Stop calling them Digital Natives!

IMG_0257Stop calling them digital natives! They are digital immigrants, just like we are.

Years ago I was fond of the phrase, “Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants.” In 2001, Marc Prensky was trying to make a point that teachers today are teaching a vastly different population of kids than they were in the 1990’s.   He posited that kids today speak a digital language, they are natives; and we teachers are doing our best to speak digital, yet we are immigrants. He believed that since kids were comfortable with video games, they would use the same “figure out how to get to the next level on your own” mentality when it came to using digital devices.

His ideas rang true for me as I tried to get reluctant administrators to buy more computers or invest in tablets. I used Prensky to motivate them, “We can’t teach the kids like we were taught, we need to teach them in ways we know they are going to learn and work later on.”

The Problem:

I was wrong and so was Prensky. Kids today are not digital natives. They might not know what life was life before the computer, but they also don’t know how to use a computer academically or create multi-media content without being taught.

Kids today are just as bad as adults at thinking “I don’t think I should touch that button, I might break it.” When given a task they need to do on their own, students want step-by-step instructions. They want you to sit next to them and watch them do it, just in case something goes wrong. Very few students are brave enough to click here or there to try to figure out how to create something on their own.

When doing projects, many students will take the non-technology option citing, “I’m just not good with technology.” Even when teaching my online students, they much prefer the simple uncomplicated world of word processing rather than the amazing world of multi-media content creation.

You see the problem is that we teachers are treating kids like digital natives. We throw stuff at them and expect them to figure it out. But the students are immigrants, too. They are encountering these things for the first time. They need time to adapt.

With every new app or type of software, we are asking our kids to crack the web designer’s code.  We are asking students to learn a new language.  And any one who has lived in a country other than their own knows that adaptation can be a difficult and take time.

The Solution:

Students need to have digital skills scaffolded for them. If you want them to create a movie at the end of a unit, you need to have done other activities earlier on that helped them storyboard, film, and edit short clips along the way. If you want a student to do an info-graphic, you need to teach them how to build different graphs and charts throughout the unit.

Set time limits. Kids need to know that a task should take x amount of time. If they go over that time, something is wrong. Help the student trouble shoot why they are not getting through the task. Are they spending all their time finding just the right image?  Are they spending too much time chatting on Social Media?  Help the student to focus on the task so they don’t get lost in a time-suck blackhole.

Don’t rescue them. Give students activities where they are forced to learn a new technology skill on their own. When I use a new application, I figure out how it works. I know I’m not going to break it. I click on stuff. And when I can’t figure something out like, “how do I splice this video and add an annotation?”, I look it up on YouTube. Certainly somebody out there, probably the product developer, has made a tutorial on it.

And if your students ask for help, ask them more questions.

  • What have you tried so far that didn’t work?
  • What on the page looks like it might be something to do with pictures?
  • If you click on that symbol what happens?
  • What does the pop up window say?
  • Are there any clues on this page as to how to you might record your voice?

This kind of questioning can be frustrating for the student. They want the answer. In the end though, they discover that they can solve problems on their own and they can teach themselves to do something.

Develop routines for students to decipher web pages and online applications. Take the time to teach digital literacies.  Work on analyzing sources as a part of everyday class activities.  Analyze menu bars and symbols with them when they are creating. Teach them to know what to look for when they encounter a new application.

We can’t be with our students 24/7, and we certainly don’t want them to just quit a task at home if they can’t get immediate help. We need to teach them the skills to see a task through, to experiment, and give them the freedom to possibly fail.

What kinds of things to do you use with your child or students to help them gain confidence with using digital tools?


2 replies

  1. My teaching experience, both online and face-to-face, matches this description exactly. Students do not have a magical ability to “just get it” when new tech tools are introduced; they need to be taught. Thank you for these fine examples of how to teach both the tools and a process for learning them.

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