What Do You Mean, You Don’t Have an Email Account?: Helping the “Nonwired” Student Navigate the Electronic World

What Do You Mean, You Don’t Have an Email Account?: Helping the “Nonwired” Student Navigate the Electronic World

There are, believe it or not, those students who still don’t have a home computer.

There are also those who don’t have an email account, don’t post on Facebook, or own a smart phone. In this wired age, not having an email address is a little like not having a street address or a telephone number. It seems strange, but some students still live in the nonwired world. And while we’ve come to take such technology for granted, not having electronic devices or not knowing how to use them is usually not, at least officially, a part of most courses’ grades. So how does one accommodate the noncomputer user in class while perhaps steering her toward a more “wired” student life?

5 Challenges to Student's “Wired” State

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    An obvious reason for students not to be wired into electronic devices is lack of money for such devices. Even with prices for smart phones, laptops, and notebooks falling all of the time, the cost of a monthly smart phone bill or internet service can be prohibitive for some students.

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    Some people actually lack much interest in electronics. Their interests lie elsewhere, such as developing an artistic or physical skill. They therefore lack the motivation to devote the hours it can take to learn new programs and new versions of programs and software applications.

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    Skills Level/Prior Exposure

    Again, we tend to think of younger people, those under thirty, as being almost genetically programmed to use electronic devices or at least having been exposed to them since birth, but this is simply not the case. Many even younger people have little experience with doing web searches, setting up a PowerPoint or website, using text or instant messaging, and other such skills we almost take for granted that they will have extensive experience in.

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    Cultural/Environmental Context

    A major reason some students don’t have Facebook accounts or know how to use text messaging is the cultural context they were brought up in. Students who live in rural poor areas whose families work in the farming industry might very well not even have internet access near their home, or are not able to afford a personal computer, and may have to travel miles to the nearest library to use the internet.

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    Personality Style

    Neither my daughter nor a close colleague has a Facebook account. This seems surprising, given their youth (after all, isn’t everyone under thirty on Facebook?) But some people really are very reticent about sharing their personal life. Others are more physically active individuals and find it very challenging to sit in front of a computer screen for long stretches of time. These are two issues of personality style that might limit an individual’s use of technology.

There are actually a number of reasons students may not be very involved in electronics. However, some understanding of and access to electronics and computers is almost a prerequisite for upward mobility in contemporary society, so instructors should encourage students to learn to use, if not actually love, a variety of more common computer applications.

Apply 6 Methods for Helping Students Navigate the Electronic World

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    Discuss Benefits

    One reason students do not become “wired” and are hesitant to engage with technology is that they see no advantages, only disadvantages: it is expensive, time consuming, infringing on one’s personal privacy, and so forth. A lot of this is true, but then a lot of the industrial world has become “wired” for the very reason it brings countless advantages over disadvantages, such as ability to access almost unlimited information nearly instantaneously and effortlessly. Technology also opens doors previously closed, such as ease in communicating with individuals around the world, seeing a noted scholar in one’s field speak via YouTube, for example, or taking courses (online) at Oxford University—all opportunities made available by technology.

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    Give Alternatives

    Sometimes the technology is so complex and new that it is not accessible to much of the class. For example, I have taught a course online for several semesters that requires students to meet in Class Live Pro, program for online chat designed specifically for online classes. A number of students each semester face problems with this program: it is very complex to learn, they do not have the correct hardware for it, and so forth. Suggested alternates should be made in cases like this rather than asking students to log numerous hours installing and learning the necessary skills rather than focusing on their coursework. Reasonable alternatives might be a more traditional text-type chat session, a phone call to the instructor, or use of email.

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    Model use of technology in the class. Last term, I found my students didn’t know how to use the university’s online library and databases. I created a PowerPoint that introduced them to the online library’s resources and took them through the steps of doing a search on Academic Search Premier, a premier database of scholarly articles on a variety of subjects, and students now have a skill that they can use for the rest of their college careers.

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    Suggest Appropriate Technology for Assignments

    Another problem with use of technology in the classroom is appropriate use. It should not be used just for the sake of using it. Rather, require technology appropriate to the assignment. PowerPoint is not the appropriate forum for presenting a research paper, for example. Rather, PowerPoint was developed for presenting concise, broad concepts, bulleted lists, and visuals that can fit on a slide and be presented within a thirty-minute time frame at the most. More appropriate technology for presenting a paper would be the discussion threads of the class website, for example, where students can post their own work and discuss each other’s.

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    As you progress in the semester, introduce your students to different electronic resources, giving assignments that will draw on the skills they have learned. Teach students how to access and search the library databases, set up a PowerPoint for the term presentation, and how to include Excel spreadsheets and other forms of data presentation within their research papers.

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    Devote Class Time to Using Technology

    If competent use of technology is a value that the instructor wishes to communicate, time should be taken in class to model this value and spend time learning the technology associate with the subject matter, such as word processing programs, excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and so forth. The class then could be divided into portions for instructor lecture/presentation, group discussion, and then technology use, when something novel is created based on the teacher lecture and class discussion. Also, if class time is reserved for use of technology, students who do not have the needed electronics at home can use the class electronics.

Not all students, even today, are “wired” for a variety of financial and personal reasons. However, the instructor teach the importance of having some electronic competence through a variety of methods, such discussing the appropriate use of technology and its benefits and providing opportunities to use it within the class.

How do you help the “nonwired” student in class?

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