A Digital Immigrant Attempts to Understand Digital Natives

            When I read through the material this week one term that really made me stop and say, “Holy s_ _ t, I’m getting old!” was the term digital native.  The use of this term reminds me of an older term; generation gap.  What really made me stop and think was the idea that my students really can’t relate to me and I can’t honestly relate to them; just like I have a hard time relating to my parents.  The reason for this fissure is the gap in our technological knowledge.

            Since the sixties, I don’t think that things have changed that much since the term generation gap was coined.  Students and teachers, parents and children have always had difficulty communicating.  The one difference may be that the sophistication of the technology (the computer) being used today is harder to understand and learn about than in previous generations.  This difference may cause a genetic change in the human mind.  Prensky states:

Today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.  But whether or not this is literally true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed.

Thinking patterns, this is what we need to tune into when we teach the digital natives.  But, then I think, isn’t this what teaching is all about?  The teacher evaluating the mind set of the student and making an effort to connect.

            I think the problem with education, and the problem has always been there, is that academia has put itself on a pedestal in regards to teaching skills that can be readily applied to the “real world.”  The academe, through no fault of its own, is populated with teachers who are somewhat egotistical:  who wouldn’t be after six years of grad school?

            Today, I believe the gap between teacher and student is getting wider than in years past.  Prensky also says that, “This is not like previous generational changes.  This change will not reverse when digital natives grow up.  It is permanent.”  I agree because I find it difficult to communicate with my two sons; ages 19 and 26.

            Just the other day I had a conversation with a digital native about the music that was playing.  I said, “Is that music coming from Itunes?”  I thought I was being rather digitally native and right on the mark with that comment.  However, she replied, “Not Itunes! Rhapsody!”  My digital immigrant accent was very obvious, but I was not embarrassed because I am not afraid to engage people about new technology.  I think that teachers need to attempt to engage their students by not being afraid or embarrassed to discuss and learn about the latest technology.  This is what teacher’s are supposed to do; engage the student in the learning experience.

            In conclusion, I think one of the things I love most about teaching is that I am constantly learning new things.  I’m not sure which article contained this quote (nor am I certain if it is verbatim), “When we learn something new, a change occurs in the way we think.”  I believe that as teachers we have to take the initiative to educate ourselves about approaches to digital literacy.  We also should spend time connecting with our students and the digital world they inhabit.

2 comments for “A Digital Immigrant Attempts to Understand Digital Natives

  1. Mariana
    September 23, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    I like what you said towards the end of your post. I completely empathize with your “digital immigrant accent” issue. However, instead of seeing this situation as a disadvantage, it does present an opportunity for a teachable moment as well as teacher-student dialogue. It is important that teachers are open to learning all the time. By opening ourselves up to our students in this way, we not only encourage learning, but support the fact that they are going places that we may never be able to.

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