Dear Not Tech-savvy

Dear Ms. Scholar, I’m not tech-savvy. My students and department, however, expect me to use all sorts of technologies all the time. Some of my colleagues go so far as to say that we must adapt to these new Millennials and their short attention spans. They say, “If you’re not using technology, you’re going to lose them.” What do you think? I’m not tech-savvy.

Ms. Scholar at work.

Ms. Scholar at work.

Dear Not Tech-savvy, Using technology just because your students and department believe you should is poor pedagogy. In fact, Ms. Scholar knows faculty on campus who teach powerfully with only their voices and chalk. There are also those faculty who teach more powerfully through their effective use of technology. Ms. Scholar believes we must be thoughtful during our teaching and consider when technology will be useful, and when it is simply fluffy or even counterproductive. We should also ask ourselves what adds to and enhances our teaching and what is a time-drainer and counterproductive.

Further, we should also be considering what we can do to help our students learn most effectively. As Schuman (2014) wisely observed,

When people are staring at a screen, or skip-jumping through a bajillion websites and apps, they are not learning well. Yes, college students are adults, and if they choose to spend class on whatever the new thing to replace Snapchat is, that’s their prerogative—but when it comes to course design, it is still the professor’s job to prioritize student learning.

And learning requires thinking. Hard, uncomfortable thinking, the kind where you swear you can feel gears turning, laboriously and painfully, in your head. (para. 7)

Is having technology open in the classroom actually helpful in any way? Perhaps when students ask what a word means (Why don’t you look it up?). Does it help us meet our course goals? If not…

On the other hand, while Ms. Scholar does not have any data on this, it seems that Millennials are often very good with social media and video games, but often have real difficulty with many of the technology skills that are part and parcel of being a professional in the 21st century. Ms. Scholar’s students have difficulty forwarding their email, taking screen shots, and using what she believes are basic features in Word. Students who show up at schools like ours are usually able to use social media well, but often unable to use it in more profound and important ways (Blackburn, 2011).

We are doing our students no favors when we let them slide by without gaining some proficiency with technology. Technology changes so quickly, however, that they do not need (or only need) proficiency with a particular program or piece of hardware, but to obtain the flexibility and open-mindedness to easily learn and use a range of technologies.

Our students must have digital and visual literacy, and it is important to model these skills for our students and help them develop those skills in many or all of our classes. As an university, we would be remiss if we gave up technology and used only paper, pencil, and chalk; however, we are equally remiss when we believe we should spoonfeed our students or entertain them rather than helping them develop longer attention spans. As a university, we have the responsibility to strengthen their literacy, their ability to read carefully and critically. There is room for faculty of all stripes, even those who are not tech-savvy.

These discussions about digital literacy take place in a greater context: digital optimists believe that technology will transform the future and, especially, save people in developing countries. Digital pessimists believe that the internet and technology will exacerbate the divide between the Haves and the Have Nots. Will technology save the future? Will it make the world a less just place, a place where we have forgotten how to talk to each other? This false dichotomy between digital optimists and digital pessimists seems overly sweeping and unrealistic.

Like Sherry Turkle in this TED talk, we believe we should reflect on our use of technology. Is it helpful? When is it helpful? Are there other strategies of teaching that might be more effective in building the range of skills that our students need? Are we building the range of skills that our students need? Only after we’ve answered these questions will we know whether we have found the right balance in our technology use. — Ms. Scholar


Blackburn, J. (2011). The archaeology of learning: When our students write their way into knowledge. Presented at Partners Retreat. Cooksburg, PA.

Schuman, R. (2014, October 30). Your professor isn’t a lazy Luddite. Slate. Retrieved from

If you have questions regarding teaching, student/faculty issues, or other comments/suggestions, please write to: Ms. Scholar c/o

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One Response to Dear Not Tech-savvy

  1. Pingback: Our Students, Their Phones | Hand in Hand

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