Kids know more about tech than teachers? Not so fast, says new study

Clark Mjelstad, bottom left, Autumn Gossett, Jackie Harmon and Alex Kramlich work on their tablets on Sept. 4, 2013, in the library at Fargo North Hig...
Clark Mjelstad, bottom left, Autumn Gossett, Jackie Harmon and Alex Kramlich work on their tablets on Sept. 4, 2013, in the library at Fargo North High School in Fargo, N.D. Area schools are aggressively integrating technology into classrooms to help teach what educators now call 21st-century skills — problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. But teaching those skills isn't always as easy as pushing a power button or accessing an app. Even as laptops and tablet computers are handed out by the hundreds, some parents worry their children will use school-issued devices to access darker corners of the Web, pornography and gambling sites. Technology experts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo public schools say it is up to students and parents to raise their games when it comes to online citizenship. (AP Photo/The Forum, Dave Wallis)Dave Wallis / ASSOCIATED PRESS

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By Keith Wagstaff
Dave Wallis / Today

We all know the stereotype: Mr. Fuddy-Duddy pecks hopelessly at his keyboard while his students are busy programming the next Google in the back of the class. The problem? It's not true, according to a new study. 

"People talk about how young kids are so technologically savvy and their teachers are so old that they don’t know how to use technology," Shiang-Kwei Wang, a professor at the New York Institute of Technology, told NBC News. "Our study found that it’s not really that way."

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The study looked at how 24 science teachers and 1,078 middle school students used technology. What it found was that students were not more tech savvy than their teachers, and when it came to certain tools that might be useful in a professional setting (word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software), teachers were more proficient. 

In a totally not shocking finding, outside of school, students had mastered the art of texting and YouTube. In class, they mostly used technology to type reports and search the Web for research. 

Basically, teachers and students had similar tech skills, even though the kids were third-generation "digital natives" who never knew a world without the Internet. At this point, Wang said, it might be good to stop putting so much faith in that concept. 

"The thought was that digital natives had a different way of thinking because their lives were so saturated with technology and that teachers were too old, so they can't best teach digital natives," she said. "More and more research is debunking that myth."

The problem is not that teachers are inept when it comes to computers. It's that they don't know how to translate that knowledge into something that can help their students prepare for the future. 

It's great that students can research photosynthesis on the Internet. But learning to build a spreadsheet to organize and analyze data could be more useful for students when they reach college and beyond. Wang recommends that school administrations set up training programs to help teachers do just that. 

"The question is, 'How we can train teachers to integrate what they already know into the classroom?'"