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Student Reactions to the Banquet

Written by Susan Dewey
April 02, 2011

There is a natural transition between tool and toy over time. Bubble shooter, Bull stomper game, Free Rice, FishVille are but a smattering of available internet snacks. Computers have always been a source of communication, Messenger making way to MySpace. MySpace ceded to Facebook as the social network of choice. Telephones are mini-computers with full internet capabilities. Students certainly have fun with computers. Internet fast food is available to all. College searches, vocabulary searches, special interest communities move computers into the realm of tools. Things have changed—and not. In the differences between my experiences and expectations with the digital banquet, and my students affinity for digital fast food, an interesting conversation has developed, changing us all.

My initial assumption was that the gaps would be a result of economic differences, those students who did, or did not, have access to the internet, to their own computer, to experience born of being a digital native raised in a household of technology users. It turned out that, although there was some disparity between students based on those factors, there was a larger gap between students and the banquet itself. Much of that seemed to be borne of how students, in their native state, learned to use computers primarily as a source of entertainment.

Here are some strategies I have tried in my classroom this year, and some of the conversations that have resulted.

Early on I noticed that students go to Google for everything. “Why?”

“Of course we go to Google. Wikipedia isn’t accurate. Everyone says so.”

“What makes you think it’s less accurate than Google?”

“Well, anyone can make changes, even people that don’t know anything. Me and my friend put stupid stuff on pages and nobody stopped us.”

“How long did it stay up?”

“It was gone by the next morning.”

“And you’re thinking that Google is more accurate than that?”

“Sure. You can’t change someone else’s page in Google.”

There followed a conversation about how Google is organized, in what order hits are listed, what data bases are searched, and how do you test for reliability of information on a site.

In an AP class I asked pairs of students to find two articles a piece of 2000 to 6000 words. Topics needed to be things they didn’t know much about already. They could use a topic they knew something about, but needed to fill in sizable gaps in that knowledge. There task was to read the articles with a partner, record what they had learned from each article, and then create a brainstorm list of how that information could be used in an essay to support an argument.

I gave students a list of magazines with high quality articles they could use (Smithsonian, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Scientific American, etc.). Their first question was “How do we know what to look for? If we don’t know it, how can we look for it?”

“Who uses ‘Stumbleupon’?” It turned out they all did, at least occasionally. “This is very similar.” I showed the class how to use the archive indexes of the magazines.

As a wrap up I presented them with an argument prompt from an old AP Language free response question set and, using only the articles they had read, craft a response. They found it hard work but were, generally, successful.

With the same AP class I presented the 2010 Language and Composition free response question #1, which addressed computer use in schools. Responses were telling.

  • One student felt that they were not being exposed to strategies that would make use of the internet in an academic way. Even skills like keyboarding, and manipulating text were “sketchy.”
  • One student said that computer use in middle school [in Maine] was rigidly controlled with no laptops going home. They were used only for specific purposes. The freedom of being able to take laptops home was more than “most students can handle.”
  • Another student felt that teachers were at fault by not demanding that students put the laptops away when other class business was going on.

Other responses are available at College Board site for the 2010 exam.

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