Posts tagged Digital Natives
Yesterday afternoon, I got to spend some time with a really thoughtful group of teachers in a local M.A.T. program, talking about teaching with technology. Midway through the afternoon, we fell into a discussion of the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants. And I had an epiphany that transformed how I think about explaining the fallacy of the digital generation gap.
The Complicated Abstract Reasoning Argument
This is often a sore spot for me: I see teachers bemoaning their own role as digital immigrants — they’ll never be able to keep up with their digital native students, who know so, so, so much about technology. I don’t buy this for an instant: I’ve worked with middle and high school students for a long time, and I am constantly appalled at the shockingly low level of technological literacy, media savvy and generally poor levels of critical thought demonstrated by teenagers. They’re not bad kids — it’s just that the car rental agencies are right: they won’t have any executive function until they’re 25 — that part of the brain ain’t physically there. It’s about where teenagers are at, developmentally and biologically.
Therefore, to say that these “digital natives” will outpace us is a fallacy: they know how to do things that are fun, but usually inconsequential (and here I must pause to salute students, teachers and individuals are the exceptions that prove the rule). The role of the digital immigrant teacher is to do the same thing that teachers have been doing since time immemorial: challenging our students to think a bit harder, analyze a bit more critically, and generally become less naive and more savvy — and hopefully a bit more knowledgeable about our own discipline. Note that technology and the digital divide don’t even come into play there: we digital immigrant teachers can teach this without needing to be “more digitally native” than our students. We don’t need to be the sage on the stage making the computer sing and dance: we just need to model critical thought processes and help our students aspire to be a bit more mature.
Immigration and Naturalization
That’s a long-winded way of saying what came to me naturally yesterday afternoon, in a room where the majority of the teachers were Israeli immigrants: let’s think about immigration in the real world. Let’s think about the naturalization process, and how much concrete information immigrants need to learn to become US citizens. Now let’s take a look at the natives:
Being a native in a country doesn’t make you smart, or resourceful, or a critical thinker… or even responsible. It just means that you feel entitled to be there. Immigrants, by and large, actually have to know how the system works and grok the abstractions of a new place from a more intellectual and analytical standpoint.
And so it is with digital natives and digital immigrants. Digital immigrants bring a lot of baggage with them, including maturity, experience analyzing media critically, abstracting complex arguments, and supporting their ideas with concrete evidence. These are exactly the same skills that the natives don’t have. Yet.
And these are the same skills that we call “21st Century Skills”… but which go back to the first art critic, sitting around the fire, arguing whether or not that painting on the cave wall really looks like a bison, or if it might be an antelope, and what was the artist thinking using that brown wash when clearly the horns are darker than that…
This post is part of a series that are components of my “Expert Plan” at my school, looking to create a shared resource for my colleagues as the school moves towards greater adoption of laptops and technology in our pedagogy.
One goal of [my media design class] and [my computer animation class] is for the students to develop a portfolio of completed work that demonstrates their skills and creativity in digital design and presentation. In both classes, I have been collecting projects and final products on the [local network shares] and (in the case of [media design]), on Flickr (more on the Flickr experience specifically under Social Media).
At the end of the digital photography unit in [media design], I asked my students to draw on their body of work to present a portfolio of the 5-7 most representative pieces, and to post these pieces, with some annotation, to our class blog. The students each created a category on the blog for their portfolio (so that we could bring up everything related to their portfolio on a single page). I posted my (public) feedback to the students into these portfolios, and asked the students to provide feedback to each other (in public) on the blog as well.
A major part of my rationale for asking the students to publish their portfolio to the blog was to provide them with a public arena for “publishing” their work, hopefully pushing them to take pride in their presentation (and allow them to share with their friends, family, etc.).
Thus far, one unit (digital photography) has been posted to the blog. I anticipate that we will post videos shortly, although this may be a more restricted process (I don’t feel good about publishing interviews with students to the world without some pretty clear and explicit permission from the families involved). We may end up having conversations about the videos on the blog without embedding the video (instead, we will probably link to the videos posted on a Ning).
I would like to get my computer animation class to the same point of presenting their work in a portfolio, but the lion’s share of the file collection and organization has been mine. The students in that class have had far more problems losing their files, misnaming them, forgetting to turn them in, and so forth. In fact, on Parent’s Night, I realized that, although I had required a JPEG of each model that that they had constructed, such a vanishingly small minority of the students had turned those files in (and had, therefore, taken a full grade hit on their scores), I didn’t really have enough to put together a slide show for parents.
One unanticipated issue (on my part), was the difficulty the students had in distinguishing between when I wanted them to create a new post of their own, and when I wanted them to comment on someone else’s post. I think (based on their most recent performance), that this is a confusion that is dissipating, but that a good clear explanation of the structure of a blog might have been a good place to start.
I fell into the classic trap: I believed that my students were more technologically able than they are, based simply on their appearance as “digital natives” — particularly embarrassing, as I have spent the last few years railing against this assumption! (Students know how to do something better than teachers — play video games, watch YouTube, IM — but are vastly deficient in the critical and analytical skills related to thinking and learning, which we have learned through years of education (and so will they, albeit moderated through more extensive use of technology).