The terms Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants were coined back in 2001 by Marc Prensky. This idea has been around for 14 years and the term still appears in blogs, websites, books and presentations. Are digital natives real, or are they are myth?
Let’s look at three different articles that explore how people relate to technology.
Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants
Marc Prensky wrote ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants‘ in 2001 in which he argues that technology has changed how students think and teachers need to adapt their methodology to teach them.
Digital Natives are described as being…
“…“native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet”
Whereas Digital Immigrants are described as an older generation who find technology more difficult to adjust to. They rely more on the way they were taught.
Some people agree and others disagree. I agree that technology has had a big impact on the world, and agree with adapting methodologies to incorporate all available resources, but I disagree with the terminology. Prensky says:
“As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past.”
I felt that this was quite demotivating. I felt as if I was being told what I could never be. I had to remind myself though that this was written 14 years, back when people were using LiveJournal. Social media didn’t really exist and it was two years before MySpace, three years before the launch of Facebook and five years before Twitter.
It was also six years before the first iPhone, which really began the mass adoption of the smartphone. Now, more are more people live a life that is integrated with technology. Regardless of their age.
Digital Residents – Digital Visitors
David S. White and Alison Le Cornu (2011) commented in ‘Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement‘ that this idea of Digital Natives and Digital immigrants has…
“…provoked a sense of panic among ‘Immigrant educators’ who now perceive themselves wrong–footed and unable to step up to the plate.”
Creating a sense of self-doubt that you are unable to relate to your students because you are not a digital native.
In their article they choose the terms Digital Resident and Digital Visitor and they argue that “tools, places and spaces” are more important. When they discuss digital residents, they state:
“A proportion of their lives is actually lived out online where the distinction between online and off–line is increasingly blurred.”
Age has become less of a factor than how integrated their lives have become with technology. Also, there is no stark contrast betweendigital visitor and digital resident. It’s more of a line where you could place yourself anywhere along it.
The biggest thing that I took away from this article is that the internet can be regarded as a space, a place to interact, and place to gather and organize information and a place to be part of learning communities. It is a melting pot of different interactions.
The Digital Melting Pot
Sharon Stroeger wrote an article in 2009 called ‘The digital melting pot: Bridging the digital native-immigrant divide.‘ This is possibly my favorite description about how people relate to technology.
“The metaphor of a “melting pot” brings to mind a less divided and disconnected vision. Here, the term digital melting pot refers to the blending of individuals who speak with different technology tongues”
People aren’t one thing or another, but they can be a community of people who can come together and learn from each other’s strengths. I can show you how to do X if you show me how to do Y.
Stroeger also says:
“Just because students can open up Google in their Web browser does not mean that they know how to find quality information resources.”
In any single class, you will have students with a range of capabilities with technology and differences in how they interact with it. We shouldn’t assume that because of their age they will all be aware of the potential of technology.
I think each of these articles have their merits. Marc Prensky article talks about finding ways to relate to students and to make the learning experience more fun and less linear. White and Le Cornu talk about how we interact with technology and the world, while Stroeger reminds us that people have different abilities and can learn from each other.
What each of these articles are really discussing is Digital Familiarity. How well students and teachers make use of the digital resources that surround them.
I couldn’t think of another phrase that expressed my opinion, so for better or worse, I have chosen digital familiarity.
Technology is such a broad area that people naturally have different strengths and weaknesses. It is a melting pot. Not everyone has access to the same technologies and if you are surrounded by an abundance of technology it is difficult to be familiar with them all. You might not have used them because you didn’t need to use them.
However, just because you haven’t used a tool, doesn’t mean you can’t learn to use it, learn to use it well, or learn to use to a level where you can teach it as a skill to others.
This is why I think the digital native is a myth, because anyone can develop and explore new skills if they have the motivation to do so. Younger people may at times seem to be more familiar with technology, but that is because they are at an age when they are asking questions, exploring the world and interacting with it using the resources available to them. That’s how we gain experience.
As we get older there is a danger that we stop finding new ways to explore and interact with the world. We get to an age when the catalyst for change is need rather than curiosity or play, but age is not an excuse for letting go of our curiosity.
Which is why you find that younger people who aren’t interested in technology are less tech savvy than someone from the generation before them who are still helping to develop new technologies.Curiosity.
Am I familiar with…?
We shouldn’t feel demotivated because we are not ‘digital natives,’ and we shouldn’t think that we don’t have less to offer (about technology) to our students because they are the digital residents. All we have to do is identify want we want to learn and motivate ourselves to find a little time to learn it.
I’m familiar with PowerPoint but I’m less familiar with the finer points of Prezi. So, I will try to find a bit of time to learn more about Prezi and develop some more skills without a ‘digital immigrant’s accent.’
What do you think about Digital Natives? What are you familiar with? What are you interested in learning about?
Leave a comment and let me know. What do you want to become more familiar with?
I will try to feature some of the responses on this site.
If you are not sure what you want to learn about, try these websites or Facebook pages to look for ideas.
Leave a comment if you have any links you would like to share:
There are a lot of websites that deal with technology and EdTech on the internet. Here are three large ones, but there are also hundreds of smaller blogs (like mine).
A random selection of Facebook pages that discuss EdTech. There is a large community and some software packages will have a Facebook page as well.