As part of my EdTech blogging course, our professor offered the following prompt:
“Earlier this summer semester, you read:
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6). Retrieved fromhttp://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2). Retrieved fromhttp://fno.org/nov07/nativism.html
Reeves, T.C. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum from January 22-25, 2008 at http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/Paper104/ReevesITForumJan08.pdf
The main take aways from these readings included:
- while the theory of generational differences exists and is a valid theory, there is no research at present that indicates instructional designers should modify instruction or instructional strategies to accommodate today’s generation of students
- there is no reliable and valid research to support the belief that technology has somehow changed today’s generation of students
- further to the fact that Prensky’s notion of digital natives isn’t based on research, McKenzie does a convincing job of illustrating how Prensky even misused the anecdotal “evidence” that he presents to support is beliefs
- the only thing that can be said about today’s student, based upon reliable and valid research, is that they are more narcissistic than any previous generation
However, even faced with these realities in almost every semester where I use these three readings there are multiple students – often the majority of students – who still believe that the students they teach are fundamentally influenced by digital technology and it has changed the way that they learn in the classroom.
As educational technologists, what did you take away from these generational differences readings? How would you handle a colleague who bought into the notion of digital natives?“
While I am a strong proponent of sociology and anthropology and their use in classrooms, I know these are generalizations, like the findings of most any study. We, as teachers, see children every day who do not fit into the molds set forth about them based on their gender, age, race, sexuality, level of intelligence, area of town, standardized test scores, course levels, and more. We know that differentiation matters because all children are different, so I appreciate information like this for basic information’s sake but not for the be all, end all. It is not the final word. Instead, I base my teaching on what I see of my own students and what’s best for them more than what a study of other students says.
So here’s what I see:
My students love their cell phones but don’t do much more than surface-level activity on them. They play games that require very little in-depth thinking, things that last maybe 60-90 second bursts at a time and often times are rapid paced. In addition to game playing, they check Twitter and love Instagram and Tumblr. They’re becoming increasingly more visual and less textual. Like the games, they want surface level and quick. Their love of visual is moving into text messaging too, and they’re moving away from public displays of information – Tumblr isn’t as public and does not allow true comments the way most other social networking does. They don’t communicate with Twitter as much, and instead, they spend much more time talking to friends with Snapchat, an app that allows them to send private messages to friends that are usually pictures or video and might have limited text too. Its appeal rests in the fact that the message disappears (or supposedly does) as soon as its read, so they like its anonymity (though it can be saved, screen-shotted, etc.).
To me, the way this informs my classroom is that my students need a break from their phones most days. I spend a lot of time telling them at the beginning of the year that it’s okay to put them away, take a break, not respond just because it vibrates. They are not Pavlov’s dog. They do not HAVE to respond. When they do get to use their phone in my class, I’m trying to show them the more in-depth versions of what it can do and then move that in-depth work into the classroom work. My students need to be more patient and need to “drill down” as some of my colleagues say. They want to stay on the surface and go quick, quick, quick. So I need to help them take more time, dig deeper into text, and see other ways to use technology beyond socializing.
I don’t know if all of this means that students are fundamentally influenced by technology. I know that these aforementioned readings, at the youngest, are still six years old and in terms of technology, that’s significant. Most teachers I talk to, who have been in the classroom much longer than me, say they do see a difference in the students overall with this idea of taking less time with their work and digging less into it. With five years under my belt, I have not seen enough to tell them they’re wrong. And the articles aren’t modern enough for me to use them to support my argument either, since most of their research would have happened before their publication, making them even older. All I know is what I see, and I know what I need to do to help my students prepare for life after high school.
As for my colleagues believing in the idea of the digital native, I don’t think anyone I work with believes they cannot learn because of their age or that they are somehow fundamentally less capable because they were not raised with technology. Yes, it’s harder to learn when you’re older, and there’s lots of research that reinforces that idea. But it doesn’t pertain to only technology but learning in general. However, I know all of my colleagues work their behinds off to keep up with the changing times and changing technology, trying to know what their students know in order to keep their techniques relevant and keep their students engaged. While the basic skills of literature haven’t changed too much, how we go about teaching it and engaging students in it have, and that’s where technology comes into play. If I were to come across anyone in my department who believes in the idea of the digital native, I would merely offer up what I said previously – all learning is harder when you don’t grow up with it, not just technology, but we must keep up with the times and with our students in order to be most effective. I know no teacher who would disagree with that.