Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Digital Natives

I've been reflected on the digital natives issue after reading The 'Digital Natives' debate: A critical review of the evidence (by Bennett, Maton and Kervin, 2008.

The argument is well put that there is an element of 'moral panic' that brings unnecessary emotional reactions from both of this debate. Defenses are put up and little progress is made. Overall, I think to say that there is little empirical evidence to support the claims made about how we should change education because of the digital natives is fair enough. However, it's difficult to study changes to education which haven't happened. You can't study what hasn't happened!

Personally, I don't like the term digital native because it suggest a generational thing which isn't helpful. It's as if humans are intrinsically different from 1990 onwards! Rubbish. However, we can learn something very important from all human interaction with ICT over the last few years and think about how we should be educating people as a result. What I mean by this is that we are using Web 2.0 because they allow us to communicate in better and deeper ways. We are a social species. If we weren't, there would be no facebook, no twitter. Or at least not with the same widespread use. These tools were develop because of an inclination to communicate, to play, to create, to experiment. Why now? Because we can. We simply couldn't before. Or at least, most of us non-techie's couldn't. A lot of these tools are simply ways of interacting in different and deeper ways. So the fact that we, as humans, are doing this or want to do this is an important message.

Is it such a leap to think that there are lessons here for education? Not for me, but to a certain extent this is a leap of faith. The paper talks about digital natives being held up to "active experiential learners." No, this is what they want to be; this is what they are doing by choice; this is where we can surely accomodate them through formal education.

Overall, if you want labels I prefer the digital visitor, digital resident distinction made on the Don't Waste Your Time blogpost - Digital Native/Immigrant … or Resident/Visitor?. This is mostly because it doesn't distinguish between ages.


  1. Hi Tom,
    I agree that it can seem like an ageist term, that's why I sort of morphed it into:
    I come from the Batman era, adding items to my utility belt while students today are the Borg from Star Trek, assimilating technology into their lives."
    Here is one post where I wrote about it.
    I've met many Borgs that are older than me, and had more than a few Batman's in my classes.
    That said, I think the term 'digital native' did a lot to bring some needed attention to the way learning (as opposed to students) has changed.

  2. Haha, I actually morphed that quote too, it originally said 'students today' but in presentations I changed it to 'others today'... my view changed over time and I hit 'Post Comment' before realizing that I was giving you the old version.

  3. Thanks for the comment Dave, an interesting post you link to. It's true that another problem with the Digital Native term is that it doesn't apply to all. For some, a natural inclination towards ICT doesn't exist for various reasons. However, how much of a hesitancy towards blogging for example is due to their lack of comfort with the act of reflecting and sharing? This isn't an ICT issue it's a learning issue. Is passive so ingrained within education that when we try and do something different the pupils rebel. But not because it's a bad thing but because they are not used to it; it's unknown to them. Maybe they hide behind a discomfort with the technology. Just a thought.

  4. Interesting that you said,
    "Is passive so ingrained within education that when we try and do something different the pupils rebel."
    But I've seldom seen students rebel when the assignment was engaging. Where I see the greatest rebellion to acts of 'reflecting and sharing' is with teachers fearing that they don't know enough to do it well, or worrying about what students will do publicly .
    I wonder if more time shouldn't be spent thinking about how to get 'digital immigrants' (of all ages) to engage, rather than worrying about digital natives (of all ages) that are leaping in and participating in the social web.

  5. What important is good learning design. More active learning involving ICT is hard for anyone to engage. Hard in the sense that it's hard work but rewarding. It's up to education to stop taking the easy path of passive learning. A path that is easy for the educators and the educated. But in the long run, it's the learners that suffer.

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