Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.
Yes! The Digital Natives debate is alive and well…
January 8th, 2009

I am always happy to see the Digital Immigrants~Digital Natives debate back on the front page of blogs. I remember reading Marc Prensky’s original article that proposed the immigrants~natives idea when I was an instructional designer with the now defunct eLearning company ICUS (it was acquired by Academee). I was designing eLearning sites for Nokia and Singapore Airlines back then.

The other day Chris Betcher shared a range of views on this debate that echo my sentiments exactly. Beautifully. Please head over to his informative Betchablog to consume his well composed thoughts.

As I commented over on Chris’ blog this immigrants~natives debate is a recurring theme for me. My return to the classroom was an anti-climax in many respects. I was hoping to achieve wonders with the students following my technological sojourn at university and whilst working in Singapore.

I was surprised to find that the secondary school population was not overflowing with digital natives hungry for cutting edge challenges in a digital sense. In fact there was and is a sizable group that just want notes on the board and to be told what to study for in the exam.

I once wrote a post concerning the premise that adults, including teachers, are “Digital Immigrants” and that the students that we teach are “Digital Natives”. This terminology was coined by Marc Prensky some time back. I have used the terminology on a number of occasions myself. During the last couple of years, having worked closely with secondary school students, I have begun questioning the premise that underlies the terminology. In that original post I concluded that “perhaps they are not Digital Natives at all but simply Digital Dilettantes… they are, and I quote from a dictionary, an amateur or dabbler; especially, one who follows an art or a branch of knowledge sporadically, superficially, or for amusement only.” 

I would like to complement Chris’ thoughts with my own and to that end I reproduce some of the words I had put down back then…

“Last Saturday David Thornburg wrote a post where he expresses regret that he had utilised the terms in the past. He also wrote that the terms were demeaning to educators. As he points out it is true that today’s students have grown up in a world where computers are reasonably ubiquitous but one cannot assume that this fact makes the students any more tech savvy than their teachers, or parents, for that matter.

The author of the Connectivism Blog has written an article critical of Marc Prensky’s position. He picks up on David Thornburg’s apology regarding the terminology as well. I cannot do it justice here. I strongly recommend that all interested parties read his views. He concludes “…aside from insulting an entire generation and coddling to the needs of younger learners, Prensky doesn’t provide us with a compelling model forward (other than “use digital games”).”

The author also makes a reference to “technology weariness” and “resistance to technology” among educators. He adds that hyped-up educational technology that fails the promise to deliver will only hurt future applications of these processes in teaching and learning.

I am now going to read Jamie McKenzie’s critique of Marc Prensky’s position in his article, “Digital Nativism, Digital Delusions and Digital Deprivation.” Jamie sets out, point by point, his views regarding Marc Prensky’s position.

Readers may think it curious that a teacher that readily incorporates technologies in the teaching and learning curriculum should post articles that seemingly go against the grain. Many major speakers and evangelists preach the premise that our students are the “digital natives”. I do not believe that we can make this blanket assertion for all students. I am a not alone in this belief.

I believe in a pragmatic and commonsense approach to educational technologies. [This is beginning to sound like a creed]. I have seen hundred of thousands of dollars pumped into multimedia and eLearning projects that are now idle. I have seen revenues in excess of six figures devoted to eLearning projects that are now obsolete (in under five years). I feel that is such a waste. I am yet to crystallise my approach but I essentially believe that educational technologies must only be incorporated into the teaching and learning curriuclum when it is appropriate and not simply “becasue it was there”. The application of the technology should

  • exactly match the specific knowledge, skill and attitudinal outcomes
  • complement, and not exclude, other tactics and strategies, traditional and otherwise
Perhaps I have achieved success with my recurring educational technology workshops in Singapore and elsewhere due to my pragmatic approach. I approach each workshop from the perspective of a down-to-earth and busy teacher. A realistic approach should be taken with the tool that is educational technology. Practical considerations should be weighed up above all else.”

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