COVID-19 has brought many things to light. It has exposed weaknesses in our systems. It has exposed gaps in our planning. It has illuminated inequality. Much of the conversation has centered around the material gaps highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic. Things like internet and technology have come to the forefront due to the now ubiquitous e-learning format. But the digital divide extends further than the material differences between inner-city students and their affluent peers. It is also noticeable in their skills or unfortunately the lack there-of.
In one of my first Zoom lessons with students, I encouraged them to use the chat function as having them scream out would quickly become unworkable, and I preferred to have them on mute while I was delivering instruction. It did not take long for me to notice they were typing slowly and inefficiently. It appeared that most of them were pecking at the keys. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but typing is a huge skill in the workplace. Students who cannot type will find themselves at a disadvantage in college and in-office environments if they are lucky enough to make it that far.
Imagine you are an employer hiring for a job that was keyboard heavy like data-entry or coding. You have two candidates. One who types 30 wpm and one who types 70 wpm which is the average speed for a programmer. You will likely pick the latter candidate because he/she is more than twice as productive if all other factors are held constant. That is a large difference.
Typing isn’t the only skill that students need at bats with:
- Receiving and sending emails is a critical skill that my students have struggled with.
- Logging into programs is something I have had to spend more time teaching than I would have guessed.
- Routine troubleshooting and maintenance comes up virtually every day. I have made house calls to fix technology issues that were remedied with a single key-stroke.
Think about what the majority of office workers were doing two months ago. Remote work will always be here to some degree. Our students are struggling to work remotely, and it’s not just because of the technology.
Because our students are younger and digital natives, it easy to fall into the trap that they are tech experts. They are not: They are smart-phone and social-media experts. But most of their typing in the workplace will not be on a touch screen and most of their job interviews will not be via TikTok.
It’s important that as we have conversations about the digital divide, and that we remember the divide has caused pronounced differences in skills as well. It is not enough to simply provide the tech if we are not ensuring students get the training they need to efficiently use it.