Skip to main content

C'est la Z

Keyboarding and the Digital Divide

My friend Adam posted this link to an article on the new digital divide the other day. It's talking about young people who do everything on the phone so aren't familiar or comfortable with a traditional keyboard/mouse computer setup. In the comments there were some of us who lamented about the term "digital natives" and the idea that kids these days know all about computers and technology.

This led me to think about a couple of things. First was a conversation I had a few years ago with someone who taught lower grades. I forget if it was upper elementary or middle school. He asked if his school should continue to teach keyboarding. I thought about it for a minute and decided it was probably a good thing. At some point, kids will have to type things - papers, reports, programs and the kid that doesn't have to fight with the technology has a clear advantage. I don't remember who said this but one of the early rationales for markup typesetting systems like LaTeX or HTML was that the system takes care of the formatting so the author could focus on the content. You shouldn't stress about how large the type should be, how to emphasize some text or how to number a section, just say you want a section, let the system format it and you focus and writing your content.

In the case of HTML you weren't supposed to worry about the size of the screen, if it could show graphics, or even if it was color, grayscale or black and white - you just provided the content and markup and the browser would render it correctly. Same with LaTeX. You just labelled your document with things like §ion ⊂seciton, \footnote \equation etc. and let the system typeset it. If you're publishing a book, just say it's a book and it'll render it correctly, a paper, it'll make the appropriate adjustments.

All this meant you could just focus on your content.

At a more basic level, the same is true for typing. If you're hunting for keys in words you're distracted from thinking about sentences let alone concepts, flow, etc. A kid who can type most certainly has an advantage over one who does not.

Meanwhile in the schools there's frequently an assumption that kids used computers all the time so they certainly can type. In my experience that hasn't been the case and as pointed out in the linked article above things are probably going to get worse.

Of course it's true that typing might eventually go the way of the dodo. Maybe swiping and tapping with thumbs will become the norm through society or maybe we'll go to mostly dictation (although that has it's own problems) but we won't get there for a while.

The article also made me think about the fact that kids these days use computers all them time and don't know how to do anything on them. Almost sounds like a Yogiism. The truth is that, yes, kids grew up using computers, tablets, and phones but they use them within the walled silos of Facebook, snapchat etc.

Back in the day, if you used computers you had to make an effort. If you wanted to use a word processor you had to learn something about a file system. If you wanted to do something on that new fangled thing called the internet, you had to learn something about HTML and transferring files. In general, if you were a teacher and a kid used a computer for something they were probably pretty knowledgable about computers and if they didn't know something they could probably figure it out.

Now, everything is within a pre provided application. Kids can use Google Docs or I'd guess Microsoft Office and have no idea what a file system is. They put up pictures using Instagram, commuincate using Facebook or Snapchat and in general don't have to know anything about the technology they're using. Some argue that CS Education should address this but then we turn around and use integrated cloud based environments so the kids learn some of the algorithmic side of programming but nothing about the environment they're working in.

Personally, I think our kids should ahve at least a rudimentary understanding of what's under the hood but I could be wrong. I try to address this by starting the kids in sheltered environments and then graduate them up to the command line but that's just me.

The important takeaway is to remember that a "digital native" may very know nothing about the technology that they're using. We should understand that and act accordingly.

comments powered by Disqus