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Actual research on tech literacy!

April 29, 2008, 12:57 pm

Finally, a professional sociologist has done some actual research on the concept of the digital native. Her view is a little more measured than others‘. From this interview

Q. Why do people think young people are so Web-wise?

A. I think the assumption is that if it was available from a young age for them, then they can use it better. Also, the people who tend to comment about technology use tend to be either academics or journalists or techies, and these three groups tend to understand some of these new developments better than the average person. Ask your average 18-year-old: Does he know what RSS means? And he won’t.

The importance of having empirical findings about digital literacy among young people — as opposed to anecdotes and assumptions that tend to affirm what we want to believe — is that the more we assume, the less we teach. As Prof. Hargittai puts it: 

Q. Are there implications for workplace readiness?

A. There are positive outcomes for those who know how to work and employ tech information, and those who lack information will confront a different situation. In terms of a link with demographic differences, those people who seem to be more savvy are the ones who tend to be in more-privileged positions. There will be an increase in social inequality if this divergence continues this way.

I’m not a fan of the concept of “privilege”, but it’s plain to see that some demographics have better access to technology than others. And it’s all fun to suppose that students these days are technologically literate and then craft way-cool tech-centered curricula around that assumption. But the problem is that the students who are not technologically savvy — whom Prof. Hargittai identifies as “Women, students of Hispanic origin, African-American students, and students whose parents have lower levels of education”, which is to say, an awfully big percentage of the people we teach — end up getting left behind while we have our fun. 

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