The Technology Illiterate Generation- By Kassandra Profera

I thought we could all use a break from the genre of suspense/comedy/tragedy, and read an interesting article written by my sister.  As I have mentioned before, I come from a family of teachers.  Kassie teaches High School Music Technology, as well as a team-taught subject of MAC (Music-Art-Computer).  She pushes beyond her job description daily, with a vested interest in the well-being and future path of her students.  This year has been a particularly frustrating one, for reasons the article below explains.  I find it interesting myself, as I am a parent of a 2-year-old who has become fascinatingly adept at maneuvering his way through the ins and outs of the Ipad.  I am right up there with those that stand in awe, and view this as sheer brilliance on the child’s part!  But, Kassie is seeing first hand, the effect this new age, touch-screen movement is having on her students and her ability to teach.

The Technology Illiterate Generation
By Kassandra Profera

I walked into my classroom the other morning and as the sun hit the
room just right, I noticed fingerprints coating the screens of my
beautiful MAC monitors.  Enlightened, I paused to picture a scene where
children desperately pressed their hands against fancy graphic icons in
hopes of opening or saving a document on a computer that clearly had a
mousse sitting on the desk in front of it.  The image made me giggle as
I thought about the other morning when I had walked out of my bathroom
with the water running and came home at the end of the day to find my
bathroom flooded.  Clearly all of the technological advances had left
gaping holes in the steps I needed to do in order to complete necessary
daily tasks.  I mean, most public bathrooms turn the water and lights on
and off for us these days.  Note to self: get a deeper sink.
Having taught for the last 12 years in a job that I have LOVED nearly
every single day since the first, I have witnessed many changes.  I am
aware that each generation complains about the next: “These kids
today! I don’t know what is going to happen down the road!”
Well…down the road the world will keep on ticking and our children
will turn into adults and complain about their babies not being able to
complete a single task- of course I do hope those tasks that they are
complaining about don’t involve simple life skills…unplugging and
plugging the cable box to reset the time on the auto clock trusting full
well that someone “out there” knew what the time was and it would
set itself accordingly…getting fresh air in a car when the fuse is blown
on the automatic window “roll”… heating up a hotpocket when the
microwave is blinking 12:00…

I ran into a friend of mine who was telling me that her 3 year
old knew more about technology than she does.  Well okay… But I have
actually had conversations with her about technology and her statement
wasn’t exactly making the point she was trying to make about the
brilliance of her 3 year old.  It was indeed true that her 3 year old
could click on an image on the touch screen of her iphone and watch an
episode of Hannah Montana, however “knowing more” wasn’t exactly
the case.  In fact, I wondered if it was true that her 3 year old
actually knew less about technology than any generation before her.
Would her 3 year old be the first in her preschool class to yell out the
spelling of ‘You’ as ‘u’?  “How M I?  I M fine. Thx.”

In a comparison of how the ease of use has affected the
“understanding” of technology in children who are currently in
the 12-15 year old age range to how it affected those who are now in the
22-25 age range, it is evident that the essential skills necessary to
achieve a completed task have been greatly diminished.

Age 22-25-  Steps taken in their high school years in order to complete
a task enhanced by technology:

Step 1- Boot the computer
Step 2- start/program files/ audio application/open
Step 3- audio options/ midi devices/ select port/ select midi channel
to communicate on
Step 4- Click record and start playing the piano in order to write a
melody that you like
Step 5- Produce orchestration on multiple tracks using different
Step 6- Record into an audio application into a stereo track
Step 7- use a cd burning software to burn to cd

Age 12-15-  Steps taken in their high school years in order to complete
a task enhanced by technology:

Step 1- click the shiny graphic that looks like a pair of headphones
Step 2- be entertained by music

The point is that we are now entering a world where you don’t need to
know what’s inside a machine to make it work.  You touch a picture and
it entertains you, saves its spot when you click the same button that
changed from a play button to a pause button when you are done, and then
its alarm wakes you up again in the morning by playing your favorite
song (which has been predetermined by the number of times you’ve
listened to it.)  No brain required! We have become a GPS society.  I
drove down the street the other day following the instructions of my
GPS.  I had entered a destination so then my mind could go blank and
follow its instructions:

Step 1- turn right
Step 1- turn left
Step 1- in 1 mile, turn left
Step 1- stay straight
Step 1- turn right
Step 1- Arriving at destination on right.

I decided that as long as I was at the mall, I should buy something
nice for myself as a treat for having followed instructions.  I felt
somehow entitled after all of the work I had done!  On my way home I
decided to try to get back home the exact way the GPS had gotten me
there without using the GPS.  I felt really smart when I made it out of
the mall parking lot and turned left.  I could even hear the GPS’s
voice in my head.  Unfortunately I only made it one turn back.  I
remembered the GPS doing a random back road at some point, but hadn’t
specifically tuned my brain in on its method since it had it all under
control.  I gave up and used the time-tested route I had been using for
half of my life.  How lost could I get?  I had only gone 6 miles.

The point to me was that I was coming to a realization that my
old project based classroom that included multidisciplinary tactics and
outcomes of the understanding of many different concepts at the end of a
10 day lesson was no longer working for my current demographic of
students.  They were unable to be enticed by a completed project sampler
(or anticipatory set as Madeline Hunter referred to it as in 1985).  The
end product seemed cool to them but they had very little interest in
learning all of the steps to actually make one themselves.  I would
demonstrate the first step for them and then do that same step with them
on the screen thinking that if I started step 2 with them, perhaps they
could complete it on their own.  Sadly, time after time, student after
student couldn’t complete the second step without me walking to each
of them and doing it for them.  There was no understanding of the big
picture.  It was as though they had detached their brains from the task.
Their perception of the project contained absolutely no roadmap or
method of retaining information from the demonstrated skills to complete
it.  Their phones vibrated with texts, and the frequency of the ones set
to silent buzzed through my unshielded speakers to let me know that
someone desperately needed to communicate with them.  Who was I to stand
in the way of someone who needed a pony-tale holder in phys ed class or
if someone else’s mother couldn’t find the remote control??  I mean-
There are things in life that are way more important than learning!

I had always been one who on paper had strong lesson plans, step
by step instructions, and an exact plan for each of my units.  That
being said, I didn’t always hand them out or follow them.  I came from
the school of thought where I believed that there were many additional
learning opportunities that were spontaneously provided to us within
every lesson so I didn’t have any intention of allowing a minute to
minute plan firmly guide the day.  An outline of my intentions left the
instruction flexible enough to allow for alternate assessments and
personalized learning experiences from student to student.  BUT- over a
3 year time period, my multidisciplinary projects stopped working almost
completely.  I struggled as my plans had to be broken down further and
further into little pieces- a series of “step 1’s”.

Step 1- click with me as I open the file
Step 1- click on groups
Step 1- click on students
Step 1- click on Profera
Step 1- click on Unit 1
Step 1- click on h:
Step 1- drag folder to h:
Step 1- click applications
Step 1- click pages
Step 1- click file
Step 1- click open

I used to be able to give a set of instructions for the above on the
white board written like this:
Drag folder to your h: drive from groups
/students/profera/unit 1
Open Pages and open the file from your h: drive.

The generation raised in the 80’s and 90’s had a concept of what
was behind file systems.  They were raised at the time when they needed
to know simple commands to access the tools provided by computers.  I
used to pull computers apart to see what was inside them and then build
them back together into functional machines.  They used to say that a
computer was only as good as the operator.  Now it isn’t exactly the
case.  Pulling apart an ipod to see what’s inside requires throwing it
against a wall and breaking it into a million pieces.  Of course I have
sacrificed a few ipods to the experiment in hopes that I will learn
something from what I see inside and figure out how to fix one.
Unfortunately, other than swapping out the smashed screen or a mini
ribbon cable, the ipod usually needs to be sent to one of Steve Jobs’
followers for the secret programming decoder ring…which I suspect is
something along the lines of a garbage can and a new ipod for $100.  I
guess I hope that one day those broken ipods from the garbage pile
don’t find a way to communicate with each other and take over the
earth…because clearly, my children will not be able to fight the

So what am I doing now?  Well…I am still fighting the death of
“project based” learning with technology.  I believe that
hands-on experience while enhancing each skill with the bells and
whistles provided by the amazing tools offered by technology is still
the best way to go.  I am finding it difficult to block the
entertainment features of computers that children are so accustomed to
that pass minutes into hours for them before, during, and after the
regular school day however.  Some days it is sort of like trying to get
a student to use a pair of sneakers as a planter – BUT I still have
hope that giving the kids the tools necessary to effectively use
technology to enhance their lives and ability to create is possible
without losing the element of thinking through processes for themselves.
I think that if we recognize the trend of technology doing ‘too
much’ for us and start providing alternate methods of understanding
what it is actually doing for us, we will see many future student
successes in all subject areas!


4 responses to “The Technology Illiterate Generation- By Kassandra Profera

  1. Lol Em! Did you really expect any mother to have time to read all the way to the bottom of this article? I believe there’s an 800 word rule on reading blog time! 🙂 happy day!

  2. Funny how many people commented on your entry today and no one even read to the bottom if my article! Lol- when I write one about fish sticks and breasts, I’ll be sure to send it along..

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