5 Myths About Kids and Computers

3 January 2014 5,836 views No Comment

When speaking to teachers and parents about teaching computer skills to their kids, there are a few things that adults tend to assume about how kids use computers. Many of these things are simply not true, at least in my experience of teaching digital storytelling, animation, and web design to middle and high schoolers. I think an English class that uses, for example, toondoo.com to create comic strip versions of stories that kids might be reading or writing in class, will go a lot smoother if the teacher is aware of what to expect and what NOT to expect from students.

  1. All students are naturally comfortable doing anything on a computer
    Like adults, kids are comfortable doing what they’re used to doing on a computer. Beyond that, figuring things out is a skill like any other – most kids can play sports on some level and all are required to take gym, but some are simply better than others. If a gym teacher tries to teach the exact same thing to every student, or assumes that each kid can figure out how to play a new game without being shown, I imagine both teacher and students would quickly get frustrated.
  2. Kids can easily create the kinds of things they see online, like videos and games
    True, some kids will sit down with a video editing program and create their own video mash-ups without any guidance, the same way that some kids will pick up science fiction and dive right in no matter how complex the topic seems to be. But kids tend to be consumers of media, not necessarily producers, and assuming they’ve learned digital literacy without being taught is like assuming they’ll learn to read without being taught – some do, but we don’t take that for granted.
  3. I don’t have to know how to use the computer, I’ll tell the kids what we’re going to do in class and they’ll show me how to do it
    Yes, it can be helpful to appoint that know-it-all kid who gets bored easily as your helper when teaching, but if you tell the kids you have nothing to teach them you’ll quickly lose their respect. Besides, aren’t they going to school to learn things they don’t already know?
  4. My students already know how to use Google to find information
    Sure, they know how to find answers using Google. But do they know how to evaluate if the websites they find are reliable? What do they do when two sites contradict each other? Do they ever click on more than the first search result? Do they know about advanced search settings to find creative-common licensed content they can reuse legally?
  5. They’re so used to texting, they’ll never learn to spell properly
    Adults understand context, so do kids. You might need to teach them the difference between informal texts and formal school papers, and explain why spelling matters in certain situations. It also helps to accept that sometimes spelling DOESN’T matter – for example, if they are making an outline for a story have them focus on ideas rather than form – if it helps them to be more creative when they don’t have to stop and think about spelling, isn’t that OK? At least in that particular situation? Isn’t text-speak just another form of shorthand, similar to what many of us grew up using when we took notes in class?

So, bottom line, treat computer skills like any other skill – it exists on a continuum, so just because kids know a little doesn’t mean they know everything; and remember that they won’t all be on the same level, just like they don’t all do math on the same level.

Elisa teaches online professional development courses for teachers at teachertechtraining.com.
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