This is a 7-10 minute read. (There is a summary towards the bottom of the page.)
I haven’t looked at my Twitter feed today but I’m willing to bet that an article in The Guardian headlined “Ofcom: six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults” has been shared without any great thought or comment. In this post I dig a little deeper – because it annoyed me.
Sometimes newspaper articles miss the point.
Exhibit A: “Ofcom: six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults.” Declares a Guardian Headline on 7th August 2014.
Exhibit B: “The advent of broadband in the year 2000 has created a generation of digital natives, the communication watchdog Ofcom says in its annual study of British consumers” – claims the second paragraph of the article.
This all sounds fine, common sense in fact. We all know how kids are with technology and how confusing new technology can be to those of us of an advanced age (our knowledge decreases after the age of sixteen according to the OFCOM report). The only problem that these are claims made by the journalist cherry picking data for sensationalism.
The headline (Exhibit A) may have been more accurate had it said something like
“Six to seven-year-olds appear to have greater awareness and self confidence around gadgets from tablets to smart watches, knowledge of superfast internet, 4G mobile phone networks and mobile apps* than people over the age of 45 according to the results of a subjective study to quantify an individual’s Digital Quotient.”
Of course that wouldn’t be nearly as sensational.
(*Italics taken from the Guardian article.)
As for Exhibit B this is pure journalistic license taking the meme of the digital native with its implications of a generational divide created by children with brains rewired by digital technology. The 423 page report does not mention digital natives!
Digital and Informatiom Literacy
Interestingly this brings up what I consider to be a vital component of Tech Savvyness and Digital Knowledge. This is Digital Literacy and its bedfellow Information Literacy. One component of this involves understanding how information sources (paper-based or digital) use journalistic license to skew the facts for more arresting headlines and compelling stories – even from an apparently reliable source such as The Guardian. We should, where possible, follow up the source material to see what it actually says – and from the analysis so far this doesn’t represent the report quite accurately.
To be fair…sort of
The remaining 18 paragraphs of the article is interesting and highlights some thought provoking issues arising from the report. For example this quote:
“These younger people are shaping communications,” said Jane Rumble, Ofcom’s media research head. “As a result of growing up in the digital age, they are developing fundamentally different communication habits from older generations, even compared to what we call the early adopters, the 16-to-24 age group.” This is interesting but shouldn’t be too shocking or surprising – imagine the headline “The New Generation Displays No Difference From the Previous Generation”
Another problem with the article, and the Ofcom press release is that it doesn’t quite seem to know how to interpret the results of its Digital Quotient study. Does it refer to knowledge of digital technology, use of digital technology, tech savvyness (what does this actually mean?), use and knowledge of communication technology. More on this later on.
But what about the report itself?
The Ofcom report is interesting and worth discussing but does not justify the Guardian’s headline. So let’s take a look at the report.
Firstly what is Ofcom? It describes itself as the UK’s “Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries.”
What is the report? This is Ofcom’s eleventh annual Communication Market Report which “supports Ofcom’s regulatory goal to research markets and to remain at the forefront of technological understanding”. The report is 423 pages long and covers all aspects of the UKs communication market – key points are summarised on pages one to fourteen.
So it’s all about digital divides?
No, according to the document “The report contains data and analysis on broadcast television and radio, fixed and mobile telephony, internet take-up and consumption and post.” Again it is worth pointing out that this is for the UK market.
For example did you know that 39% of 16-34 year-olds were unable to give the correct price for a first class stamp – they are the least philately savvy age group!
The report does discuss digital divides in generational terms. Importantly, it also does so in terms of other areas such as gender and socio-economic status (males and ABC1 people have greater confidence with digital technologies) (Ofcom, 2014, pp.4-5). These complement the findings of reports critical of the original conception of the digital native (Bennet,2012 and Helsper & Enyon, 2009).
What about the “Techie Teens”?
Well, “Techie teens shaping communications” is the headline on Ofcom’s website publicising the report. It refers to findings from a part of the report detailing generational differences -compare this with the Guardian headline.
The important thing to notice here is the emphasis on communication. Teenager as innovators of communication technologies is nothing new. SMS messaging was a moribund technology before 1996** when teenagers took the affordance of pay-as-you-go mobile phones to embrace and breathe life into SMS.
The Guardian article points out that before that telephones were hogged for hours in the evenings by chatting teens.
Tell us more about the “Techie Teens”?
Well, the data that caught The Guardian’s attention was based on a survey to find a person’s Digital Quotient. That is, according to the website, their “awareness of technology and communications” or Tech Savvyness (are these even the same?).
Digital Quotients do not actually appear within the main report and seem to be another tool to publicise the report. This is where the data for the comparisons of 6 year-olds and 45 year-olds comes from.
I couldn’t find much information about the methodology for base-lining the DQs. It appears that they have been extrapolated from the answers given by two thousand adults and eight hundred children for the main report. These questions have been collated into an abbreviated version of the test that is available online. Anyone can now find their DQ!
Why not try it for yourself? It only takes 3 minutes.
If you tried it how did you do? What did you think of the questions? Could do better would be my feedback.
I got a DQ of 104. This puts me 2 above the average for my age group and 1 above the average for 8-9 year olds. I think this may just be fair enough in terms of communication technologies (though I’m not so sure) but I don’t think it is true in terms of Tech Savvyness (whatever that actually means).
By the way the age group with the highest DQ was the 14-15 year olds with an average of 113.
The DQ survey is a bit of fun to publicise the main report and clearly not a rigorously prepared survey. I think it is difficult to make any real claims based on its results beyond subjective knowledge of certain communication technologies.
So the report is rubbish then?
No, as I said the report is 423 pages long and contains lots of interesting facts about the UK communications sector. A really interesting nugget is the amount of media multitasking we do. Adults on average use media and communications for 8hrs 41 minutes but clocked up 11hrs of total media use and communications in that time. 16-24 year olds manage to squeeze an average of 14hrs into 9 hrs 8 mins.
We are all multi-taskers.
Is there anything in this for EL teachers?
Well, we must keep in mind that this is a survey of communications technology and use in the UK.
The first thing to say is that there is no need for lazy invocations of digital natives and its associations. They do make the point that young people born after 2000 are born into truly digital landscape based on broadband rather that dial up internet communication and that it is these young teenagers we should be looking to for future trends in communication. The story of SMS tells us this is the norm.
Secondly, is that this is a report about communication. In ELT we teach within a broadly communicative methodology. As communication and access to information becomes easier we should be using it to encourage learning and interaction both inside and outside the classroom. Project Based Learning can take the affordances of these technologies and place them in a normalised learning context.
Thirdly, and the last point I will make (though I could do on), being tech savvy does not equate to being tech literate including being information literate. These are areas where critical thinking and analysis are central. Once again Project Based Learning, facilitated through technologically based enquiry, offers a great vehicle to explore and enhance these skills.
- You can’t trust new sources to be completely accurate.
- Media Literacy is a crucial companion of Digital Literacy.
- OFCOM has produced an interesting report suggesting young people are at the forefront of the innovative use of digital technology for communication.
- Teenagers have been good at recognising the affordances of communication technology in the past so why is this news now?
- The Digital Quotient is a bit of fun but doesn’t really add much else beyond generalised conclusions.
- The report contains lots of interesting information – have a look.
- The report does not mention Digital Natives.
- It confirms what would seem to be common knowledge, that young people like to communicate. Naturally they innovate using the affordances of the available technology – we should exploit this fact in our teaching. PBL does this .
- Critical Thinking is key to Information Literacy. PBL encourages critical thinking.
**Yes, I do see the irony of linking to Guardian articles!
Bennett, S 2012, “Digital natives”, In Z Yan (Eds), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior: Volume 1, pp. 212-219, viewed 1st June 2014, http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/27739/1/Digital_natives_(LSERO).pd
Helsper, E & Eynon, R 2009, ‘Digital natives: where is the evidence?’ British Educational Research Journal, viewed 1st June 2014 http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/27739/1/Digital_natives_(LSERO).pdf
Ofcom, 2014, “The Communications Market Report”, viewed 7th August 2014 http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr14/2014_UK_CMR.pdf
Technology as a Cognitive Aid – Coming Soon
PBL & the Affordances of Web 2.0 Technology – Coming Soon
“It was good enough for us, it should be good enough for them.” – Coming Soon
Digital-Media Literacy – Coming Soon
What’s Your Digital Quotient? How Do You Compare With a Six-Year-Old? by Andrew Bosson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://beginswithaproblem.wordpress.com/2014/08/08/whats-your-digital-quotient-how-do-you-compare-with-a-six-year-old/.