Digital Natives, Digital Skills–but not always

Every day I see evidence in my high school English classes that makes it clear I’m preparing my students for a future in society and the workplace that I did not experience myself. This has always been true—a generation gap has always existed—but I argue that each graduating class marks a more extreme difference from the experience I had growing up. My family purchased our first computer when I was in 7th grade, I don’t remember using the internet for anything other than email during high school, and I got my first cell phone when I was a junior in college. The kids in my high school English classes haven’t experienced any part of their lives without the existence of these, and many more, technologies. They are “digital natives,” as Marc Prensky explains in his article “Listen to the Natives.” Those of us who have gradually acquired technology skills over the past few decades as we witnessed the inventions and developments of the Web, cell phones, wireless networking, mp3 players, and the list goes on, Prensky has termed “digital immigrants.”  This creates a challenging situation for digital immigrant teachers. I’m sure nearly every teacher has been in a situation where the projector, laptop, phone, speakers, camera, etc., wasn’t working right, and a student was the one to fix the problem. Persky goes so far as to say

Our students are no longer “little versions of us,” as they may have been in the past. In fact, they are so different from us that we can no longer use either our 20th century knowledge or our training as a guide to what is best for them educationally. … Our students, as digital natives, will continue to evolve and change so rapidly that we won’t be able to keep up.

I’m more optimistic than this; my brief search for digital writing pedagogies turned up a plethora of articles and books on the topic. Some digital immigrants may never have the ease and comfort of a digital native, but I think many are putting forth a valiant effort to research and implement technology in the classroom.

Some may ask, why bother with digital literacy when most teens seem to acquire it effortlessly? It’s true that we may be daunted at times by the seeming expertise of the teens in our classrooms, but we need to remember that there are some technology-related skills that young natives don’t have.

My research project for E633 aims partly at solutions for teaching digital natives the skills they don’t have, which are often critical thinking-type skills related to evaluations of sources and discernment of private and public spaces. My next blogs will show more of what I’ve found; for now, back to the research!

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