Was it just me who flinched when Doug was talking about how to explain digital technologies in a way that was simple enough even for his old mum to understand? We were invited to have a good laugh at the image of this simple woman coming to grips with modern technology.
“There but for the grace of god (and Anna) go I,” I thought. With their help I am now slightly more digitally literate than I was at the start of this project, but am probably the same age and definitely the same gender as Doug’s mother. I could not succeed in ‘othering’ (see Fine ) myself completely from her and did not like this stereotype. As it was repeated, I became more ill at ease.
I think that the statement made me feel uncomfortable because it reveals a particular attitude to women and age.
Firstly, why was his mother– not his father or even his son used as an example of digital incompetence? I know many men who are self-confessed digital illiterates- so they do exist. Even if his mother was the least digitally competent person in the family,(and to be fair, it is widely accepted that men do spend more time on computers than women) is he right to imply that she is intellectually challenged? Is he subscribing to the trope that women have an inferior intelligence, especially in the male dominated realm of digital technologies? And how far does this belief in intellectual inferiority extend?
Secondly, does age predefine levels of skill and interest in technology? Are we to believe that older generations have no proficiencies in this area? If Doug had looked around he might have noticed quite a few veteran experts in the field, and that one very eminent professor had just become a Grandmother.
Jokes on age and gender- not a very good cocktail to present to an academic audience- I was not the only one who was- shaken not stirred- by the performance. In fact if Doug’s mother was there she might have made him sit in the naughty chair.
For dissing his elders.
As I visit some of the partner schools, and listen to students in focus groups from both universities, some surprising perspectives about digital literacies are starting to emerge. It seems to me that in terms of digital literacies, ‘generations’ are being concertinaed into very short time spans. In one of our focus groups, post graduate student teachers were talking about their A level students as a ‘different generation’. Although I would think there were only four or five years difference between them, these trainee teachers felt they were light years apart! They remembered (nostalgically perhaps?) telephone access to the web, clumsy computer games, and the days before everyone had a mobile, when they would stand waiting for their friends at bus stops, not texting or phoning- perhaps having a conversation with someone face to face. They felt they had to work hard to keep up with new generations of pupils; to remain savvy about the newest games and equipment in order to maintain some credibility with their classes.
Mark Brumley suggests that competences in digital literacies seem to be dependent on interest or circumstance rather than age. Certainly the participants in the project- tutors and teachers and student teachers span several generations, (hundreds if you go by the focus groups definition of a digital generation!) and all have different areas and degrees of involvement with digital technology. Depending on interests and needs, some elect to ignore certain technologies such as facebook and mobile phones. These resources are perhaps not necessary or useful to them in their present situations.
This puts a different perspective on some of the blanket assumptions that I have come across recently in schools with veteran staff. The theory is that these teachers are out of touch, not willing to learn, and unable to take on board new ideas. As I found in my doctoral study on, ‘Grumpy old Teachers’, these assumptions are often unfair.
In several of the schools involved with the project, the member of staff interested in technology is working to develop ways of passing on expertise to other members of staff. Even new teachers -straight out of University were not necessarily familiar with ways in which digital technology could enhance their teaching. It seems that all teachers need time and training to maintain up to date digital literacy in their practice.