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Digital Natives: Another Myth?

CJ Westerberg, July 17, 2011 10:31 PM


(Editor's Note: Are adults relinquishing responsibility for technology to kids?  Educator Tom Whitby weighs in with some great points. Whitby has 30+ years of teaching experience in the public school system and has a popular Ning teacher professional learning network -
details below.   - C.J. Westerberg)

"As educators, how can we teach kids what they need for their world in a technologically competitive society, if we are not keeping up with it?"
-Tom Whitby

 Digital Native Myth Buster

by Tom Whitby

After a wonderful experience at the ISTE11 Conference in Philadelphia, I finally made
the decision to get away from any computer and get myself to the beach for a week to decompress . . . (Editor's snip)

During my stay at the beach, I am constantly asked by folks what is it that I am doing these days.  Of course explaining my involvement in Social Media in Education is a discussion that eradicates decompression, so I try to simplify.  "I am involved with using technology as a learning tool in education."  This often brings the response about how kids today know everything they need to know about computers:

They are "Digital Natives!"

It is that very attitude by adults that had a generation of kids programming the family VCR's
 to record shows, or to at least stop the blinking "12 AM" light. That single task may have marked the very time when adults relinquished responsibility for technology to kids.

It is true that when it comes to Technology stuff, kids approach it differently. They are less intimidated, and less concerned with breaking something. They are more intuitive when it comes to technology use. Most devices and applications now have many more common bells and whistles that carry through to other devices and applications.
Of course this behavior in tech use is learned through repetitive actions, as a result of this commonality of devices and applications and may suggest or give an appearance to a non-tech user that it is an example of a native intelligence for technology. However, it is, in fact, very much a learned behavior.

It is that very attitude, however, that is misleading to many educators.

If there is one thing that can be learned from politicians it is this:  Facts do not matter!  If you say something often enough, and long enough, people will believe it, regardless of the facts. That seems to be the case when it comes to adult perceptions of youth and Technology.

I have written about this before, but obviously a majority of our vast population has missed or not gotten around to my earlier posts. I now teach in Higher Education. My experience is that most students are experienced in texting, downloading music and video, creating some music and many ringtones, and having a fair knowledge of word-processing. Lest I forget, they are master Googlers (I am not even sure that is a word), as well as copy-and-paste superstars.

"Teaching how to access, process and communicate requires technology and mentoring skills.  The creation of content may become a shared experience with teachers and students."

Primary teachers leave technology to the secondary teachers; Secondary teachers leave technology to the Higher Ed Teachers; and Higher Ed teachers assume that students are "digital natives".  Tech skills of Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Research, Social Learning, and Media Literacy in general are not being taught by some educators, but rather being assumed to be mastered by our digital natives. 

Of course a question obvious to many is, if these are skills required for media literacy, how many of our educators are media literate?  The answer to that is critical to how many educators will enthusiastically embrace teaching with tools of technology.  No, this does not apply to all educators, but if it does apply to some, then that is too many.

If we are making assumptions that our students are digital natives and using Tech intuitively, then we need not require further technology education of our educators.  Of course this is ridiculous. But then again, the more I speak about relevance in education by using Technology as a tool for learning for both educators and students, the more I experience resistance to do so.  The objection that always pops up is we don't need technology to be good teachers.  Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with that.  If we are teaching kids to master skills that will make them at least productive and at most competitive in their world, which is still developing its technology then we do need it in education.

"Again, to be better educators, we need to be better learners." 

As educators, how can we teach kids what they need for their world in a technologically competitive society, if we are not keeping up with it?  These skills are not intuitive; they are learned.  In order to be learned, they need to be taught.  In order to be taught by educators, these skills need to be learned by educators.   Again, to be better educators, we need to be better learners. 

Believing in the myth of digital natives does not relieve us of the responsibility to teaching with tools of technology.  We need not teach all the bells and whistles, but, as relevant educators, we need to employ Technology as a tool for learning where it is appropriate.  Technology will never replace teachers but it will change the way they teach.  Content may be delivered more by mentoring than lecturing.  The best content experts cannot compare their knowledge to that which becomes available on the internet.  Teaching how to access, process and communicate that requires technology and mentoring skills.  The creation of content may become a shared experience with teachers and students.

If we, as educators, personally use and teach with technology consistently throughout the education system, we will need not teach technology, because our kids will be digital natives.


Posted on Tom Whitby My Island View with minor edits and added bold for emphasis.

Tom Whitby Bio:  I am an Adjunct Professor of Education at St Joseph's College in New York. I came to that position after 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the Public School system. I created the Ning site, The Educator's PLN. http://edupln.ning.com/
  • I agree wholeheartedly! Thanks for saying it all so eloquently.

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