Here are two thoughts on how teaching and learning is changing in the digital world.
My first thought stemmed from when I was teaching at Eastern Michigan University. One day I announced the date for a Midterm in a graduate course. One of the students challenged me: “Dr. Tyler, why do you give tests? They may test our memory, but don’t evaluate our ability to solve problems.” I immediately recognized he was right; that was the last test I administered. With the universal use of Google, I realized students no longer needed to “know” information since virtually everything is immediately accessible on the smartphone in their hand. I revised my courses to be less a teacher of information and more a facilitator of problem solving.
My second rumination resulted from reading about a professor who was surprised his current students did not use “folders” to organize information on their computers. Their computer desktop screens were often overloaded with randomly-placed icons. A comparison of one of their screens with my own illustrates the generational difference.
The professor surveyed his class and found most students had no knowledge of the concept of folders, so he began offering a class on the use of folders. Why was this necessary, he wondered? He concluded this generation of students had grown up relying primarily on their “Search” function. Their smartphones and iPads were great at doing a sophisticated Search that could find what they needed in a variety of ways–by name, date, size, subject, format, or even using facial recognition for photos. In their minds it was not necessary to have their files organized in any systematic way.
Fortunately, in my retirement these generational changes in how we use our personal devices has not really impacted me that much. First, I no longer teach, so I no longer need to evaluate the “learning” of my students. Second, I will continue my old-school practice of placing computer files in folders so I know where to find them. My computer is quite comfortable with its tried-and-true MS Word software used for my writing; my iPhone and iPad are primarily used for distractions. In short, I may not be keeping up with Generation X, Y, or Z, but it is good enough for now.