Archive for February, 2011

Deconstructing the Digital Native/Immigrant Myth

By js, 13 February, 2011, 2 Comments

The blog post The Myth of the Digital Native argues that the terms digital native and digital immigrant create false dichotomies.

We hear a lot about the notion of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, a concept originally suggested by Marc Prensky in a paper by the same name (PDF).  It makes an presumption that those born after the widespread introduction of digital technologies are somehow out of step with the world of technology, while those who were born and raised in the digital age are naturally able to function within it.

Betcher provides several examples when the terms, with their neat definitions, do not apply. Seniors who know how to do limited things with technology but are not aware of the many possibilities and tools they can use. Teenagers who have the technology at home, but never figure out how to set it up. His own kids who are adept with certain technologies but get stumped when new ones, which don’t follow the patterns of use they are used to, are introduced.

He says

I think we make a huge error of judgment if we assume that just because a 14 year old takes a lot of photos with their phone and sends 300+ texts a month that they have some sort of innate “native” status. We seem to assume that because they use tools like Google to find information, that they understand how to do it well.   And we assume that because they might have 200 friends on Facebook that they understand what it means to live in a digital world.

He also points out that there are many adults who don’t fit within the age range for digital native but who are very adept at using all types of technologies. If one only looked at their skills then they could be considered digital natives.

He also argues that not only is the myth based on simple dichotomies, but the danger comes when we take these dichotomies as truths and then act accordingly, especially in our schools.

It’s a dangerous myth because it has some real implications for how we approach technology in schools.  If we believe that “all kids are good with technology and all adults aren’t”, which, in its most basic terms, is the kind of polarised thinking that the native/immigrant myth perpetuates, it can play out in schools with all sorts of bizarre unstated beliefs…

He argues that there are some kids who are just good at technology like there are kids who are good swimmers. I think the key is that those who are good with technology, both young and old, are eager learners, ready to experiment, and good at seeing, using, and looking for patterns.

So instead of saying Digital Native we should use Digital Generation when we want to refer to those who were born into the internet age.

But the recipe for a Digital Native:

1. life long learning skills

2. comfortable with experimentation

3. excellent at discerning and applying patterns.