Naively Native?

Another fascinating article by the Economist (Technology Quarterly, March 6th. 2010) discussing new generations, their use of, and relationship with, new technologies. Taking as a starting point ideas such as Marc Prensky’s “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” the article proceeds to question whether or not a whole generation can be defined by such broad terms. An initial starting point is the relative obvious: not all members of the young “Digital Native” generations have equal access to new technologies. Even if they do, Michael Wesch at the Kansas State University points out that many of his students only have superficial familiarity with the digital resources they use frequently. Research by Sue Bennett (University of Wollongong) also argues that the digital generations may have the same variety of problems when it comes to education as any other and that sweeping generalisations about how “Digital Natives” learn may actually be counterproductive. The article ends with a look at the world of “Digital Politics” and wonders whether or not the use of new technologies does really increase political awareness and activism. The conclusion of a study at the MacArthur Foundation indicates that while new technologies encourages increased engagement, long term, that activism is often shallow by nature. Let me quote the last two sentences of the article: “Rather than genuinely being more politically engaged, they may simply wish to broadcast their activism to their peers. As with the idea that digital natives learn and work in new ways, there may be less going on here than meets the eye.”
A search on the net will provide much more documentation on all the above and many ideas on the original Digital Native, Digital Immigrant idea. Again, the question on this blog: of what significance is this to education? Very significant, I would argue. The first time I used an IWB in a classroom with a group of Digital natives, they were on the whole unimpressed and spend much of the time asking to watch YouTube. I think I remember something similar happen the first time I brought a VCR to class. My lesson plan included a video clip as support to the lesson I was doing but the “Digital Natives” of the time (now parents of 21st. Century Digital natives!) showed little interest, moaned and groaned instead asking to watch a film rather than continue with my well prepared class. In neither case did I give in I must add, but in neither case did the technology of the time replace sensible teaching but, even the initial “wow factor” is quickly watered down by reality.
The effective pedagogical use of any technology will depend on the teaching and teacher behind it. New technologies bring new pressures and challenges to all including those involved in education but I am not terribly convinced that we haven’t always lived with, dealth with and survived similar changes. Teaching might be rather boring if we weren’t constantly dealing with students and not technologies: the later keep changing, the former remain a source of endless creativity, challenge and reward.

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