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Of "Digital Immigrants" and "Digital Natives": Change Versus Continuity



This week we opened our class by looking at Marc Prensky's metaphor of "digital natives" and "digital immigrants." Prensky argues that young people today are fundamentally different than they were ten, twenty, fifty, of five hundred years ago. But is this true?

Take some time to reflect on the students in your classroom currently. To what extent have digital technologies influenced them to the point that they are different than when you were in school? To what extent are your students the same as when you were their age? Do you agree with Prensky? Disagree? How? Why?

Please explain yourself fluently and insightfully in approximately 700, and pepper your comments with some quotes taken from the articles handed out in class.

This blogsite posting will come due at the beginning of our next class meeting on June 28, 2011.



When I first started school in 1988, it was a lot like 1960. We had a teacher, textbooks, desks, worksheets, rewards, pencils, pens, chalkboards, lectures, reading, bullying, hormones, and confusions. In 4th and 5th grade, I was really into computer games, such as Oregon Trail. When I was in the heart of my 7th grade year, I received a pager for my birthday. A present that would allow my parents to get ahold of me. In 10th grade, I finally got a cell phone, I was beginning to drive. I started talking to friends and finding myself in “serious” relationships with boys. In class, we had overhead projectors, computers, and TVs that looked like big boxes. I didn’t get the opportunity to experience document cameras, flat screen TVs, laptops, blogs, wikis, skype, social medias, ipods, itunes, or iphones. I think all these items listed below only add to the complex minds of our students. They should be seen as positive additions and not just problems. Social media can provide problems, but so can phone calls, pages, or text messages. We are constantly surrounded by social issues. Let’s concentrate on raising and discussing the proper ways to use technology that will benefit the children of tomorrow. These children are our future.
“Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.” Well, yes and no. I believe that our children are somewhere in the middle. Looking at the chart of the 1960s vs. 2011, there are a lot of similarities. However, there are also a lot of differences or areas where we have evolved in the technology field of education. I agree with Prensky when he states that, “an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back.” I couldn’t imagine school, let alone life, without computers, Internet, google, cell phones, or social media. All those aspects of life make up the 21st century in which we are living in. The rapid increase of technology in schools is only going to increase and continue getting faster. Today’s students have been exposed to the new technologies since they were young, so it all comes natural. They have spent their entire lives in front of screens and using electronics. They use computers, video games, digital music players, video/digital cameras, cell phones, and other technological tools. I also believe that all these ideals are a part of their lives. They live and breath technology. With that said, there is a lot more to it than saying that it’s because “they brain is wired that way.” Pensky states that “today’s students think and process information fundamentally different.” I don’t necessarily agree with that. There is no empirical evidence to back his statement. Yes, we live in a more technological world, but children still learn to read the same, they still learn to spell and do math problems the same, and they still progress from grade to grade.
I really liked the way he used “Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives.” I do agree that the Digital Immigrants have to work harder to understand and gain the knowledge into the technology that our society uses. That doesn’t mean that they cannot adapt to some new technologies as they continue their career. Like we have all learned, learning any language at a young age is a lot easier than trying to learn it as an adult. It’s the same for technology. The Digital Natives can understand and use technology easily, it comes natural. They were raised knowing it at a young age. I don’t believe the “single biggest problem” of education today is the diminishing or nonuse of technology. There are a lot of bigger problems than that which students face on a daily basis: not understanding, bullying, hormones, confusion, etc. As for students not being able to understand the Digital Immigrants because their words are “outdated” is false. It’s no different than teaching academic vocabulary. Students are not necessarily expected to understand everything the first time it’s presented. Like any key vocabulary taught in any subject, it needs to be presented in a way that they students will understand. For example, “dial a number”, the teacher could explain that before we had cell phones we had to physically dial each number before we called someone. Tell them to take out their phones and write down someones number on a piece of paper. Now go to the dial keys and type that number in. What happens? The phone will show that person’s name and it will dial. I don’t see the problem with explaining to students what society used to have to do, before technology evolved. Digital Natives do in fact “thrive on instant gratification and rewards.” Where I agree with Pensky on that statement, I do not agree that the children are used to receiving information really fast. In a classroom setting, especially ones I have witnessed, students learn at different levels and paces. Yes, some students love the fast paced teaching and can follow along without any struggle. However, there are still those students who need to be retaught or for the teacher to go back to the “traditional” teaching when they went step-by-step, and there is nothing wrong with that. Traditional teaching practices are not foreign and they still work in today’s society. I believe that teachers should add to their curriculum with hands-on and visually stimulating lessons. I think Pensky said it perfect when he said, “Smart adult immigrants accept that they don’t know about their new worlds and take advantage of their kids to help them learn and integrate. Not-so-smart immigrants spend most of their time grousing about how good things were in the ‘old country.’” Teachers, especially those who are close to retirement, don’t want to accept the “new” ways to teach, possibly in a more effective manner. Students are interested in technology and electronics. Why not bring those items into the class and let the students explore? They will be engaged in higher level thinking and their little minds will stay stimulated. Give them new knowledge and excitement that they may not have seen before.
As for Pensky’s argument on “legacy and future content,” I think that learning about software, hardware, and how to put together a computer is for students who are interested in those areas. Not all students care how a computer is put together, such as myself. Also, inventing computer games should be a choice for those students who are interested in that. At a school in Newbury Park that I subbed for, they had a technology elective class where they made their own video games. I thought it was inventive and interactive for the students to experience such a class. With that said, it’s not for everyone and I don’t believe it will help ALL our students.
Lastly, I believe presentation of the content is the most important ideal for teaching. I loved the example about the Holocaust, as well as memorizing geography. My final thought is, the most effective teaching integrates the new with the old. Saying that we still teach like teachers years ago is a huge statement in what works for children. With technology being a huge part of today, as well as future societies, that must also be integrated in the classroom. We want our students to always be a few steps ahead, not falling a few leaps behind.

Whenever I sub for an upper elementary class, I notice students talking about something new going around on the internet. Something to the extent of, “Have you seen the new _______ video on youtube?” or “Have you seen the clip yet of __________ falling off of the stage?” (I put blanks because the proper nouns that would go into the blank spaces, changes on a weekly, if not daily basis.) When I sub for middle school or high school classes, there is inevitably a pre-established rule written down for me by the regular teacher regarding a zero tolerance policy for ipods. And inevitably, there are at least one or two students in each period that think they are being sneaky when they listen to their music. I take this chance to let them know I’m aware of what they are doing, but instead of imposing this impossible rule, I use it as bargaining leverage, and allow them to listen to their music if and only if they work quietly. It actually works most of the time. Back when I was in elementary school, we talked about a new movie or a TV show like Beverly Hills 90210, or Paula Abdoul’s new tape. In middle school, we talked about who had gotten suspended or had blown off some fingers playing with M80’s. (Those were really popular where I’m from.) In high school, sometimes a teacher would let us hear a radio station on the boom box if we were working quietly, but this ended up pleasing only some of the students, as not everyone likes the same kind of music. I don’t think kids are very different today than 20 years ago. Their conversations are different, but their feelings and needs are the same. I do agree with Prensky though, that kids today are used to receiving information a lot faster than when I was in school.

If what Prensky posits is true, that due to the different experiences kids are having, their brains are physically different than ours, I think that that is pretty exciting. “It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently form their predecessors.” I don’t have any dispute with the idea that they think differently, but I’m not so convinced on the processing part of the argument. He never actually cited any conclusive research that showed just how their brains are different compared to ours. Prensky claims that, “based on the latest research in neurobiology, there is no longer any question that stimulation of various kinds actually changes brain structures and affects the way people think, and that these transformations go on throughout life.” But then he later admits that, “we haven’t yet directly observed Digital Natives’ brains to see whether they are physically different…” It makes me wonder why he is making some of the claims that he is when the research hasn’t even been done yet. Also, if the brain transformations “go on throughout life,” doesn’t that mean there is hope for the Digital Immigrants he keeps bagging on if they are willing to change?

If I allow myself to go along with Prensky’s theory in spite of his lack of evidence-based research, I have to admit, the thought of a new generation of kids with brains physically different from our own is a bit thrilling and also a bit scary. I’m sure my brain is wired differently than a hunter/gatherer’s from the first century if for no other reason than that my experiences are different from their experiences, and my diet is different, too. Evolution doesn’t scare me, losing something sacred in the search for “advancement” does though. I think we should make sure that in this digital evolution, we hold on to some important things, lest we evolve right out of the ability to sit down and be still and quiet for a while, or lose the ability to enjoy and appreciate nature.

In this article, "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" by Marc Prensky, it states that, "Our students have changed radically. Today's students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach." I agree with this statement as this has been the controversy throughout our educational structure. Effective teachers have had to make changes to their teaching methods and strategies in order to meet the needs of their students. There have been major changes in the technology world where schools are "trying" to keep up with these changes. 20 years ago when I was in third grade, I remember the overhead projector being used and the chalkboards filled with lots of "3rd grade" information. IBM computers were being used in the computer labs in the schools. As far as what was happening in the classroom, our teacher's lesson plans would include a mini lecture, some type of independent or group work, and a hands on activity. When I reached high school, the teachers continued to lecture; some used power point presentations; others, like my history teacher who used vhs throughout his lesson. I remember when I was in high school and my close friends and I created a "Best Friends Journal". We would decorate the notebook with pictures, clippings from magazines, and color. It was basically used to write about what was going on in our lives. When we would see each other through passing periods we would hand off the notebook to one of our best friends and they would have it for a couple of days and decorate it as well. We continued this for the whole year. The following year, pagers were being used and replaced our "Best Friends Journal". The pagers were used to create messages from friend to friend. As that got old, cellular phones and text messaging came into the picture along with creating your own MySpace and facebook page. I don't really think anything has drastically changed other than the technology. The high school students continue to have cliques in the schools. As mentioned in the classroom, students continue to have the "popular" crowd, and they endure falling in love and experience from broken hearts just as we have done in high school. The only difference would be how we were able to communicate all of this.
This generation has access to more technology which include, ipads, iphones, laptops, facebook, twitter, blogs, wikis,social media, and email just to name a few. Prensky writes, "Today's average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV)." This is the reason it is crucial for teachers to be able to use the most present technology in their classroom to an extent. Prensky continues to write, "Today's students - K through college- represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology." So as an educator I hope to instill technology throughout my lesson plan for my "Digital Natives". They are called this because "of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet" (Prensky). I would be referred to as a "Digital Immigrant" because I was "not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compare to them" (Prensky). I think it is important that there is a need for teachers to become part of the digital age in order to be successful in the classroom; they need to create a connection with their students of this generation.