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The Digital Natives Myth

By Kip Glazer
 | Oct 26, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-155787182_x300A friend of mine who teaches at a premier college in the United States lamented over Facebook about an e-mail he received from a student. In it, the student said he couldn’t figure out how to play a DVD on his computer even after asking a number of friends. My friend said he would be tempted to “staple the e-mail to a speaker’s forehead” if one more person talks about how intuitive young people are with technology. Considering how his university has been ranked in the top 10 public universities in the United States according to U.S. World News and Report, I want to talk about a couple of terms we hear often: digital natives and digital immigrants.

In his 2001 article, Marc Prensky coined the terms that have been used frequently by various scholars. He claimed that students were vastly different from their teachers because of their exposure to technology. He declared, “The single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” He argued that educators should become innovative in the way that they teach their content because the old way of teaching was no longer serving our students who were so much savvier than their teachers.

In my previous post, I pointed out the importance of access to all students in terms of computer coding education. I argued that access matters a great deal when it comes to technology education. So it may sound strange that I do not subscribe to Prensky’s idea of calling this generation of learners digital natives. No one can dispute that today’s youths have access to more technology in comparison with previous generations. Clearly our young people have more devices, more services, and more apps.

As much as I believe in the importance of access, I also know access doesn’t automatically equal competency. It is true that access is a prerequisite to creating competency. However, to transform such access to learner competency, intentional instruction must follow. Just because a student can use Snapchat doesn’t mean that he knows how to harness the power of instant communication. Just because a student can post photos on Instagram doesn’t mean that she knows not to share sensitive photos in a text message. In fact, a Washington Post article indicates that access allows more opportunities for youngsters to make decisions that may compromise privacy or safety or may lead to cyberbullying. Calling our young people digital natives allows adults to relinquish our responsibility to our young people who need more guidance than ever before.

Educators of today must remember that our students need us to set good examples when it comes to using technology. Rather than shying away from using social media, we can set good examples for our students. Rather than avoiding YouTube, we can use it as an instructional platform and a valuable resource. Rather than relying on someone else to post instructional content, we can use free blog sites such as WordPress or Google Sites to share educational content. In today’s digital wilderness where so many commercial companies lead our students astray, we all must step up and lead our students by behaving like the adults that we are.

Kip Glazer is a native of Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States in 1993 as a college student. She holds California Single Subject Teaching Credentials in Social Studies, English, Health, Foundational Mathematics, and School Administration. In 2014, she was named the Kern County Teacher of the Year. She earned her doctorate of education in learning technologies at Pepperdine University in October 2015. She has presented and keynoted at many state and national conferences on game-based learning and educational technologies. She has also consulted for Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning and the Kennedy Center ArtsEdge Program.

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