Thursday, March 30, 2017

Innate Skills

Every time we talk about "digital natives" and "Kids' innate skills with technology", we reinforce the idea that you've either got it or you don't, that if you are over thirty then you can't be good with tech, that if you're under thirty you don't need any training because you're simply imbued with an understanding of all silicon-based circuitry.

Fatuous self-indulgent hokum.

Let me state it for the record: There is no such thing as "Innate Skill" with technology. Kids have had more practice at playing games and chatting via FB, text, or IM, but nothing else. They are, on average, more comfortable holding a device but not better at using it for anything academic or work-related (unless that use includes playing games, or chatting via FB, text, or IM).

We are running counter to the ideas of lifelong learning, laying a downfield block on any need for a student to persist when faced with a computing obstacle. In fact, we are teaching them and they're learning.

We're teaching them to give up instantly.

We have had decades of computer games with puzzles and problems and every single one has a cheat code or "God mode" that is readily found on the Internet … meaning that every student has learned to try a problem for approximately 15 seconds and then Google the shortcut or cheat code.

But we still have to start with the simple problems.

College professors who shout from their Ivory Towers that "If you can Google the answer, you need to ask a better question" are foolish. Those who advocate for direct plagiarism in all things under the premise that "Research skills are important in the modern world" are delusional and flat-out wrong.

The simple and the intermediate questions are already answered somewhere, but we can't give up and jump right to the higher-order connections because the kids have not answered the simple questions yet -- Google is not answering. They don't have the simple understanding they need in order to make the higher-order connections and that critical thinking EduWonks are always going on about.

The simple questions that need to be asked first (formative) are being ignored for rote guessing, but we still have to find a way to ask them anyway.

The intermediate questions that form the bridge between formative and summative and require the mental processing to form long-term memory through understanding are being ignored, but we still have to ask them anyway.

This came up most obviously in my Intro Coding class. I gave some students selected problems from, wanting them to have a serious mathematical question to answer using spreadsheets.

Here is one of the early ones:
By considering the terms in the Fibonacci sequence whose values do not exceed four million, find the sum of the even-valued terms.

Instead of thinking through the issues and working towards an understanding of the tools at hand, they googled the question ("project euler question 2") and worked backwards from the MathBlog entries.

I learned quickly to change the targets and to not advertise the source of the problem. The Archimedes Cattle problem becomes much harder to solve when you don't tell them "Archimedes" or "Cattle" and change the wording from "1000 cattle" to "1500 horses".

If we ever expect them to do anything more complicated, we have no choice.