Online Education and Digital Natives

Tips for providing supports to help your students successfully engage with the technical aspects of your online courses

June 22, 2020
By: Ben Rodriguez, BA, Touro College and University System

Are your students ready for online learning? Do they possess the required skills and technology to succeed in your online course? It’s easy to assume that the answer is 'yes,' in the age of digital natives. Digital natives are people who have been using technology from an early age and are familiar with the internet.

Instructors tend to assume that students who are digital natives need little or no technical guidance to succeed in an online course because using technology is intuitive to them. However, this assumption presents a disadvantage to some students.

Although students have grown up using the most advanced consumer technology our society has ever seen, it doesn’t always mean that their skills sufficiently apply to the worlds of academia or business. We may expect students to be able to perform complex technical tasks without being aware of their skill set or access to technology.

Here’s a short list of technical tasks/skills that we assume digital natives will be able to comfortably perform.

  • Converting file formats (e.g., Word or Pages to PDF, XLXS to CSV, AVI to MP4).
  • Scanning paper documents for subsequent upload to an LMS.
  • Combining multiple Word files into one document.
  • Recording videos to share with classmates in a discussion.
  • Presenting a PowerPoint document during a videoconference.
  • Accessing a virtual lab computer.
  • Using third party assessment tools.
  • Formatting a document to conform to the APA style guide.
  • Creating complex formulas on a spreadsheet.
  • Comprehending feedback from a plagiarism-checker.

So, how can you help prepare your students for success in your course when you’re uncertain they possess the required skills and technology?

First, you’ll need to identify which technical tasks your course requires. Once you have those listed you can help your students prepare.  Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Add a course page that informs students of the basic hardware and software that’s required for the course.
  • Include helpful “how-to’s” and video tutorials that pertain to the tasks you identified.
  • Create a course survey which gages your students’ technical readiness, and provides helpful feedback based on their answers.
  • Include key contact information so your students can get help when they need it, (e.g., the college’s help desk, the LMS tech support call center, etc.).

You may want to provide these resources as early on in your course as possible; in your course introduction, syllabus, or both! Not only will you be giving your students another opportunity to succeed, you’ll also make facilitating your course that much easier.