I am starting to wonder how many of my kids are really "digital natives." It seems to me that an awful lot of them really don't know what's on the Internet (besides myspace) and they don't really know how to transfer skills in one program or website to another. My kids were totally confused by blogger. Is this normal? I sort of overestimated their ability to figure out how to use a site because I thought they'd spent their lives on the computer so.... I'm just curious. Is this something the rest of you see often? Kids who fit into that "digital native" category, but really aren't digitally native? I'm almost wondering if it's something adults are pushing onto the kids because we can see what's out there to use. Thoughts?

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Hi Matthew,

I feel compelled to comment on your comments, specifically:

"digital natives" if you like the term are disproportionately white and middle class. Sorry, this is not accurate by definition or anecdotally. And my anecdotal commentary:

The African American community in the United States are considered early-adopters when it comes to technology. What do I mean by this? In the early 1980's pagers or beepers where primarily carried and used by physicians, and that includes doctors working in emergency care centers. In an effort to communicate rapidly with family in case of emergencies, the African American community followed suit and wIth the advent of mobile phones, people quickly adopted the use of this communication tool.

Recent research tells us that most children have access to and use the Internet. In fact, 97% of U.S. college students have a profile on Facebook.

I tend to be hyper-vigilant about my word choices, so please remember this is only my two-cents (and as I often remind people, this is often exactly what it is worth). I suggest shying away from generalizations such as, "there is a question of equity of access" and "the same kind of access that 'WE do.'"

Focusing on the following in teaching and learning may be most beneficial across audiences and communities:

(1) How to use the Internet and
(2) Adaptation of mobile teaching and learning applications.


Who, after all that, is loving the rich dialogue and commenting from home in my pajamas.
Students v. Instructors and Digital Natives - I really enjoyed your post here, Amy, and reading the many comments. Here's my take on this: I spend many hours at the beginning of every semester helping 100 students get started blogging and publishing webpages. For almost all of the students, it is a first, and whatever skills they have acquired from other web adventures, they are scared and intimidated by new things, as most human beings are. But... within a few weeks, they are blogging and publishing webpages like mad and VERY proud of themselves, and I am proud of them, too! It's worth my time, every minute of it, to help them get started. Once they are publishing online, I am no longer the center of attention and can retire to the sidelines and just cheer their efforts, helping them to learn without dominating the discussion, since they are able to carry on the discussion virtually amongst themselves, sharing their efforts equally online.

My experience with my colleagues has been completely different. I've also tried to help hundreds of my colleagues over the years get started with blogging and web publishing, Out of those hundreds of people (all those workshops, all those one-on-one sessions... eegad, so much time I spent doing that!), I've had a handful of success stories. That's it. As a result, I've decided it is not a good use of my time, and I no longer do workshops etc. for instructors at my school.

So this is what I think is important about the digital native category, fuzzy as it is. The students are READY to learn and it is worth teaching them any and all web skills. The faculty, on the other hand, often have a lack of vision about this, a lack of vision that prevents them from being able to really ACQUIRE skills and make them their own. The students have the vision, if not the skills - and they are absolutely ready to learn!

I love working with students on blogging and web publishing, even though it can indeed be very time-consuming. Over time, though, my instructions and tips and FAQs have gotten more and more detailed, thanks to the questions students ask me when they have problems, so now my efforts are focused more on writing up instructions for new technologies, since the web publishing and blogging instructions I've prepared for them seem to take care of most questions... for students who willing to read instructions, of course. :-)

Every semester blogging and publishing websites with the students is an adventure - a great adventure. I cannot imagine teaching without the digital space that we can share this way.
I agree that the metaphor to spoken language is crucial. A lot of our school kid clientele are fluent in their native language but they lack real mastery of the language. But it goes beyond that scope, too. They may be familiar with all the trees and bushes in their neighborhood without knowing which ones produce edible fruit because they haven't been told and haven't had a need to find out.
In much the same way they are Digital Natives, but also still (Digital) Naives.
I'm not sure I agree with the language metaphor. You need language to convey thought and children acquire the vocabulary as they age. The technology is not need to convey thought but to convey messages. One must have language, of some sort, to use the technology. Now, Jeremy says that "Digital natives, because of their experiences (early, consistent exposure to highly engaging, personal technology), have certain expectations and skill sets." Yet, that is an assumption being made that I wouldn't agree with since it hasn't been until that last few years, with the advent of the more social networks and technologies, that girls have become as involved in the technology as boys. Early technologies were aimed at boys, games and such which did not interest most girls which really distorts the digital native thing. As for the thinking seamlessly with technology, I would hazard to say that, like music or math, some people have an intelligence for it and some people don't. There are too many named digital immigrants (a concept that I still don't get but that is another post) who are truly digital natives - they move seamlessly through the day using various technologies. Now Mathew suggests that digital natives is "a reference to the way our brains work than an ability to use a specific tool e.g. we think of using technology tools organically to fill needs we have." I've been using technology tools organically to fill my needs for years - as I see a technology that can make things easier, I incorporate it. So, if you use the language metaphor - it's being bi or tri lingual. There are people who function just as easily in each language - my wife was born in a French family, spoke only French at home but learned English in the community around her. I am now watching the same process with my children using one or the other language depending on what they want to describe or the feelings they want to convey. As for me, I've had to learn the language in order to know what is being said. Now William suggest that it is a way at looking at the world which is different than non-digital natives. I would agree but I don't see that being divided by the age lines that the digital native label suggests. It seems to be a way at using technology and seeing how the world connects and is connected. I'd much rather use a reference like Generation E or the M Generation. That way, all people of a particular age are included regardless of whether they were surrounded with the technologies or not - and some were not. Just a few thoughts.
This is my favorite thread right now, I just read everything and there is so much interesting and wise thought here.

Also, being rather cheeky (Australian boss once called me this) I have sent an email to Marc Prensky asking if he'll join Classroom 2.0 and this discussion. Who knows? I don't know him so no insider help here.

A couple of things. Digital natives/digital immigrants to me means a reference to when you were born - which also I guess brings up the idea of the Millenials (born 1982 on) and that you grew up with ubiquitous computer technology and don't know of a world without computers, unlike the digital immigrants who recall all sorts of old technology, such as typewriters, and even carbon paper. I also think as a group they are natural explorers, like Laura Gibbs says, and once you explain the tools and the uses, their learning curve is fairly short and they jump in. Digital immigrants, as Laura describes, as a group, and not all, are more reticent, await step-by-step instructions, and don't explore as readily. They (we as I'm that age) were taught "don't touch that button, sit quietly, wait for instructions" and that's what they/we do. For the most part.

I agree that we shouldn't make too many overall assumptions, though, and have also seen socio-economic factors fly in the face of the digital natives label as well. So I think it should be that whoever is fortunate enough to have ubiquitous computer access, native or immigrant, is going to proceed a lot further than anyone who has to go to a library or to a computer lab and plan access. And become literate and eventually fluent with technology.

I also agree that we still have to guide and teach students about technology. Once at a school a high level administrator said to me "we don't need computer classes. These kids know all about this stuff." There are some that believe this - but we all know there is no one who knows all about this stuff. But what the kids are, again is natural explorers - unfraid of the technology - but like explorers that doesn't mean they always know where they're going. Without a map and without a plan you could explore and end up anywhere. You could arrive in Paris and just wander and never see the Louvre because you didn't have a map or an idea that the Louvre even existed.

The Google search thing as Christopher Potter mentioned - yes I seen this with my students too. Once a student typed in "Ho chi minh trail Vietnam War difficult of finding supplies" and pressed enter. Of course up came information about Ho Chi Minh City tourist sites, office supplies, the Vietnam War, etc. He then said "there's nothing out there."
Hi all!
Digital native/digital immigrant seems to be one of those slogans that resonates with people to quickly explain something we've all noticed. But I'm afraid it doesn't do much more than that. You can definitely stretch a metaphor too far.

Bill Kerr (a great teacher/blogger in Australia who teaches kids how to program games) has a wiki where he's collected some of the online discussion about the "myth of the digital native." Bill also explores this in a long post on his blog about technology and resistance to change in ....

Gary Stager (District Administration magazine) had a short piece a while back exploring the Immigrant side, Tech Insurgents: Do your teachers need a computing IEP?

All this brings up important questions - Does labeling teachers as digital immigrants give them an excuse not to participate? Does labeling kids as digital natives give us an excuse not to teach them? If the label is used as an excuse, maybe it's not so handy.

I think a lot of people are coming to the conclusion that although DN/DI is a convenient slogan, it falls apart as part of a deeper analysis. And worse, it may actually be a roadblock to solutions.
Hi Sylvia,

I agree that the labels create road blocks. I also believe that, whether good or bad, the terms were used as part of the whole marketing gimmick to sell computer games for learning. That is what Marc Prensky does and, not wanting to take away from his work, he is promoting what he does. It creates a convenient way to describe a sub-group of people to whom his work is being marketed. One sub-group that has been left-out has been young females. For the most part, they are not part of the at the beginning stages because they didn't participate. It is not until the advent of social tools, like chat and MSN and now texting that girls are becoming equal in the group. The beginning group was centered around video games and computer games which were, for the most part, the domain of the young male.
Digital Immigrants, because they are born before this time, supposedly cannot understand how a digital native thinks and, therefore, shouldn't question when the native says they are learning while playing video games. Although this may be true to some degree, look at whom it is aimed at and the basis for the first use of the terminology - adults who didn't understand gaming and the learning that was taking place.
I do not see these terms as doing no more than making things very murky and, as Sylvia points out, allowing people to make particular assumptions that are neither true nor accurate.
We might be much better off without such terms given the complexity of the whole issue. You are right, we have people who were born during a time of computers only - narrowly defined - with personal technologies but not all of them were taking part equally for economic or social reasons. Thus, we can limit our discussion of "true digital" natives to the young males of this time who took part in gaming up until the explosion of networking and cellphones.
What I love about this discussion is seeing the shift here, and having my own thinking shift as well.
I love this discussion.

I am teaching computers for the first time this year after teaching elementary for 6 years. I can add my experiences to the discussion that my students are NOT digital natives in the sense that technology/computers/internet/web 2.0 comes easily to them. After two weeks in class I had to stop and teach students the basics of the keyboard and the mouse (many didn't understand the right-click). Not what I would call a native.

I have two experiences that make me agree with Matthew Needleman's comment about access and class. My students who do not have technology at home are not any more native to the computers than baby-boomers who have been avoiding technology. Also, I have been facebooking with my first ever class of students as they start their first year of college. My former students on facebook are white, middle class or both.

I disagree with Steve when he says they will never have trouble programming a VCR. I have plenty of students who will because they don't have access to it or simply aren't interested in it.

I agree whole-heartedly with Sylvia's comments. I have often wondered, when reading the discussions here on classroom 2.0, if we aren't in our own little microcosm. We all have a heavy interest in technology. It's our jobs, our passion, we use it everyday. Many of us sit at a desk most of the day with a computer in front of them. It’s like we are in our own fish bowl, trying to look into another fish bowl our students are in. Can we really relate? When I look into the other fish bowl, I see students using technology for activities that interest them or help them, and abandoning others because it doesn't do anything for them, or as Sylvia says, they don't see a purpose in it (same thing?).

I have spent a lot of time this summer learning web 2.0, but I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t my profession. I think the same can be said for our students. They are natives when they have access, they want to be, and when they have an interest. When they don’t, they aren’t any different than the teacher’s who feel they don’t have a purpose for technology in their classroom.

The challenge is as Sylvia says, to give them a purpose and as Steve said, take them deeper.
So you're saying a digital native isn't classified by age but by ability? Digital immigrants are those people, regardless of age, who do not intuitively see the connections between programs and once they learn "a" particular program, fear changing because they don't transfer skills very well?

If those were the definitions that were used, I could probably work with them. However, that is not what is used. The natives and immigrants are delegated by their ages and nothing more. So, for someone like myself who uses technology in a number of ways both in my job and in my life and seemlessly moves from application to application, I'm am still an immigrant because of age while someone who, because of social position, has limited access to any computer is a native because of their age.

The one thing that you catch on is that all the things that we discuss are linked to skills sets. Whether born only knowing technology or before that magic moment, it is the development of skills and this only comes from exposure not by virtue of date of birth.

I continue to harp on the fact that these labels were coined and used as descriptors to "create" two sub-groups of population which were linked through the discussions on technology, to the selling of computer games for learning. The idea was great and, in its infancy, may have had some base in what was known but, as Sylvia points out, they do not work today.

Regardless of how we define students today, we seem to agree that they need to be taught various skills that, for some unknown reason, people think they already have due to a variety of reasons. This requires that schools focus on skills on a variety of levels, from simple hardware use to gradually incorporating more tools to assist students to expand their knowledge and become creators and not just consumers. That is the power of the Web2.0 applications, the ability to collaborate and create but only after students have developed a variety of technological literacies which they will most likely only get at school.
I really have to say WOW what a thread!!!! I tend to get very theoretical but this is just full of meat/substance. I echo this comment,

What I love about this discussion is seeing the shift here, and having my own thinking shift as well.

I do tend to agree with Kelly and his comments. I do disagree with the analogies about language and that young learners are not able to communicate even though they know language. These ideas are full of paternalism and lack any knowledge of how language is learned. Young learners are effective communicators.

I don't think we can assume that students know how to use technology like some cyborg. It is complex, a diverse audience. But they do have a measurably different facility for learning that allows them to pick up new tools/applications/technologies much quicker. The image rules and they are much more "pictorial" and less abstract. We must change with this, in our teaching. We can't as educators go against this, even if we do ourselves have to become native. I love my books and probably will be like Canetti's Peter, lost in books -- that doesn't mean I don't see that I must march on......

that said, I do see us educators, us proponents of web 2.0 "in a bubble" . In part or mostly, it is the failure of language. We lack the language to really transfer this to students. In part it is the commoditization of technology, the fevorish colouring and make-up of technology that defeats it. It moves too fast towards too much desire. We are lost in its excess......

But I am hopeful. Hopeful that education doesn't mean "quantity" but "quality" and the sensitivity of response. Technology can allow for a more broader dispersion of the "quality" side of the educational experience, in my opinion. Let's bring on the natives, be they natives or not!

Well, I think a digital native is defined by skill sets, but also mindsets. Backing up a little, the bigger question of "Is it useful to call someone a digital native?" seems to be, "Yes, if that designation describes a common set of schemata which educators can use to shape their instruction." The caveat, as discussed here, is that you don't get that schemata just because of when you were born; it's more about what experiences you have had.

Perhaps we can compare this to the generational schemata of the baby boom era - power can't be trusted, progress is fought for rather than given by authorities, rock music is enjoyable, television and movies are engaging, etc. You don't necessarily fall into these schemata if your experiences didn't lead you there, and perhaps you could have adopted these schemata even if you were from an older generation. But instructors who ignored these schemata were missing out on an opportunity to connect with that generation where it was at (generally speaking).

Perhaps now this discussion could turn to what schemata describe "digital natives", both in terms of skill sets and mindsets. Here are a few off the top of my head:

- Digital natives feel comfortable with experimenting and "pushing buttons" - information is more often and more deeply learned when it's "just in time" to meet their need of the moment.

- Digital natives have experienced that all information is out there and accessible somewhere. No question should go unanswered.

- Digital natives see that knowing how to find the answer is more important than knowing the answer before the question is asked.

- Digital natives consider computer screens more engaging than things on paper, generally.

- Digital natives feel they have a place in a participatory culture, where they can create and submit their own works alongside those of people traditionally considered more skilled in speaking, writing, photography, music, etc.

- Digital natives consider multi-culturalism a strength and consider national borders less important than common interests.

- Digital natives because of early and consistent exposure to media they select themselves often have a shorter attention span and are less tolerant of media they find un-engaging than previous groups.

What are your thoughts?



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