Thursday, November 13, 2014

Who are the digital natives?

Recently, I was having a discussion about online textbooks.

Who are digital natives? Well, it's not the students.

The term "digital natives" has become part of common speech - so much so that the meaning has been lost.

According to Google's definition, it's "a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age."

In talking with teachers about online textbooks, the point was raised that many districts go online because "students are digital natives" and "students are doing everything online." And, though, I'm a proponent of most things online, I have to disagree with this assumption.

Even with my Warrior Tech students - students who run Linux on their HP Chromebooks - I would disagree that they are digital natives.

Rather - I would say that they are digital users. They are not native to this environment. Native implies they are from a place. However, students are not from the digital age. WE ARE. We are the ones who witnessed the evolution of digital tools. We are the ones who created those tools. And, we are the ones who have the foundation in it. Students have been transplanted into this digital age. Additionally, digital native implies that students must also be familiar with computers and the Internet.

However, as students born in a digital climate, they are immediately exposed to the current digital world, with little foundation in the previous digital worlds. This is where the disconnect occurs.

We make the assumption that our students know the digital history that we know, but they were not around to witness that. And, as a result, we have students coding and running systems, with little background as to why its necessary or what power it has.

We cannot make the assumption that students are digital natives until we also have proven that they are familiar with computers and the Internet. As a whole, we assume that since the first half of the digital native definition is true, the other half must be true of students. However, that is a great fallacy.

Students are brought up in a world where there are textbooks on almost any concept. However, we cannot assume that, therefore, they are familiar with the concepts in those texts. Computers and the Internet familiarity are the same. We cannot assume students know and understand it.

What are students familiar with:

  • Social Media
  • Collaboration

What are we familiar with:
  • Content
  • How the pieces fit together
We can use what students do know to help them become fluent, but we must not assume they are digital natives. 

What do you think? Where do you expect students to be now? Are they matching up to those standards?

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