Living in a digital world, part 1 — personal paradigm shift

Pen and handwritten passage, original title: Homework

Image cc license from Flickr user Éktor: http://www.flickr.com/photos/atardecerboricua/3857853340/

I remember writing school reports entirely by hand when I was growing up in the United States.  In an effort to give all students equal opportunities, we were prohibited from typing our reports until junior high school because not all students had computers or typewriters and computer labs with word processing software in elementary schools weren’t yet commonplace. At the start of the school year, my mom would buy several reams of lined paper because a single, good paper, required many drafts and many pieces of paper.

I’d start with penciled statements on 3×5 cards and then move on to pages of penciled notes. Then there would be penciled outlines and drafts. Then there would be at least one draft in black or blue pen (I loved those erasable pens when they came out; even as imperfect as they were, they saved so much time). Then my mom, who proofread my papers, would find mistakes in my “final” draft, mark them in red pen, and then I’d write out another final draft.  I remember having an aching and tender writing bump at the end of the process, but a nice and neatly handwritten report.

In high school, hand-written assignments were no longer accepted; district policy had changed, as it was assumed that most families would have a computer or students would have sufficient access through school or public libraries.  (As an aside, it was an interesting counterpoint to learn that French friends hand wrote their papers all the way through high school graduation; typewritten or printed manuscripts were disqualified).

By the time I reached college, more of my peers owned computers and labs were both more common and far better equipped. My fellow students increasingly owned cell phones and had laptops in place of bulkier desktops models. Research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project and statistics collected by the U.S. Census Bureau (see resources section following this post) support my experience of the trends in technology acceptance and use, particularly relating to computers: more and more teens and young adults had personal technology devices, both cell phones and computers, which could be used for school and social activities.  Slowly, as access among pupils increased, learning and teaching techniques at all education levels adapted.

All through college, although I owned a desktop computer and used that predominately for written compositions, I still wrote out my notecards, notes, and early drafts of papers by hand. Second and third drafts would be written and edited on the computer, but I would print pages out to edit and proofread my work.

Only after graduation, while working on my master’s degree, did I change my pattern and start to write notes, outlines, drafts, and the full reports on the computer.  I still proofread and edit on printed sheets, but I brainstorm and compose online.

However, this change to exclusively digital drafts backfires on occasion. For example, when one has written a blog post on one’s computer, rather than on the blogging platform and a crash results in loss of all work after the first sentence because one was not prudent about saving frequently while writing.  While my personal paradigm has shifted, it has not gone completely smoothly.

For more information…

Pew Internet and American Life Project and the Pew Research Center have a number of interesting reports and infographics on computer usage and access by different demographic groups. These include:

  • Smith, Aaron, Rainie, Lee, and Zickuhr, Kathryn. (2011) College Students and Technology, a report published 19 July 2011 by Pew Internet and American Life Project and available online here. Within the Findings section of the main report is a really interesting graph showing the percentage of adults and students in different categories (non-students, undergrad students, community college students, etc.) who own different personal technology devices.
  • Trend data on gadget ownership by adults, over time, drawn from Pew studies, April-May 2011.  A more complete spreadsheet of statistical information is also available, to help give a fuller picture of the trends.
  • Trend data on gadget ownership by teens, over time, also drawn from Pew studies conducted in 2009.  An Excel spreadsheet with more data, showing the trend over a greater span of time, is also available here.
  • One of my favourite things about Pew Internet and American Life Project is their infographics. A particularly interesting one from the perspective of this post and discussion of the digital divide is Who Owns What? Generations and Their Gadgets.  It presents very well a glimpse at which groups of Americans own which devices in greater or lesser numbers than other groups of Americans

Another valuable resource for statistical material is the U.S. Census Bureau. Particularly, there is a section of their website from which one can view the statistical data relating to computer ownership and broadband access. More information is available here.

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