New Study Explores Digitally Native, But Technologically Illiterate Students

May 19, 2021 | News, UToday, Alumni, Business and Innovation
By Christine Billau

The younger generation of workers, although raised with and on technology, are not as technology savvy as the older generations believe.

A new study by researchers in The University of Toledo John B. and Lillian E. Neff College of Business and Innovation published in the Journal of Applied Business and Economics analyzes the interesting paradox, and outlines methods to bridge the technology gap and better prepare students for the realities of the workplace, including the Microsoft Office suite and beyond.

From left, Dr. Gary Insch, professor of management at UToledo, and Daniel Pfaltzgraf, visiting instructor of business technology and management at UToledo, co-authored a study suggesting younger generations are not as tech savvy as believed.

“The elements of a digital workplace and technological literacy are more relevant now than ever,” said Daniel Pfaltzgraf, visiting instructor of business technology and management at UToledo and co-author of the study. “Technology was critical for business success before the coronavirus pandemic, but it has continued to grow exponentially over the last year.”

Many millennials, individuals born between 1981 and 1996, and the Generation Z population, born after 1997, have learned to be great, efficient consumers of technology, such as sending pictures, sharing videos and texting or other short-form communication.

However, they are far less adept at understanding how to use technology to create useful solutions to their business challenges — for example, using Outlook to send e-mail, Word to prepare documents, Excel to analyze data and PowerPoint to communicate through presentations.

“While students are quite adept at using their cell phones and basic software, they may not be computer fluent,” said Dr. Gary Insch, professor of management at UToledo.

The other issue is that middle and high school students mostly use Google Chromebooks, Google Docs and Gmail before college.

“Those students are learning skills that are not relevant in the business world,” Insch said. “Microsoft Office is one of the most desired skills by hiring managers. Most corporations do not run off Chrome OS, create reports in Google Docs, nor begin boardroom presentations on a Google Slide. In fact, recent research has shown that only 15 companies listed in the S&P 500 are using Google’s productivity suite.”

The researchers recommend three methods to prepare business students in the classroom to create versus consume and have a less difficult time adjusting to full-time employment:

•  Build proficiency of business software in an academic setting;

•  Have educators be the convener, not conveyer, of learning in a digitally focused classroom; and

•  Apply design thinking in a classroom setting.

“Regardless of academic discipline, the corporate world is increasingly relying on a suite of tools to enable virtual collaboration and creation in the globalized economy,” Pfaltzgraf said. “The functions of employees today center around five technological needs as a part of the digital workplace: web conferencing, communication, virtual collaboration, productivity and project management.”

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced more people to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Webex and more, but the researchers say educators can use popular technology such as YouTube to better help students end a semester with a tangible output and a portfolio builder in addition to a letter on a transcript.

“Educators can utilize the popularity of video-sharing platforms to Generation Z and millennials to unearth knowledge from YouTube, video courses like and educational content found on social media to create a learning experience with students at the center, and later in the semester, have students create a deliverable to be uploaded to one of these tools,” Insch said.

As the need for innovation and critical thinking are increasingly appearing on job postings and in recruiter pitches, the researchers encourage design thinking to drive innovation and promote critical thinking.

“Integrating design thinking into the classroom allows students to become the ‘problem solver’ of business challenges as they move through the process of listening to pain points, flaring on ideas, building solutions and testing them with people,” Pfaltzgraf said.

Researchers used as an example a course titled Business Innovation Methods with Design Thinking that was piloted in fall 2020 with a group of 23 multidisciplinary students at UToledo who solved a problem through active participation, ideation and creation.

“With new tools to learn and new ways to express themselves, creating provides an outlet for students to be more productive and successful in their careers,” Pfaltzgraf said.

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