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Web 2.0, Higher-Order Thinking, and Macbeth: Part 7

Digital Native vs. Digital Fluent

As I looked through the available research and literature for web 2.0, I noticed a trend.  It was either aimed at a teacher who already considered himself/herself fairly tech savvy.  This reader presumably just needed to see some details from a peer about practicalities: how do I organize the students, how do I grade the work, can it work on multiple platforms, etc.  A second type of reader was also sometimes considered, a teacher hesitant to use technology.

It was uphill… both ways, too.

What I didn’t see was much recognition that our students also come to us with various levels of readiness and acceptance toward technology.  It’s a strange thing to say when the generation of graduates who matriculate this year from my school have never known a time without smart phones (much less cell phones), the Internet, and the iPad.  I hear them called “Digital Natives” often enough.  But 99% of my students are English language natives, but they still need my help.  So I did some informal polling.  I’ve found that my students can be divided into three categories with regard to technology.

1. The first group are the “early adopters.”  They eagerly jumped right into our Storify project.  The rubrics and checklists were logically organized in their mind.  Dealing with the online resources–Twitter, Storify–was a fun and an exciting challenge.  They find ways to solve their own problems.  This group at my school is about 20-25% of my college preparatory level students.

iphone adopter

It’ll be glitchy and need dozens of updates, but by the time they sort it all out… he’ll have the next big thing to replace it.

2. The second group are the “workers.”  They do the work, because it’s school, and they do whatever the teacher tells them(within reason).  They’re the worker bees.  Their work, while hardly creative or awe inspiring(most days, but there are occasional moments of true brilliance), is by and large, well, workmanlike.  This group comprises about 70-75% of my students.


It’s called a “cubicle farm.”

3. The third group are the “Luddites.”  They bemoan the any inclusion of technology(usually as they tweet about how boring my class is because I’m asking them to do work that requires thinking).  The Luddites were textile workers in the 1800’s who saw their livelihood being stolen by machines and the low-wage, low-skill workers stealing their jobs.  A new wide and highly automated version of the power loom had been introduced.  They sought to turn back time.  My little Luddites wish aloud for a day when the Internet is broken, the computers are fried, and our the wi-fi is stone-cold-dead.  This group dreams of a day when everyday at school is worksheets and movies.  This group at my school is about 5% of the students.

You can't break the Internet with a sledgehammer...

You can’t break the Internet with a sledgehammer…

 Interestingly this group breakdown put me in mind of my old Discipline with Dignity textbook from my teacher education days at university.  There was a brief mention of the 80-15-5 principle which was a classroom management finding from Curwin and Mendler (1988).  The idea was that 80% of the students rarely break the rules.  15% break the rules on a somewhat regular basis.  The remaining 5% are chronic rule breakers.  I wonder if there is any correlation between Curwin and Mendler’s findings and the general breakdown of tech-happy students I have.

I also note significant portion of my students have a remarkably low frustration threshold.  Imagine an assignment where I ask you to find information about the Bubonic Plague, specifically I want to know the economic and social impact it had on William Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford.  Do you expect to find exactly what you are searching for the very first time you conduct a search using Google?  No.  We try variations and permutations of search terms.  We read blogs and articles searching for terms and clues.  We put that new information to use in new searches.  After perhaps 5-10 minutes and 5-10 searches we have honed in on some solid resources.  What is the work rate and breakdown of my students?

How many searches will they conduct before “finding” the answer or giving up?

If there is no clear answer on any one site, how long will they search before giving up?

Will they use information gleaned from early searches to power additional searches?

Can they distinguish junk from good resources to aid their search?

I realize I’ve wandered a bit far afield from simply reporting progress on the Storify/Twitter project.  However, these questions are intimately related to web 2.0 and higher-order thinking.  I do not have any answers…only questions.  I rather suspect that this “frustration threshold” is a mark that can be pushed back.  Just as a runner can train to go farther and farther before fatiguing, we can learn to focus for longer and longer periods of time.  This sounds like it’s time for an expedition into….SCIENCE!


Curwin, R. L., & Mendler, A. N. ( 1988b). Packaged discipline programs: Let the buyer
beware. Edttc’ational Leadership, 46, 68-1 1.


About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...


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