Thursday, February 21, 2013

Do Digital Natives Really Exist?

Though relatively new to me, the idea of Marc Prensky's digital natives - that is, the belief that those born after 1980 are fully immersed in and accepting of technology - has powerful implications for educators, many of whom are labeled digital immigrants because of their retroactive adoption of technology.  If the concept accurately describes today's students, then education must be tailored to their parallel processing, multitasking, video game obsessed minds lest it fail to account for a major impact on their learning (Digital Natives).
The difference between digital natives and immigrants. 
Image courtesy of Technology for Young Children
I, however, find fault with the idea of a digital native, because I know that I myself fail to fit the criteria. I didn't get a laptop until this past August and I still lack a Facebook. Ask me how to code a webpage or even how to use Twitter and I'll look at you like you're a two-headed gargoyle from Mongolia. Still, according to Prensky my birth date places me squarely in the category of digital native. Surely, this cannot be true.

This past week, I couldn't take the side I believed in because there is no qualifying middle ground in a debate. I do agree that some of my generation embodies the technophile web savvy digital native, but the same can be said for my parents' or even my grandparents' generations. Digital native is not a concept determined solely, or even largely by age; rather, the interest of a person in learning and adapting to technology is the defining factor. 

Apparently, I'm not the only one who believes this. As the video shows, many so-called digital natives don't even know the tools they are supposedly masters of. Other much more educated people, such as e-learning developer Steve Howard and La Trobe University professor Dr. Christopher Scanlon, hold my same views. In an article in Learning Solution Magazine, Howard argues that true digital natives are "geeks"and that "geeks come in all shapes and sizes – and ages"  He goes on to say that, "Being a digital native is not about age, but about technological comfort and usage.Non-geeks who use technology, but are not truly comfortable with it, are the digital immigrants....Everyone else is a digital alien, regardless of age." Though I never imagined that digital natives would to boil down to geeks, it makes sense when I consider that geeks are typically the most committed to learning and utilizing whatever new innovations arise. Dr.Scanlon raises related points when he notes that though most of his students are familiar with email, cell phones, and Facebook, "very few have blogs...[and] many are still learning how to construct effective web searches using Google. One comment that really caught my eye was his belief that,  "Far from helping so-called digital natives, we may be creating large numbers of digital refugees: people who are lost when it comes to using technology simply because nobody sat down and showed them how to use technology, or use it effectively." 

As someone who struggles with Twitter and even defining a Web 2.0 tool, I completely agree.

Video courtesy of YouTube.

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