Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

Digital Native vs. Digital Immigrant, while certainly a great attention-getter/catch phrase, isn’t a helpful designation in terms of educational technology. Why? Because history teaches us that some immigrants are far better equipped to thrive in a new land than the natives. Once they know the language, even if they keep an accent for the rest of their lives (I’ll never be able to use “i” to mean ME) they will flourish. I think most of Prensky's critiques apply more to what I'd call Digital Tourists. Why? Here's my guess.

Prensky says that
Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet
My experience is that this is not necessarily true. The student who is completely absorbed in WoW may not know how to find non-gaming information on the web in any organized, helpful way. The avid filmmaker may never have a single programming experience in her K-12 career. Terms such as "technology" and "digital language" are sweeping umbrella terms for fields as varied as pottery, medicine, and trucking. Expertise in one does not translate into or prevent facility in another. Educators know this. They are overwhelmed by the vastness of what they do not know and they shut down. This does not need to be!

I'm an immigrant in the digital world Prensky describes . However, because I was fortunate enough to be well-educated by dedicated public school teachers and a life-long learning parent, I'm a pretty darn comfortable immigrant. I don't "do" second life, even a little bit. Not a gamer. I contribute to several Nings and Wikis regularly, and feel free to edit others I visit when the spirit moves me. I follow several bloggers, use Flock to track them, along with my friends in Facebook. I make fabulous Christmas cards, digital and paper. I used YouTube recently to convince a friend to buy a new carseat. I stay connected with my family via video skype calls, tweet my friends and professional contacts. I exercise while listening to Women of Web 2.0 podcasts (I know, very, very nerdy). This is sounding like a "me, me, me, look at me" so I'll stop here. My point is that, among my education peers and my age group, I do a lot and yet I don't come anywhere near "doing it all" in terms of technology. I talk with kids every day, and none of them do it all either. The difference is, they're comfortable with it.

Next question: What does it take to teach 21st Century Literacy?

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