Keeping Up with Digital Natives - Part I
If you haven’t noticed yet, our classrooms are filled with digital natives and it’s time to try to keep up with them. Marc Prensky coined the term digital native to describe a person born into an all-digital world. If you are reading this right now, chances are you belong to a category of people known as digital immigrants, or those who were not born into an all-digital world but have adapted to the digital world to some degree. If you think you are a digital native but have been falsely accused of being a digital immigrant, I challenge you to take this quiz and answer the questions truthfully. The more I watch digital natives in my home and in my school, the more I am compelled to believe the direction current research is headed. The research seems to indicate that the cognitive processes of digital natives somehow differ from those of even my generation and especially from those of past generations.
Perhaps the greatest effort to study digital natives is taking place with the Digital Natives project, a joint venture between the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen. In fact, among the other publications generated by the project, the project has just published a book, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. My copy, by the way, should be en route to my office now and I will share my thoughts on the book as soon as I get into it.
If Prensky and the Digital Natives project team are right, and I tend to believe they are, educators face a daunting task. The challenge will be multi-faceted. We must first learn more about the way digital natives think and process information. Next we must convince the educational world that analog education won’t be effective with digital learners. Finally, we must seek new, creative strategies to use technology to engage our students.
Think about our kids for a moment. They share pictures and music digitally. They send short emails, messages on Facebook and MySpace, they IM and they text. They crave stimulation from audio and video sources. They create social networks consisting of dozens, hundreds and even thousands of contacts. They make acquaintances online. They shop online. They can do more with their phones than most adults can do with a computer, a digital camera and a video recorder. These are who our kids are and there’s no going back. Why should we expect our kids’ education to look like ours, much less like our parents’ or grandparents’?
In the next few posts I will
- discuss a number of practical ideas for reaching digital natives
- provide some anecdotal evidence that supports what Prensky and others are saying
- challenge you to never look at our kids the same again