though I sometimes choose not to share some things on social media.   

Thinking about being confident always reminds me of the concept of mastery and the need for 10,000 hours of practice.    I feel confident in the use of technology however I am certainly way beyond the 10,000 hours.   If we want students to be confident with technology use we need them to be using it but not just for social media engagement, which as I mentioned previously has been designed to be easy.   We need students using technology in different contexts ideally across the curriculum.   If students are using technology to explore concepts, to collaborate on projects, to present ideas, etc, and they are using it in Maths, in English and across the curriculum, there is a far greater chance of them developing the necessary confidence.   Linked to this though is teacher confidence, in being able to support the students in lesson, set learning activities suited to the use of technology and even facilitate students to support each other.      

When thinking about student confidence in using technology my focus is on technology as a tool.   My focus is therefore on knowing what technology tools are available, what they do and the benefits or drawbacks from their use in different situations/contexts.   This generally draws the question of teaching about technology within the context of subjects across the curriculum, or as a discrete subject, another of the binary arguments all too common on social media.   For me the answer isnt binary, one or other, but to treat these two standpoints as either end of a continuum with the answer lying somewhere in between.    For me it is important for students to see technology being used, and to be supported to use technology within different contexts however it is also important for students to learn about the general tools and the implications of using technology tools.    As such it is my view that we need to both have cross curricular use of technology combined with some discrete teaching about technology and digital citizenship.

I find students in schools are less afraid of things going wrong using technology than their adult counterparts, and therefore they are happy to try new apps and tools as needed.   They are also less concerned about using a wide range of tools.   This is both a benefit and a risk;   It means students are less afraid of change in relation to how the tools they use work or in the tools they are expected to use, however it also means they are likely to create a larger digital footprint, plus less likely to consider data protection and cyber security.    Their lack of fear though shouldn’t be confused as confidence; They are willing to try tools but this doesn’t mean that they know how to apply them effectively to a particular problem.   This is one of the things schools need to address, in ensuring students know which tools to use and when, how to use and how not to use them, which tools go together and which don’t and overall how to be effective in their use of technology.    It is important we harness their lack of fear and explore how they can positively use technology to enable their needs and interests.   We also need to ensure they are able to make educated and informed decisions as to their technology use, so as to manage the risks which may exist.

Technology, in my view, doesn’t scare our students so they are largely willing to try, but what we really need is for them to be sure of their ability to use technology tools well, plus to have the relevant skills and experience.   We need them to be competent and confident.

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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