The Digital Divide – Students versus Faculty

As you know from my last post, I spent Friday with Jeff Nugent co-facilitating a full-day workshop at the INFORMS Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium.  It was rather exciting to spend a full day with a room full of mathematicians!  I am still reflecting on what transpired, but wanted to share some thoughts on one aspect, triggered by a couple of articles today.

The October 17th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education contains an interesting article by John Seely Brown entitled “How to Connect Technology and Content in the Service of Learning.”  Brown noted that:

“Web 2.0 has blurred the line between producers and consumers of content and has shifted attention from access to information toward access to other people.”

In a view similar to Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody, Brown illustrated how the internet offers incredible opportunities for like-minded passionate people to connect and explore their passions.  These niche communities provide an environment which supports lifelong learning.  If we are not tapping in to these social aspects of the internet, we are missing an opportunity to connect with our students.

Meanwhile, the corporation CDW-G released a report entitled “The 21st Century Campus: Are We ThereYet?“.

Key findings of this corporate (and probably biased) study include:

  • More than 80 percent of faculty teach at least some of their classes in “smart classrooms,” yet just 42 percent of those faculty use the technology during every class session
  • Topping students’ technology wish list is online chat capability with professors; just 23 percent of higher education IT staff say their campus offers it
  • Faculty and IT staff agreed that lack of technology knowledge among faculty is the biggest barrier to technology on campus

Biased or not, the findings do not surprise me.  They illustrate that – contrary to conventional wisdom, our students DO want to connect with us, their faculty.

I do not believe in faculty-bashing, but I do fear that a new form of digital divide is developing.  Outside of class, our students are developing skills in connecting and communicating via text, chat, IM, FaceBook, blogs, and video.  With the exception of a few early adopters, few faculty have these same skills.

This brings me back to our workshop last Friday.  I had the 21 faculty brainstorm their assumptions regarding the Net Generation.  Some of their assumptions included:

  • Students want to be in control of their resources
  • Students take a consumer approach to education
  • Students want to be spoon-fed
  • Students want to understand the relevance of what they are studying
  • Student are focused on grades first, learning second
  • Students use the internet to find information and communicate

When I asked whether allowing students to bring technology into a classroom was a good thing or a bad thing, the comments made indicated that some of this group of faculty saw technology as a distraction which broke the rhythm of the class and prevented students from “getting the basics.”

One participant made the interesting comment that he wished students would just take what he was teaching on faith rather than immediately wanting to know why.

I wish I had Jeff Utecht‘s eloquence, but he said it best today, so I simply will quote him:

I have come to hate the phrase “21st Century” whatever: Learner, Thinking, Teacher, Skills.

Has anyone noticed it’s 2008…well 79 days until 2009!

We’re 9 years (depending on how you count) into the 21st Century and we’re still calling for 21st Century things.

I’m sorry we’re in it! These are just skills! They are just what we should be doing and if we’re not teaching them, helping students to understand them then we’re letting them down….big time!

So that’s it…I’m done. No more 21st Century for me.

They just are today’s skills

They just are today’s schools

They just are today’s students

They just are what we should be doing!

No more putting them off.

No more pretending we are thinking of the future.

Either you are a 21st Century school working on preparing students for today or you are a 20th Century school that just doesn’t get it.

That goes for teachers, skills, content, curriculum, students.

Amen, Jeff!

{Photo Credit: Dubber, Unhindered By Talent}

4 thoughts on “The Digital Divide – Students versus Faculty

  1. Not sure it’s that eloquent but it just hit me while doing a presentation at Learning 2.008 that I’m tired of saying 21st Century. We’re in it! We need to understand we’re in it and we need to stop talking like the 21st Century is something out there that we are preparing students for. The 21st Century is today, tomorrow, and the foreseeable future.

  2. Great post. I agree with Jeff Utecht, but I’m afraid that we’ll have to keep reminding colleagues that the century has turned for one huge reason: so they don’t think that the finish line was reached in 1999 once everyone had computers on the desktop, browsers up and going, and Blackboard installed. I fear that the first way of teaching and learning technologies convinced many faculty that a) the gains weren’t worth the bother or b) they had “paid their dues” by actually surfing the web a time or two. The big question for me is why faculty can’t see that their progress with information technologies is just like their progress with their field of inquiry: iterative, messy, uneven, but ultimately building toward greater expertise and fluency.

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