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Posts Tagged ‘native

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.

Is there anything worse than Prensky’s false digital natives/immigrants dichotomy? (It is terrible and here is one good critique out of many.)

For over a decade, my answer was no. This year, someone decided to create a “trichotomy” of digital orphans, exiles, and heirs.

The newer distinctions suffer from the same core problem as the previous one: That you are born into the circumstances, and once there, you do not and cannot change.

The trichotomy is even worse in that while Prensky tried to cite a bit of research, the newer scheme is an opinion piece fuelled solely by anecdotal rhetoric.

The best theoretical model with practical realities is probably David White’s visitors and residents. This model is contextual and personal. Each person can be one or both depending on the circumstance.

For example, you can be a Facebook resident and a Snapchat visitor. Both involve forms of social media, but the labels of visitor or resident are not all-or-none. If you abandon Facebook and embrace Snapchat for personal or professional reasons, you might then become a Facebook visitor and a Snapchat resident. Who you are and what you do are not fixed.

So what if there are harmful or helpful models? Are these not just theoretical?

It is important to think critically about these models because they attempt to summarise and describe reality. If we do not point out falsehoods or chip away at inaccuracies, we misrepresent ourselves.

Words become actions. The Prensky dichotomy and the newer trichotomy can be used to craft speeches, shape policies, and dictate budgets. 

These weaker models are easy to digest because they might seem anecdotally close to experience. But anecdotes are not necessarily data and they certainly are not evidence until there are systematic and rigorous ways to collect and analyse them.


Video source

Whenever I hear someone say “digital native”, I try to educate them on why that term is divisive and harmful.

I have reflected a few times over the years on digital natives in this blog. This entry probably best encapsulates my thoughts.

I hope that this video adds more fuel to the there-are-no-digital-natives fire.

Two takeaways from this video that I had were:

  1. Being technologically competent is not something kids are born with nowadays. It is learnt like a language.
  2. Being comfortable with technology is not the same as having the knowledge or wisdom on its use.

These two takeaways deal with fundamental assumptions that people who use “digital natives” may have.

It is important to address these assumptions because they affect values and mindsets. These in turn affect actions like lesson planning, teaching, setting policy, and so on.

After about two years, I have finally relented and got myself a prescription for old man glasses. Progressive lenses, that is, not bifocals because I really don’t want the old man look!

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It’s a relief to read without holding things at arms length or removing my glasses. It’s also a reminder that I am middle aged.

But age is relative. There is the age your body tells you how old you are, there is how old you think/feel you are, and there is how old people think you are. I was reminded of the last one during my recent trip to Riyadh.

I had accompanied the Director of NIE to a conference, and as I was working out a solution to a technical issue at our booth, he remarked, “That’s why I brought you here… you are a digital native!”

Being in my 40s, I am certainly not a digital native in almost every sense. I did not grow up when personal computers and Internet access were the norm. At best, I might be considered a very fluent digital immigrant.

That said, I am native to blogging, Twitter, Facebook and several other wonderful Web 2.0 tools. These tools and the associated cultures and practices of crowdsourcing, connectivism and gamification are relatively recent. I keep up with these edtech trends by reading, reflecting and adopting or adapting.

No, being a digital native is not bound to your physical age. It is associated more with your mental age. My mental age is still about six, so I play, explore and ask dumb questions in order to learn.


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