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The Road Less Traveled

April 13, 2012 11:00 am

I consider myself to be a digital native.

Yes, I know, I’m a bit old, but hear me out. My father is a programmer, part of that first generation who fell in love with computers before there was a lot of formal training. Our house was covered in computers. My dad was one of those guys who was posting on Bulletin Boards. We even had Prodigy!

I like being a digital native. I admire the digital immigrants (even as I think they should claim a better name).

But I was a bit surprised to meet a student who is effectively a “digital tourist.” She challenged herself to take an online course without owning a computer.

Seems a bit strange, but by using the computer labs across campus most of the assignments are doing ok. Nowhere does the class explicitly require her own machine, so she simply jumped in with both feet and is making it work.

It’s just like watching a kid doing something amazing because no one ever told her she “can’t.” You know what I mean. You’re halfway through explaining how to balance on a bicycle and the kid is halfway down the street yelling, “Whee!”

But it also reminds me of the dangerous assumption us techie people tend to make. We assume that because we love technology, everyone should love it. We own technology, so everyone else must at least want to buy it.

This student doesn’t. She goes along with a trusty thumb drive, planning ahead just in case something should take longer. I have a feeling that she goes home to a quiet house and does something old fashioned and productive like “reading” when she gets home. She strikes me as pretty chill and perfectly at home without a million screens around her. She’s a tourist. She’s in a strange country where everyone speaks a strange dialect and she’s having a great time. But at the end of the semester, she’ll head back to her quiet world where professors stand in front of the classroom and group meetings happen in person.

I wish that as educators we would remember that there are students like this one out there. The less-connected student means that we need to try out our assignments ahead of time and try to find the snags before unnecessary frustration hits. Maybe take a moment and try things out on a public computer to make sure they work. Respect the rare person who doesn’t want to join a social network. Arrange for help with common software that everyone is supposed to know.

But in the meantime, I’m hoping our intrepid explorer gets an “A.”


Emily Thompson is the host of EdReach’s show LiTTech, a show for the innovative librarian. LiTTech highlights the innovative news, gadgets, and resources for the literary educator. You can follow her on Twitter @librarianofdoom

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