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After watching this CNN video, I distilled some thoughts on what modern literacy — digital and media — might build on.

Some background: A news “anchor”, Laura Ingraham, used Twitter to attack a school shooting survivor and spokesperson, David Hogg. Ingraham mocked Hogg for not being rejected by four universities so far despite having a 4.2 GPA. Hogg went on the offensive on Twitter and several companies withdrew their advertisements from Ingraham’s show.

Video source

Some modern literacy foundations from this case might include:

  • Learning current skills and emergent practices from the learner.
  • Being “savvy” as defined by what you KNOW and DO, not just who you ARE or WHO you know.
  • Freedom of speech is not freedom from responsibility.
  • We are entitled to your own opinions, but not our own facts.

I have no doubt that such foundations are part of some digital and media literacies programmes. But this case is a compelling one because it involves the two people that need it most — the student/child and the teacher/adult.

I did not mean to eavesdrop on a group of undergraduates last week. These were students that many still call “digital natives”.

I had my noise-cancelling headphones on, but I could still hear them even though they were a few tables away from me. They were discussing their professor and the work he gave them.

They seemed confused by their assignment. I quickly took note of some of the things they said:

  • What is “multimedia”?
  • I have no idea what that means!
  • I do not know what to do!
  • I do not know where to start!

So much for being “digital natives”.

Those statements might add to the argument against blindly believing that kids magically know how to use the technology they grow up with.

If you are a teacher, making assumptions that students are somehow natively digital says more about you than about them. You might not be:

  • listening to and observing them as closely as you should
  • aware of the critiques and the research about such “natives”
  • aware how this belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy
  • staying relevant with current trends and tools

Watch and learn more about your students. Empathise with their circumstances and challenges. Strive to be a model of why and how to learn.

I hardly watch any local broadcast TV. I have TV sets at home, but they are used to project videos from online sources like YouTube, Netflix, and others.

What I do is probably not that usual now. Some consumers might not even need TVs because they rely on the smaller screens of their phones, slates, and laptops.

But I had to take some action recently to revisit broadcast TV. Why?

The news earlier this year was that that free-to-air (FTA) TV via analogue broadcasting would cease at the end of 2017. TV signals would digitally broadcasted over the air and cable thereafter. One in four consumers has yet to jump on board the digital bandwagon, so the authorities moved the deadline to the end of 2018.

I am in the not-on-board set because I have alternatives. My elderly parents are not on the digital TV wagon because they do not know what to do or how to do it.

So I took advantage of SITEX 2017 to buy a new digital-ready TV and external antenna for my parents. I experienced different approaches by two sales representatives and this reminded me of how some teachers approach learners.

I told both sales representatives that I wanted to buy a TV for my elderly parents. I thought that should have established some expectations, but I was wrong.

The first salesperson kept recommending bigger TVs, and when I rejected them, moved on to sets with more features. For example, he highlighted a “smart” TV (Internet-capable) even though my parents do not have an Internet connection at home and cannot use that feature set.

The second was much quicker on the uptake. He tried to figure out what I needed and asked more focused questions or provided more precise answers. For example:

  • he asked me which floor my parents lived on as that would determine the type of antenna to buy
  • when I asked where the service centre was, he could not remember so he looked up the information on his phone and showed it to me
  • when he realised the boxed set did not include a warranty card, he provided me with a digital version

So I bought the new TV from the second sales representative. This was despite the fact that I was able to bargain the price down with the first person while the second was adamant about his prices. The second guy knew his stuff, knew what else to do when he lacked information, and most importantly, put the customer first.

Do you see what this might have to do with schooling and education?

Some teachers are like the first sales representative. They know their content, but do not meet the needs of their learners. They might teach in ways that students do not want or need.

Better teachers are like the second sales representative. They also know their content, but they observe and listen to their learners more closely first. They do this to meet the learners where they are, and to suit their needs and contexts.

All students need to process new information and overcome challenges just like all TV-watching consumers here need a digital-ready TV. However, they can be taught differently.

The first group of learners are led blindly by their teachers and are unlikely to take ownership of their learning. The students must buy in only to what the teacher sells.

The second group has to define problems and suggest solutions. The teacher is there to learn first about his/her students before helping students take even greater ownership of their learning. Such a teacher offers choices and leaves informed decision-making to the learners.

As analogies go, this one is not perfect. Learning is much more complex than buying a new TV. Teaching is more difficult than selling a TV. However, both sets of experiences can and should be led by similar principles: Putting the student and customer first.

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There is much we can learn from newspapers. Perhaps not so much from the news but from the mistakes they make.

STonline tweeted these two videos of an interview with our Prime Minister. The tweets are a teachable moment on the need for digital skills, literacy, and fluency.

Poor optics.

Optics is everything in politics and policymaking. If you take a look at the original screenshot, our PM does not look his best in both thumbnails.

Had the ST folk(s) the skills to select a better thumbnail in the video? Did they know they could do this or upload a better image to represent the video? This is a basic digital skill that one must have to share embedded videos on behalf of an organisation.

Did the tweeter or social media team have the digital literacy to consider how the current screen grabs send a different message from the ones in text? Do they know the importance of optics? Do they possess the ability to recognise when and why to apply their digital skills?

Can the people behind the tweets strategise and apply their skills without being told? Have they practically forgotten that they possess these skills and apply sound strategies automatically? This is digital fluency.

I have shared a teachable moment. Is this a learnable moment for the ST team? How about teachers who are responsible for far more prosumers (producer-consumers)?

You cannot make this up. There is no need to.

The tweet above aptly illustrates how learners today can be savvy, but neither smart nor wise.

I do not mean to say they are stupid. They are simply ignorant because they have not learnt new ways of seeing and doing things. Over time with smart teaching and wise counsel, our learners might gain new perspectives and habits.

They must be taught or they must have good models to emulate. They are learning machines as we are. But they are not magically or mysteriously digitally native. The “digital native” is a myth.

No educator worth their salt benefits from buying into this myth. Making false assumptions about the learners will be frustrating for both students and teachers. The teachers will have heightened and unrealistic expectations of their students, and the students will not learn optimally with technology-mediated pedagogies.

I have met and tried convincing my fair share of administrators and teachers who do not process Prensky’s claims of the so-called “digital native” more critically. I am quite certain most have not even read this original work in 2001. That is a long time to believe and implement policy blindly.

I urge anyone who has not questioned the use and assumptions of “digital natives” to read this excellent critique, Digital Natives: Ten Years After, by Apostolos Koutropoulos. A friendly debate over lunch is not going to cut through over a decade of hardened myth. Perhaps a slow but deep burning will.

Today’s reflection is courtesy of a tweet and a Pokémon Go (PoGo) auntie.

I do not know how much more research and how many more articles like this need to be shared before the “digital native” myth is dispelled.

I anticipate “never” because some people will cling on to what they believe in despite the evidence and compelling arguments against the myth [some curated resources].

But here is a different critical look at the article. Are the old skills — word processing and using spreadsheets — good measures of digital ability?

They might still be relevant in the cubicle age. But this age overlaps with the shared work space, home office, coffee place, remote work, part-timer, and startup ages.

The latter work spaces and job scopes hint at a different set of skills, e.g., the ability to keep on learning and to learn on the run. Being tech-savvy is more about wise use, not just skill-based or even skilful use.

Being tech-dependent does not mean being tech-savvy.

A PoGo auntie I met yesterday personified this sort of digital savvy or nativeness.

The PoGo auntie straddled her bicycle at a raid venue. She waited for players to arrive so that we could battle a Pokémon boss together. The auntie not only found out how many were intending to battle, she also advised others around her.

More impressively, she was armed with more than one phone and account. You can do PoGo raids just once at each venue. Having more devices and accounts allowed the PoGo auntie to participate more than once over the 60 minutes that the raid was available.

The auntie was quite adept at choosing suitable battlers. She had obviously learnt from experience, exchanging info nuggets, and possibly watching YouTube videos.

I call her an auntie, but I qualify as an uncle myself. She was on her bicycle and I was on my e-scooter. We were both successful with the raid and we both caught the boss Pokémon in the end despite just having three battlers and rumours that Niantic had strengthened the bosses.

That auntie and this uncle are technically more savvy and native than the tertiary students in the study even if we do not word process or spreadsheet as much. We learn because of Pokémon Go. We embrace technology because it enables us to learn on the go.

I LOL’d when I saw this tweet. It was a moment of truth and connection. Ask adults around you and you might get similar anecdotes of this shared experience.

But however humorous, the observation is superficial. It is probably what drove people like Prensky to create the concept of the digital native, i.e., kids born with technology are savvy with it because they are wired differently.

What proponents of the digital native narrative ignore is that we are first wired to play and explore. Our instinct is to learn.

If the available technology was a stick and mud, a child as a curious learning machine would use it. Some mud and even the stick might end up in their face or mouth.

Today the technology might be the computer or phone. A child is the same curious learning machine and the computers or phones stick as well. That child is no more a digital native than the previous one was an analogue native.

I often tell adult participants of my seminars or workshops that they are sometimes more native with some technologies than their students and children.

Take the use of Facebook for instance. Most adults and parents my age started using Facebook before they had kids or before their kids started using it. The adults are more aware of the usage, nuances, and changes in Facebook than younger learners. They might also be wiser about what to share and what not to. The adults are the digital natives in that context.

That is one of the key weaknesses in the false dichotomy that is the digital native-immigrant divide. It does not take into account context of use. A better but less well known theory is the digital visitor and resident continuum by David White.

Whether it takes a comic or some critical reflection, I hope more people read about how the concept of digital natives does more harm than good. After all, we learn not when we reinforce something we already believe in; we learn when we experience dissonance as we play and explore.

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