Apr 12

Thoughts on Digital Natives

Category: General, Technology

My post on Generation Yes had me thinking about the term, ‘digital natives.’ I have been to a number of conferences that focused on the emergence of ‘digital natives’ in our schools. I was told that my students born after the invention of the PC and Internet view them as ‘appliances like a refrigerator or microwave oven.’ We elderly types are ‘digital immigrants’ and are struggling like our Ellis Island ancestors to learn the language and adapt to the modern society we have moved into since leaving the old world.

There is a great deal of truth in this latest version of “There are only two kinds of people in the world …” Like all binary categorizations of humanity it is also the gross oversimplification of a complex reality. We shouldn’t forget that immigrants often succeed brilliantly in new lands whereas natives frequently take their birthright for granted. It is hard to really appreciate something that you have never lived without. I can’t forget the history and civics teacher at my high school who was an Ć©migrĆ© from Poland. He appreciated freedom and was a far more passionate patriot than the indigenous teachers and students. Consequently, he could recite the Constitution and understood the inner workings of our government.

That is my essential point: Growing up in close familiarity with a political or technological reality simply means that you are used to having it around. It does not mean that you appreciate it or are even particularly adept at navigating within it. Refrigerators are considerably easier to operate than computers. They generally only require that we plug them in. I have had many ‘digital native’ students come to me knowing how to easily navigate social networks while being incapable of refining an Internet search enough to find useful information.

To conclude, we need to think seriously about the fact that our students regard pervasive networks of useful technology as normal. We should consider all of the ways this might impact education and student development. We must consider how we will provide easy access to information and services 24/7, which is what they have come to expect. We should not in any case assume that they really know how to use that technology to the best advantage.

3 Comments so far

  1. Linda Koepf April 14th, 2008 10:23 am

    While many students are expert at utilizing the new technologies, they are not aware nor are they proficient at utilizing on-line, peer reviewed data bases, such as EBSCOhost or ProQuest. As a professional librarian I have found students need to be instructed when they first arrive at college, before they have assignments due in their coursework, on how to search databases. Many students fall into the trap that if something is in print it must be accurate. Students need to be taught how to evaluate the information they find on the Internet and in other print sources.

  2. opit April 14th, 2008 1:31 pm

    Comments I have seen elsewhere would suggest that ‘life experience’ counts when assessing ability to use tools of any kind ; which hardly discounts variations in individual aptitude.

  3. Ron April 14th, 2008 6:25 pm

    Thanks for the comments. I agree. I don’t want to be a curmudgeon. I just don’t want anyone to accept all of the digital native talk uncritically. I have certainly learned technology lessons from my own kids because they grew up with it. On the other hand, some of the natives have never considered those tools very carefully.

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