Tech Comfy NOT Tech Savvy!

Techsavy2 Without a doubt, my 13-year-old daughter can text paragraphs faster and more accurate than I can text one sentence. My 15-year-old son is my go-to person for all my TV, computer, and technology needs. He had all my apps downloaded and ready to go on my Droid phone before I knew how to turn it on.

Watching my  3-year-old niece navigate her way around the screen confirms what my friend, Chris Lehman, has proclaimed for some time; technology is like oxygen for these kids. Their ease with the web is simply amazing.

Being tech-comfy, however, does not guarantee their proficiencies automatically grow into new and sophisticated literacies or on line competencies as info-sumers, critical thinkers, and savvy participants in a digital space.  For many youth, their motto seems to be, “In Google We Trust”, or so says a new study coming out of Northwestern University; exploring the savvy web skills (or lack thereof) of college students, especially as it relates to search strategies and ability to determine the credibility of search results. 

You can read more about the study here, but the following exchange sums up the overall results:

One of the researchers asked a study participant, “What is this website?” The student answered, “Oh, I don’t know. The first thing that came up.”

The facts are disturbing:

  • Only one quarter of the students, when assigned information-seeking tasks, said they chose a website because – and only because – it was the first search result.
  • Only 10% of the students made mention of the site’s author or that author’s credentials while completing tasks.
  • Even the groups considered “most savvy”; none actually followed through to verify the identification or qualifications of the site’s authors.

We perpetuate this trend of digital unpreparedness when we operate under the erroneous assumption that so-called “digital- natives” are ready and equipped for the challenges of the read/write web. It is critical for institutions and organizations to pay attention to a person’s specific skills and literacies rather than submit to the notion that age or generation gives one a free membership pass into this new literacy club.



Preparing students for the web requires more than a course on powerpoint or a class on search strategies. Web literacy is not just about being able to operate digital camera or create a podcast, or even the opportunity connect with another classroom. It is about looking critically at the content of a web, understanding how and why that particular media is being used to shape thinking and behavior, and most importantly having the competency and the confidence to communicate our own ideas and thoughts to this incredible space.

What worries me most, is knowing that “media/web” literacy skills in schools, if taught at all, are considered secondary or optional. In a time where students will do most of their reading, writing, and research across digital texts and mediums, I would argue they need these skills more than ever. And, more importantly they need us to lead them into their digital future.   


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  • Franki

    Such a great post. This is so important to think about. I think the whole literacy piece is such an important part of all of this. Although the definition of literacy is expanding, the understanding of how children develop literacies is key. Great post. One that I will revisit often and share with many.Thx!

  • Bob

    Meh… same thing everyone else is saying, you just regurgitated it. Kind of your style.

  • Angela Maiers

    Hey There “Bob”-

    Your comment actually makes a great case for web literacy. You may want to click on the hyper-linked text throughout the post. These would have lead you to the parts of the post that referenced and sited the original study as well as to my thoughts, reactions, and actions about the conclusions.

    This may have helped you see a clearer distinction between the elements of the study, and what I am doing with teachers and schools. (Lessons, videos with students,etc…)

    I would be happy to answer any questions about this topic and hear what your perspective is on how we equip students in every grade and classroom for the challenges of the web’s mediums and cultures.

    Unfortunately you did not leave your name, links to your work, or any background/contact information to continue the conversation farther.

  • Angela Maiers

    Thanks Franki!

    It is easy to misread students literacy level as they are so at ease with the technology. Off line, we can see when kids struggle. It is a much harder and more complex system of literacies as reading, writing, viewing, listening, participating, and engaging all happen simultaneously.

    Thanks for moving the conversation forward!

  • George

    Absolutely right! I’m amazed at the ability of my children to pick up a device and figure it out. It’s amazing. However that doesn’t mean that they have the analytical ability to understand meanings/uses/accuracy/leanings/slants/biases etc. We must teach our children and students how to think critically about sources.

  • Chad Lehman

    Angela, I think you hit the nail on the head with this post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Angela Maiers

    I am sure that you have seen first hand how the “digital immigrant vs. digital immigrant” thinking gets in the way of supporting students and teachers with the instruction they need.

    We are all finding our way in this ever-changing digital environment, and explicit instruction is needed. Thanks for your comment and all you are doing to help make us more “tech-saavy.”

  • Angela Maiers

    George-thanks for the comment! It is hard to not confuse the two; especially when we see how at ease students are with the devices and platforms. Keep spreading the word…they need us!

  • Angela Maiers


    You have brought up some critical points; especially as it relates to staffing. Just as we expected the language arts teachers to teach all literacy lessons, we are expecting the same of the technology staff. ICT is different that IT, and this is everyone’s responsibility.

    We are all practicing new Digital Habitudes- yes? I would love to hear how the lessons are going!

  • sikhy

    I’m school librarian from Croatia, and from this year our Ministry of Education engaged a process which has a purpose to include learning of information literacy & skills to our student in K-12 education. I have luck to be a PhD student of LIS (parallel to my work in library) and a computer junky who lives 12 hours online – so I know something about that topic. In Croatia, IL skills were not thought to pupils before (as a part of curriculum). I’m really interested to see that would work in classrooms. Kids, in general, know a lot more than teachers. They don’t have true understanding of the problems, like you said – they have troubles with finding an author of web pages etc. Croatia is 15 years behind US but it seems to me that our schools have very similar problems. I have a feeling that a problem is not in kids or in teachers but in educational policy. Our Ministry still does not know how to cope with new media-technology-information education. They are in the dark. I think you have a similar problem with your Ministry of Education. You are more advanced, have more money and better libraries & schools equipped with better computers (my school library does not have computer for kids) Me and my wife – we have 5 notebooks & 3 desktop computers at home – as I said – we are computer freaks who live online. In Croatia almost all students all have PC’s at home. But teachers are other problem. They mostly just started using technology. All they know right now is to work with MS Office apps. They should begin teaching kids using new media & tech. Hey, they does not even know the basics. 15% of them are “de facto” online, 5% is using social networks, and only 1% knows how start a blog, 0,1% knows how to find scientific information and articles online. Sad but true. What can we expect from them? 66% thinks that is kids should not be allowed to go online – because that is dangerous.
    And, as you said, internet is like air to our kids. In last 2 years Ministry has done funding cuts for teacher education and equip. for libraries. We did not receive a single new book in library after a econ. crisis started. But requests from Ministry are rising. This year they started a program of learning info literacy to kids. Ok. I would like to ask them: How? How should i teach kids to use technology – in theory? Should I maybe draw a computer on the board and tell the kids to pretend we have a computer?

    Well as you see we have one additional problem, a lack of funding. But I think we share another problem. Educational policy still not having a clear direction. Before we can start teaching kids to look critically at the web content we need all to change many things. I believe that our governments would need at least 20 years of to really understand what to do.

    Greetings from Croatia

  • AngelaMaiers

    Greeting From Iowa!

    Your comment hit home so deeply. This has been the topic of conversation all week for me.

    As you pointed out, web and new media competency is not only an issue facing Universities, it is a topic needing to be addressed at all levels of the curriculum.

    Schools do not know how to cope with new media-technology-information, I believe in large part because they are not actively immersed in these environments as readers, writers, researchers, themselves. They are still using “contained text” from “one-source authorities” that have been “pre-approved” by the establishment.

    These experiences do not build the awareness and the skills necessary to handle content in dynamically changing, crowd-sourced, open content environments. Making sense of socially constructed, real-time data streams is a whole different game.

    It takes times, focus, and strategy to navigate the waters of the web. Kids are given an assignment “on the web” but are not instructed on how to manage themselves “in the web” or more importantly how to act as digital citizens “of the web.”

    These lessons do not come from a textbook, a prescribed and scripted curriculum, and won’t fit in a three ring binder. It is frustrating, that students are still expected to become competent in new literacy standards, yet are held to task on standards of the industrial age.

    A good place to start the conversation is by looking at the standards. They reflect in no uncertain terms how times have changed. Whether you read the new technology standards, literacy standards, or content area competencies, the message is universal; students must be equipped to be more than consumers.

    Students must be prepared to create, co-create, curate, contribute, and convert data across multiple forms and mediums. In order to be powerful producers of content, they must be critical consumers.

    We need to start aligning our lessons, assignments, and school experiences with these considerations in mind.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Keep this crucial conversation going- for the web’s sake!

  • Michael Bird

    I agree with this and it realtes to another topic.  I think educators, parents, and career advisors also look at the fact that their kids text and use an iPad better than them as a sign the child will “go into computers” and don’t bother to draw the line that using Facebook is very different than building Facebook.  Most people need to be confortable with technology in their jobs but we still need to help a sub-set of those people choose technology as a career and I don’t think currently advisors understand that and all the varied career choices…

  • Angela Maiers


    Thank you so much for this perspective. You are exactly right on- using Facebook is very different than building Facebook.  You make a great case and point we need individuals fluent on both sides of the web! 

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