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Of Digital "Natives" and "Immigrants"



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 November 21, 2011.



Reading the first portion of the paper in class, I had mixed feelings of the article. The author, Marc Prensky, made some very bold claims like “our students have changed radically” (Prensky 1) and throws out some pretty big numbers without citing his sources. Despite this, I found myself agreeing with Prensky a lot because, while our students deal with the same main issues we dealt with and our parents dealt with, the technology that is available to students these days has put a new twist on everything. The technology helps to build a very superficial divide to an already existing cultural clash, but the main issues that teens struggle with today are the same issues that teens struggled with 30 or 40 years ago. This article, however, isn’t so much about the issues teens face as it is about how to properly educate a “digital native” (basically a student born in 1988 or later) in this present age.
In the 3rd paragraph, Prensky says “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). Computer games, emails, the Internet, cell phones, and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives” (Prensky 1). While I do think books are becoming less read with the general population, people are still reading. Whenever people read emails or browse the internet, they are reading. When people are text messaging or checking out whatever social media site they use, they are reading. Reading is not outdated and is still a very viable form for gaining knowledge. Prensky doesn’t say otherwise, but hints at this through vague passages. In the 4th and 11th paragraph (on the 2nd page) Pensky talks about how the students “think and process information” differently and that they prefer to receive information “really fast” (Pensky 2). Pensky is talking about the ease of access to information through the internet. I think that this is awesome. The internet (and other forms of technology) should be used whenever applicable. But what Pensky doesn’t touch on is the byproduct of the ease of information. Students aren’t learning the value of hard work. Anything that isn’t at the tip of their fingers, they don’t want to reach for. Pensky talks about actual work like it’s outdated. Not all work is fun, and while I think that we should attempt to make all education fun and exciting whenever we can, some things that are necessary aren’t going to be fun. Being able to do things that we don’t want to do is a valuable skill in itself.
The article goes on to say many things that have irritated me. While I think and agree with the overall message that (I believe) Pensky is trying to make (which is that when need to bridge the technological gap between teachers and students, integrating more technology into the classroom), Pensky’s tone in the article is very offsetting and degrading to anyone who is not part of the “D” generation. Pensky is also very vague in his article as most of it seems to attack older teachers without providing any real solution. In the end, I agree with Pensky’s overall goal but I would have rather read this article if it was written by someone who had a less degrading tone and offered a solution to all the problems being brought up.

To what extent have digital technologies influenced them to the point that they are different than when you were in school?

One of the most bittersweet viral videos I have ever seen is this one http://youtu.be/APE8M9MeOWA , of a little girl who thinks a magazine is an iPad. At first, I thought it was really cool that even a two year old could use an iPad, but then I was sad because one of the most fun things I ever did as a small child was play with a box. (True story—My siblings and I all got to play with the box our new refrigerator came in and we had a blast!) So what about the kids today? What’s more interesting—the iPad or the box that it came in? Clearly, there’s something in the colors, brightness, and responsiveness of an iPad that makes it much more engaging for a child to play with. However, because that sort of stuff didn’t exist when I was younger, we had to engage our imaginations and it is in this sense that digital technologies have changed the next generation. I believe their imaginations no longer engage, and Prentsky words this thought as a newfound lack of appreciation for reflection and critical thinking.

Prentsky writes that brains and thinking patterns don’t just change overnight. I wonder, then, if it was my generation that bridged the gap between the digital natives and digital immigrants. For so long, our society was training our children to read and at this point—their brains have been retrained. Prentsky attributes this to the fact that Pong was developed in 1974. The fact that video games have the ability to suck people, children in particular, for hours on end, has never quite sat well with me. Now, I’m realizing that it is a different sort of creativity that is being taught through video games. I realize that in order to develop video games, one must be incredibly creative and be able to focus intensely on a single project.

Students are different now and having recently purchased an xbox 360 with kinect, I can see why. Why read a book when you can act it out? Why take a test when you can run through a simulation? I do feel like the D-generation has seen a whole new world, and we can either keep up with their world or shun it. I choose keep up.

Prensky’s article about “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” certainly poses an interesting perspective about today’s students and the advancement of technology. It is interesting to think of myself as a “digital immigrant” teaching “digital natives.” As Prensky proclaims, “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.” While this thought can be somewhat intimidating, I like to view this challenge as a way to enhance and expand upon my teaching abilities.

As I read Prensky’s article, he certainly makes a good point about today’s youth growing up with an immense amount of digital media and technology. Any look around my high school’s campus would support this claim: students watching You Tube videos after school on their cell phones, communicating via facebook, twitter, etc, and text messaging instead of making a phone call. To this end, I can agree with Prensky when he suggests that “Today’s teachers have to learn to communicate in the language and style of their students.” Not taking advantage of digital media in the classroom, communicating via blogs and websites, and exploring new content using educational software would be unwise. After all, technology has a great deal to offer the school system.

On the other hand, there are times while reading Prensky’s article that I think he makes too radical of claims. For example, he claims that “today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently than their predecessors.” I am not sure that today’s youth is quite as different as Prensky is proclaiming. The digital technology that surrounds our students’ every day lives is certainly different, but I feel that they are still able to process information when in the right learning environment. For example, I think the idea of creating a computer game to present information and/or logical thinking is an innovative method. There is no harm in substituting textbook reading with stimulating technology. As reinforced by Prensky, “We need to invent Digital Native methodologies for all subjects, at all levels, using our students to guide us.”

Having said all of this, I don’t think any of us can deny that closing the language barrier between digital immigrants and digital natives will be easy. Learning to teach using digital methodology will require a large mind-shift. Digital immigrants are accustomed to teaching tasks in order, at a slow academic speed, and using traditional pedagogical language. The thought of eliminating traditional language and moving at a faster pace with technology is certainly a radical idea. We need to be open to the possibilities that technology has to offer and be willing to put in the time and effort to change our thinking. After all, “It’s just dumb (and lazy) of educators – not to mention ineffective – to presume that the Digital Immigrant way is the only way to teach, and that the Digital Natives’ ‘language’ is not as capable as their own way of encompassing any and every idea.”

To conclude, Prensky’s article certainly raises an important point about the future of our education system and it needs to continue to be discussed. The digital immigrants need to begin to cross the border towards digital natives and while I think “legacy” content should remain the backbone and structure of education, “future” content offers the promise of augmenting and expanding upon students’ comprehension.