Thursday, August 28, 2008

Keeping Up with Digital Natives

In my next several posts I will focus entirely on digital natives and how we can meet their needs in the classroom.

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


Shawn said...

I'm (apparently) 80% digital native. We were talking about this in my engineering class the other day. I have owned music in several formats. "Chicago 17" for example I bought on LP, Tape, CD and mp3. I remember going to the store to buy music.

However, many of my students have only owned music as mp3's. Even those that owned in another format owned CD's, technically digital. Sadly, some of them have never paid for music.

Oh and forget stamps. Never used

Phil said...

Great post. I scored about a 70% digital native, mostly I suspect because I still read the newsPAPER (in addition to e-news), and because I talk rather than text. I can't wait to read the book and see/hear your thoughts and experiment with it in the classroom. I've ordered my copy too.