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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?