The Future Part 7a: What’s a Digital Native?November 28, 2014
This post is the first part of a series of posts about Digital Natives which are, in turn, part of a series of posts about The Future.
A few years ago I sat through an INSET where we were shown pictures of a couple of everyday items and asked what they were called. The wrong answer was “a digital camera and a mobile phone”. Apparently, to our students, they would simply be “a camera and a phone”. This shows that our students are fundamentally different to us as they are “Digital Natives” and, therefore, have to be taught according to all the usual progressive education methods of discussion, discovery learning and groupwork. Or at least that’s what we were told. While I was in no danger of being convinced, it’s probably worth looking this idea over.
The idea’s origin seem to be in this pair of essays from 2001. Roughly speaking the argument is as follows:
- Our students have changed radically because of technology.
- They process information radically different to older generations.
- Their brains may even have changed and are now different from ours.
- They are Digital Natives; we are Digital Immigrants, and this generational difference is a problem for education.
- They like multi-tasking, instant rewards and games.
- They are put out by having to pay attention to things that aren’t entertaining.
- We must change how we teach.
- We should teach more about technology and less of the “legacy” curriculum.
- We should use games to teach.
There are big and small problems with these essays. Some of the smaller details are actually the most perplexing. At one point it is suggested that a simulation could be used in order to teach the Holocaust, apparently one where they “can experience the true horrors of the camps, as opposed to films like Schindler’s List”. How?
More importantly, there seems little clarity about exactly who the Digital Natives are and some of the references to Digital Native culture seem strangely unconnected. Apparently Digital Immigrants don’t think learning can be fun because they didn’t grow up with Sesame Street. Given that Sesame Street has been going since 1969. familiarity with Big Bird and his friends, even back in 2001, was hardly the mark of youth and modernity. We are told that, unlike their teachers, the Digital Natives grew up with video games and MTV, which even then would have seemed a little dated as a distinction.
A more contemporary reference is to remembering the contents of Pokemon cards as an example of what the digital generation can do. Is children’s capacity to memorise trivia either new, or important to how they should learn? The point isn’t really explained or explored.
Next time I will look at the bigger issues of whether the claims about Digital Natives could be true.