But, they are supposed to be digital natives… aren’t they?

I’m collaboratively teaching a pilot course this semester that brings together preservice English, social studies and music education students — all centered around the study of digital humanities, web 2.0 tools, and conducting action research during the student teaching semester from which our folks can actually walk away and say “here was the instructional value added” of teaching in the ways we’re trying to model in the class.

All of this was predicated from the notion that our students (ages 20 – 24) were coming to us with skills/talents/interests that map into their role as “players” in a generation that has always known a digital world.

This started to get disrupted a bit as we examined their early thinking about learning 2.0 and digital technologies, but as it was the first day of class, we pushed on.  First reading for the course – Born Digital (a really compelling, new read that most of the students were talking about as they entered the classroom – always a good sign).  First task for the second day of the course – using a flip video camera, interview one another (approximately 2-5 minutes, depending on the direction and track of the conversation) in pursuit of the question “Are you a digital native?”

20 students in the course.  On the first day of class, we’d asked the same question using pollanywhere – 38% yes, 33% no, 29% A What???  On this second day, 20 students in the course (each who had done some signifcant reading and had experienced activities during the first day which were designed to really rattle their thinking) – 18 no, 2 yes.

Where this was striking to me, more compelling were their comments…

“A characteristic of the digital native – they are somewhat less original than others as ideas are so quickly distributed.  I don’t want to be that.  I am transitioning into this culture but I remember and miss life before technology.”

“I am not a digital native.  Computers aren’t my thing.  I reject that whole scene.  Technology doesn’t come naturally to me… I think deeply across one source.  Digital natives read on the surface and mix across sources.”

“I collect beta tapes.  Now, you get a cell phone in elementary school.  Big gap there.  I don’t consider myself to be in that.”

“You’re talking about someone who can adapt what they know about technology and move that into what is new.  I’m kind of up to date at this moment, but there is too much new stuff to say that. I’m not that flexible.”

“My life is online with facebook, photos… But, that is me the person, not me the teacher.”

“I resist being up to date.  Maybe it is this generation, but I’m not.”

“I’ve never done what I see in this class – blogs, wikis, ipods.  So, if I thought I knew something, that has shifted.”

“My parents are more digital natives than I am.  They send me picture messages with sound, and I have no idea how they did that.”

“I don’t know how to use an ipod.  I don’t have a digital camera.  I email.  That shuts me out of that, right?”

“We’re all behind.”

“Maybe I’m a digital adolescent.  I can figure it out, but I’m not immersed in it – and don’t go there first… or even second.  I check my email… other than that… umm…”

“I might be.  I use the cell phone to get money from Mom and Dad.  But I have no idea what a flip, a meno, a kindle is.”

“I’ve thought about this a lot.  I am one.  I’m not as savvy as I’d like, but I like to know what is going on.  I’ll give it a couple of hours – or all day and all night.  That’s play.  I’m a multi-tasker who isn’t afraid of change.”

Where am I going with all this (keeping in mind that I have so much more unpacking and thinking to go)?  We have a growing body of literature in the field of education that argues that THIS GENERATION OF TEACHERS will be the ones to really move student learning through their unique grasp of new literacies and technology.  Not only do my students here (at a highly technical university) not have the schema of what this looks like in terms of their teaching – they also are not engaging in the kinds of practices that are generalized to be happening across their generation.

As seems to be usual, I’m left with more questions than answers as I think this through… Are my students unique?  Were the researchers who forecasted this large shift in the pedagogy, practice and literacies of young teachers just wrong?   After all, aren’t these preservice teachers/students supposed to be digital natives?


6 responses to “But, they are supposed to be digital natives… aren’t they?

  1. “My life is online with facebook, photos… But, that is me the person, not me the teacher.”

    This comment is so telling to me. I am surprised that more of your students don’t seem to be familiar with technology tools in their personal lives. Even if they were, however, the idea of “school” has been so set apart from “real life” for so long, that this will be a huge hurdle to overcome.

    Having been educated in schools that were still using “information transmittal” methods, it can be hard even for this generation to break away from that model and see how new methods and tools can be used to help students learn in new ways.

  2. I feel like we’ve been sold a bill of goods about how teens are using technology which is flawed. Teens are using technology to be social but don’t want to think about connecting their usage beyond their social interactions. Inservice classes like yours are crucial to the future development of teachers in a digital age. Keep fighting the good fight.

  3. Give it 4 years and you’ll be getting the students who couldn’t imagine being without the internet. I think that people often have incorrect ideas of what groups constitutes a digital native.

    In short: students aren’t digital natives until they can’t remember a time without prolific internet use.

  4. Where I appreciate your definition, the research literature (and conventional media) has really positioned the students who are in this cohort (and generation) to be in a position to leverage the unique capacities of specific tools to empower learners – and to amplify how we engage with and learn content. I think that we can always “point back” and say “oh, it must be the next group” – as we have done for several years – or, we can look to our ideas about teaching, digital technology, learning, etc. and put useful and important pressures on the term “digital native” in the hopes of opening up something much more useful, transformative, generative, etc.

  5. Sara, I teach at a pk-12 independent school in VA. I’ve been in the classroom for more than 25 years and have been focusing on digital literacy the past few years in my own class and with other teachers. I see the range of attitudes and “posturing” you discuss in my 6-12 grade students as well as in our first and second year teachers. Some react out of fear– fear of change, fear of having to figure out a new path to success in the class. For others, this disruption challenges them positively, and I see them grabbing various tools and using them in transformative ways. I can’t answer your questions, but as a teacher/instructional tech coordinator, I don’t give in to the “push-back.” Most fascinating to me is how we have talked about what real learning looks like for so long; the technological tools we now have make this learning possible if we are willing to take the steps.

  6. Every semester I help several high school students set up their very first email, help many more upload their first photo, and help even more than that attach a document to an email. They’re stumped, deer in the headlights. I ask them “where” they saved a document, and they look at me blankly.

    I’m not saying that *many* kids take to it like fish to water, and that some don’t digitally outperform most of the adults in their lives, but the statistics I see from the Pew foundation and other sources don’t line up with my experiences.

    Some of this has to do with the ‘digital divide’, and I feel like we have our own third world nation growing right here in the US.

    In the meantime, I just keep helping kids stumble through email sign up, keep the look of surprise off my face, and gently show them where to find teacher emails.

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