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Monday
Apr192010

Does the term "digital natives" do kids a disservice?

In her thoughtful NetFamilyNews* post The media monsters we've created for our kids, Anne Collier writes:

By viewing kids as alien life forms called "digital natives," we send the message that children don't need tech-, media-, and social-literacy training to navigate the ocean of information at their fingertips 24/7 and the tricky sometimes harsh waters of digital-media-informed adolescent social development. And by focusing on technology instead of children, we create daunting, new-sounding things to fear like "cyberbullying," directing attention away from the good work already being done against bullying as well as cyberbullying by changing school cultures and teaching and modeling empathy, ethics, and citizenship (at school and online).

By calling our children "digital natives" are we running the risk of giving them too much credit for technology skills? I think it is a risk. And not just in the realm of online safety. I've long argued that knowing how to use  spreadsheet no more makes a person numerate than know how to drive a car makes one a plan meaningful trips.

In Old Folks and Technology (2002) I suggested that tech savvy students and world-smart adults team up - that there are still plenty of things those of us raised BC (before computers) can teach even today's kids about technology:

Some technologies    Some things with which old people can still help
Spreadsheets    Math sense, numeracy, efficiency in design
Charting and graphing software    Selecting the right graph for the right purpose
Database design    End user consideration, making valid data-driven decisions
Word processing    the writing process, organization, editing, grammar, style
Presentation software    Speaking skills, graphic design, organization, clarity
Web-page design    Design, writing skills, ethical information distribution
Online research    Citation of sources, designing good questions, checking validity of data, understanding biases
Video-editing    Storyboarding, copyright issues when using film clips and audio
Chat room use/Instant messaging    Safety, courtesy, time management

And of course on top of all this now is the intelligent selection of information one wishes to share online.

Anne does a great job of outline two other "monsters" we've created: "the paralyzing remove all risk monster" and "the extrememly busy adult blinding monster." Read the whole post and share it widely.

* NetFamilyNews should be required reading of all parents, teachers and educational policy makers. Anne's posts are always thoughtful and truly balanced observations about both the threats and promises of technology use by kids.

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Reader Comments (3)

Also it puts disadvantaged students in a bad place. People assume they have "naturally" learned to do things, when they have no access to computers and other tech at home. I've run into this when I asked for keyboarding activities for my students. I was told They don't need keyboarding they learned to type from using the computer at home. 60% of my kids don't have computers. Some keyboarding lessons will make the rest of what I'm teaching much easier for them to do.

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

Hi Kimberley,

It's not just keyboarding, but all experiencing with technology - especially guidance from parents on safe and appropriate use. I always think the kids most at risk are those that may somehow have access, but technically illiterate parents! School can back fill only so much.

Thanks for leaving the comment,

Doug

April 21, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I think the term "digital natives" applies to the comfort level students have with some technologies, but it does not imply that students are expert users. I'm constantly shocked by some basic skills that many of my 6th graders lack, even browser basics such as the difference between a search field and the address bar. They are eager to open a browser and jump to the first search result, but lack the skills to evaluate usefulness of web sites.

Also, just because someone is a digital native doesn't mean they are a digital patriot. I have several students that resist doing assignments on the computer, such as creating a wiki page, and would rather just scribble a paragraph on paper.

Lastly, I think that the landscape that kids are native to is changing. As this recent PEW report illustrates, teens are increasingly focused on cell phone use. I think we are seeing students' comfort area shifting from the keyboard to the keypad.

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric M.

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