I dig the tech. A lot. So much so, that I pretty handily outpace all but the most tech-centered students who I teach. Seriously, in the eight years that I have been teaching, I have worked with exactly one student who had better chops than I do when it comes to using the computer, and exactly one student who has approximately equivalent chops to my own.
And let’s be perfectly clear, I don’t have particularly impressive chops. I know just enough to know that the folks who know what’s really going on with modern technology know way more than I do. Compared to someone who really knows their way around the computer, I’m the computationally cognitive equivalent of a fruit fly (If I was absolutely forced to pick a label for myself, it would be “mid-level power user”, which I would then truncate to “MILPU”, primarily because it sounds silly).
All of this is a very round about way of getting to my main point in this post, which is that my students don’t seem to really enjoy technology in the same way that I do. And to make that point, I’ll speak to my recent attempts to integrate twitter in to my student practice, and the pulling of teeth that I have had to engage in to get anything receptive from the children.
Stemming from the thought that maybe it might be nice to offer a room full of hyper-intelligent seniors an opportunity to have a bit of out-of-school review time, I decided to implement twitter review sessions for the week leading up to our midterm. This is a difficult, cumulative exam, that an instructor might think students would be interested in studying for in a prolonged, and extensive manner. So, we decided that 6pm or so each evening would be a useful time to check the class twitter feed, and if we all used the #apbio hashtag, it just might work out that students could get the kind of help I thought they might need. What could go wrong, eh?
As it turns out, a few things, but primarily, I think my main mistake was overestimating the interest-level of my students. Because no one seems particularly in to using the opportunity that has been carved out for them. In the first night of review, one student actually wrote in with a question about the material on the midterm. Another student decided to demonstrate a woeful lack of technological accumen by using the hashtag, actively monitored by the instructor, to profane the fact that the work load of the course was overwhelming (the student in question promptly removed the offending remark when I sent an email. We had a brief, private chat the next day about how to appropriately use a global, public, communication platform, which I can only assume was incredibly embarrassing for the other party). That was the entire “review session”.
All in all, it was an unimpressive showing. But sadly, it is not completely without precedent. All it takes is a trip to the #apbio hashtag on twitter to see that most students would rather use it to complain about the course that they have elected to take than they would to actually use the tool as an opportunity to mitigate the circumstances they complain about (full disclosure, none of the whiners in that link are my students, who know pretty well that if they tweet it with an #apbio hashtag, I will see it). And maybe things will change as the clock ticks closer to next week’s midterm. In which case, I’ll update this here post. Or maybe it won’t. Either way, I’ll still feel like I’m about ten steps ahead of my students when it comes to the digital world we are building together.
A final note. None of this is a complaint about my students, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t read as such. My students are, in their entirety, amazing young folks who genuinely make me feel good about the future of this country. What I am speaking to above is simply an specific instance of a much larger pattern that I see in my students. It’s a pattern that concerns me, as it seems like more and more, students are interested in less and less active engagement with the digital tools that are made available for them. I don’t know what that presages, but I have a hard time thinking it’s a good thing.