Friday, 14 January 2011

Digital Natives and the Underclass - should schools make IT-based home visits?

I've had many really interesting conversations this week about children's online activity. Four in particular made me wonder about this concept of 'digital natives' and if everyone is really getting it.

The first conversation was with my friend and CEOPS advisor, Craig Gilman. We were looking at the Think U Know website to plan some e-safety activities for safer internet day on the 8th February. I was using my Google Calendars to look at the dates and he pulled out his paper diary, explaining that he had used a Google Calendar for some time up to a couple of years ago, but had to revert to a paper diary, because it was always accessible.

The second conversation was with musician, creative agent and practitioner, Bobbie Gardner. We were talking about a social media project we're hoping to implement later in this term and got onto to talking about the children's abilities compared to those of the adults. We noted how both of us had to check our paper diaries to organise their dates. Indeed - I had to check both my paper diary and my Google calendars. Although I love using Google Calendars, not everyone at my school has got to grips with them yet, so we're in the part-paper / part-digital in-between state at the moment. Bobbie pointed out that the children we were planning for would have no such problem. They would be digital all the way. it would be completely natural for them to plan their activities using a calendar.

The third conversation was with my colleague and Year 3 teacher Helen Wilson. She observed that all three of her children, all in their twenties, had had the same kind of digital upbinging with access to laptops and laptop use modelled by Helen. Yet it was only the youngest of them who was entirely a digital native - completely natural at being online. In contrast the older two, just a few years older weren't so 'at home' with online activities.

The fourth conversation and the most poignant was with my own group of children - a high-achieveing group of 10 and 11 year olds, studying writing. We were writing biographies using Google Docs (having been inspired by interviewing the biographee via skype). I had noticed how many of the children are really quite fast at typing - far quicker than when I had first joined the school. At that time (6 years ago) I remember there was only one child in Year 6 who could type quickly enough to make word processing in writing lessons anything less than an entirely painful exercise. I also remember that at that time only about 40% of students had internet access at home. The Google Docs lesson was essentially made possible because most of the children could type at a reasonable speed. Now part of this may be that we do more typing in school now, but I'm sure that part of this is also because the children are using computers at home more.

So I asked the children how many had internet access at home. One quarter didn't. 25% still with no internet access. When I delved further I discovered that some had had internet access  -some even through government funded schemes, but due to viruses, or no technical expertise in the house, the computers no longer worked.

So the digital natives are coming - the children and young adults who have always used computers - but what about those being left behind? The underclass who for whatever children only access online learning at school. What will become of those?

It made me wonder if one of the key jobs that schools should do is to send out technical support into the homes of the families they are responsible for. A school-based home IT support service. Maybe that's one of the tasks for the school of the future? Just like home visits are key for a good start at nursery and reception, maybe home visits should become central to our IT strategy...

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