“Digital Natives"? Yeah… Riiiight.

I’ve been spending the past 2 days at NETA (Nebraska Educational Technology Association) http://netasite.org/ 

Before that, I spent a day at EdCampOmaha, and there’s been something that I’ve been hearing a lot about: Digital Natives.

For those of you who don’t know, Wikipedia defines a digital native as the following:

”A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts.”

It also provides a different definition for those who weren’t born during this time (either born before 1960, or born before 1990, depending on your views): Digital Immigrants.

If you’re scratching your heads about this idea (or just curious why I’d be posting this on a blog that mostly talks about things like new ROMs and software for the LG Fathom, or a patch or two for the Palm OS Hotsync) then let me explain it a bit better.

Digital Natives is a term that was invented by people who want an easy copout for why they don’t want to teach children with technology, or why they don’t understand it.

If you’re still lost as to why I am so upset about this, let me explain my view:
I am currently going to school at Concordia University Nebraska to become a secondary educator (fancy word for high school teacher) in the English and Computer Science sections. Over this past semester as I’ve mentioned above, I attended NETA and EdCampOmaha, both of which demonstrate exactly how important it is for educators to embrace the technology that has been invented since either the 60s or the 90s, depending on how you look at it (and how “traditional” your school is)

As someone who sees technology as something useful and necessary for teaching today’s students, I dislike the copouts that some schools and teachers are using. Nobody is a digital native beyond the idea that they may have been born at a certain time and have possibly been exposed to technology. This doesn’t make they any more able or willing to use it in an educational setting, and it definitely doesn’t mean they know how to use technology properly.

I grew up in the 90s, but I would not consider myself to be a digital native. I did grow up with a computer, but that doesn’t mean I can understand technology any better. I still had to learn what to do as technology changed (and I started behind with a TI99\4A and an Apple IIe) and I have to keep on learning with the pace that technology changes. I’ll gladly admit that when I first started using computers, it was for the games. I didn’t write papers on them, I didn’t know how to operate them, I only knew that if I jammed a cartridge into the TI and slid the power button over, it should bring up my game. I didn’t know how to keyboard properly (I had about 1 word per minute at that time) and I didn’t use it for anything more than games, but that didn’t mean my parents didn’t use it. Our Apple and our TI were also home computer systems. We had finance software for the TI, and my mother actually wrote her own bookkeeping software for the Apple. (and that’s saying something, because my mom didn’t give up XP until this past summer, and can’t figure out her HTC TouchPro 2)

Is my mother a digital native because she wrote a program in BASIC that was capable of balancing her checkbook? I doubt it. Does my dad get the title because he’s been using computers since a Mac SE? I doubt it. My dad may know how to operate a computer, he may enjoy Angry Birds on my Tablet, but that doesn’t make him a native to anything.

The same goes for my younger brother. When I got a new computer or laptop, he got the old one. Does that make him a native? nope. He’s got a desktop, a laptop, a netbook, and helps run my Server, HTPC, and NAS. Does that make him a native? nope. He may understand how to power on a computer and how to load up a game, but he is no further along than I was at his age. He understands the tools, but he needs to learn how to use them for more.

Here’s an analogy: Let’s say that it’s the pre-computer era. You’re learning how to write the alphabet. At home you’ve already learned how to pick up a pencil and write your name. Does that make you a pencil native since you already learned how to use the tool before you went to school? NO. You may be able to scratch your name on a sheet of paper, but you don’t understand the concepts, mechanics, and necessity of proper penmanship, grammar, spelling and the understanding of the language.

Fast forward to now, and we have kids who grow up playing on iPads, Gameboys and all sorts of other toys that are digital. They may recognize a keyboard and know what letters and buttons do different things, but all that does is show they recognize the tool. Don’t cop out and expect them to understand the reasons for using the tool in education because they know how to turn the iPad on and open up Angry Birds or DrawSomething. They’re not further ahead than I was when I started using a computer. The technology may have advanced, but we’re not native on anything. We’re still needing to show the students what to do and how to do it.

You don’t give a kid a bicycle and tell them “go for it, you’ve seen us do it and you can ride an exercise bike”. You help them along and teach them things like wearing a helmet and how to stop properly. That’s what we need to teach children about technology. We can’t just let them coast because they already know how to turn it on. Show them how to use it.

I know people on this campus who can’t hit more than 20 words per minute because they never learned the tool. Their school never showed them how to type properly. They skipped right over that and tried to show them how to format their papers in Word 98 and how to make a spreadsheet in Excel 95. We’re past that. There’s kids making money on the Apple App store, and there’s college students struggling to write their 20 page paper because their school never showed them how.

We are not digital natives. We need to show students that they aren’t either. Nobody knows how to properly use a tool until they are instructed on it. We need to instruct students about how to use the tool properly and effectively, beyond the turning it on stuff. How sad would it be if the “Digital generation” ended up being worse off than the current one, or the one before that because their school didn’t teach them how to be a digital citizen and use the tools properly.

We don’t teach children about the pencil, explaining that there is a piece of graphite sandwiched between two pieces of wood. We don’t have to explain the mechanics of that. Why do we then waste an hour of student’s lives trying to teach them what a keyboard is, what a mouse is, what the internet is. They know that much, show them what they’re not learning. Show them what the internet can do! show them what the computer can do! and in the process, make them better.



And that’s my long awaited rant about how crappy my education was and how I hope that schools can get the idea and fix what’s wrong.



About Author
Someone who feels the need to help others using the information that I have discovered. If someone else finds it useful, I'm more than happy to have helped.

2 Responses to “Digital Natives"? Yeah… Riiiight.

  1. traxxion says:

    As you say, using an Xbox, iPad or Gameboy actually teaches you less about computing than typing a program out in BASIC as was done in the past. I honestly think most people are anything but ‘natives’, often with less knowledge about technology than their parents. As with engineering, genetics, chemistry, sport or any other ability/faculty, you MAY have a gift for it and even then you must always develop it or else you have nothing.

  2. DAGMAN5 says:

    i am native digital, borned on 1996!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: