Digital Immigrants Unite!

Let me start with a borderline heretical confession:  I believe that the terms "digital natives" and "digital immigrants" have done more harm than good in shaping the direction of teaching and learning in the 21st Century. 

The way I see it, calling students "digital natives" and any adult over the age of 35 "digital immigrants" all-too-often leaves teachers convinced that they have no real place in helping students to figure out how to grow as capable and competent learners. 

We've inadvertently handed over all ownership and discredited our expertise, y'all — assuming that spending our formative years with notepads instead of iPads means we've got nothing to add to conversations with our students about how technology empowers learners.

And worse yet, we hang our students out to dry every time that we make blanket assumptions about their ability to grow without us simply because they don't need owner's manuals to figure out how to use the new gadgets flooding the marketplace every year. 

Sure, today's kids CAN play video games and surf YouTube videos and send text messages and check their Facebook profiles without any help.

And YES, they have Pinterest pages long before their parents figure out that Pinterest isn't some clever marketing campaign for newfangled online savings accounts. 

They ARE successfully liking and poking and friending their way through life without our help.

But is that REALLY something to celebrate?

Aren't those entertainment-fueled behaviors nothing more than concrete evidence of a troubling disconnect between what kids CAN do and ARE doing with technology?

That's a question that Brad Ovenell-Carter — a bright mind and even better digital friend who works with high schoolers in Vancouver — decided to ask his students.

Their responses were revealing.


He started the conversation by asking what his kids would do if they had two hours in a tech-loaded room and no assignments to tackle.   

While some of Brad's kids planned to spend their time making videos for the greater good or creating digital art, most figured that Instagramming it, editing themselves into Justin Beiber's videos or printing 3D images of Harry Styles to take home would be more fun.    

That's when Brad asked

Hey #tokafe11: @plugusin contends that there is a gap between what you CAN and ARE doing.  Agree? Disagree?

 

Two of his students gave responses that every 21st Century teacher should tape squarely in the middle of their not-so Interactive Whiteboards:


And:

 

 

Powerful stuff, huh?

The moral of the story is simple:  Today's students — the same connected kids that we've always assumed became superstars as soon as we plugged them in — really DO still need our help.

It's OUR job to help kids to realize how to leverage technology for something more than keeping themselves entertained. 

It's OUR job to show the Sophias in our classrooms what IS possible and to help the Heathers in our classrooms figure out how they CAN change the world with digital tools. 

It's NOT enough to stand aside after turning kids loose with new tools, simply HOPING that they'll  figure out how to squeeze the intellectual juice out of the gadgets we've given them. 

Want to change the lives of kids?

Then start building a bridge between what THEY know about technology and what YOU know about efficient and effective
learning.

#immigrantsUNITE

_________________________

 Related Radical Reads:

One Tweet CAN Change the World

Doubting Bauerlein's Dumbest Generation

The Ever Optimistic Techno-Cheerleader

Making Good Technology Choices


31 comments

  1. Braddo

    Mr. Chips,
    I hear your concern and think you’re right…partly. There is a time in our students’ lives where they do need us to helpt them protect their identities. We have a duty of care that insists on that.
    But that same duty of care also insists that we need to prepare our older students to work online–as themselves. Any student with a smartphone has wide open access to the web and in Canada, public libraries must also keep an open connection–they’re not allowed to block sites. It’s naive to think that by creating pseudonyms in school I am securing what they do out of school on their own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc, accounts. My only option as an adult–indeed my obligation–is to coach them, not control them. Indeed, if we turn our students out at graduation without having spent time guiding them online in real situations, then we have done them a disservice. The analogy, I suppose, would be to have them read books about driving a car and then to hand them a set of keys when they receive their diplomas. That would be foolish, I’m sure you agree.
    But even if they were to try to remain anonymous, they would have no control over what other people post about them. The only possible way to manage your reputation online is to build it yourself. For this reason, I don’t like the terms “digital tattoo” or “digital footprint”–they’re too passive and talk about what you leave behind. Instead, we talk about the “Brand of Me” and coach our kids on proactively managing their online identity and on becoming good digital citizens, for the reasons Will Richardson talks about.
    We take this very seriously at Mulgrave. Our seniors can fly as unaccompanied minors to anywhere on the globe at this age; we need to make sure they can do the same, so to speak, safely online. As Lucy points out above–with the courage and conviction of using her real name, I’ll point out–the students feel they are getting good guidance and role modelling here.
    I’ve gathered some of the students’ Twitter posts in Storify so you can get their views: http://sfy.co/hFNW
    All the best,
    Brad

  2. Lucymckennaa

    Mr.Chips, I am one of Mr.OC’s grade 11’s students who uses twitter.
    Although I understand and respect your concerns, I’m unable to agree with them. Mr.OC, guest speakers we have had and many other Mulgrave teachers have spoken to us about “internet safety” and confidentiality. It’s also been said that if we are uncomfortable with having our names on the internet, we are able to use another name, For example, I use my middle name. Also, we use twitter as an educational and note taking tool. We have had TOK classes and teachers from around the world join in on our conversations. We are smart enough to know not to post things that are inappropriate, and if we were too we have many teachers following us on twitter.
    Mulgrave is the most caring school community I have ever been in, they are in no means trying to get us in trouble.
    Mr.OC has introduced technology to Mulgrave in a way no one has anticipated, we will continue to be using twitter under any names we wish. If you feel this way, perhaps you should protect yourself and not worry about other people.
    Thank you

  3. texas holdem

    Very interesting article. The fact is that the internet and all the new technologies are made to help us in our every-day life people. The danger is to get addicted and become slaves of all this technology.

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Mr. Chips wrote:
    Hmmm … not too smart of your bright-minded friend to post students
    feeds under their full names. Nothing wrong with the tweets quoted, but
    students identities should be protected.
    – – – – – – – –
    First, Chips, when commenting here on the Radical, please keep your snark to yourself. Thats not the kind of community that I want to build — or the kind of comments that I want to have.
    Youre always free to disagree and/or push back against anything you see here, but you need to do it in a way that is respectful to others.
    Arent those the lessons that we should be teaching — and modeling for — our kids? And if so, shouldnt we hold ourselves to those standards at all times?
    Its difficult to imagine someone who is willing to post snark under a pseudonym turning around and teaching their students more responsible patterns of participation in online spaces and conversations.
    Second, Im going to send your comment on to my bright-minded friend and ask him to explain his rationale to you. My bet is that his choice to have his high school students participate in online spaces under their real names is intentional and carefully considered.
    Many experts in the #edtech world regularly argue that it is just as important to teach students to build a positive presence online as it is to keep them hidden behind a pseudonym. Will Richardson calls this making sure that your students are Well Googled on the day that they graduate.
    While it wouldnt be appropriate for elementary students, Brads students are high schoolers.
    Shouldnt they be taught to craft thoughtful online content that others can find? Wouldnt that kind of positive content help them when they are going through the interview process for university or when they are applying for jobs in the future?
    Isnt a part of preparing our kids for tomorrows world helping them to understand the impact — both positive and negative — of their digital footprints?
    And wouldnt it be easier to teach those lessons if we actually give kids the chance to experiment openly in public places?
    Bill

  5. MstrChips

    Hmmm … not too smart of your bright-minded friend to post students feeds under their full names. Nothing wrong with the tweets quoted, but students’ identities should be protected. As educators we should be very cautious how we create digital tattoos that my come back to haunt the students …

  6. Colette Bennett

    I went with the “digital tourist”metaphor:
    I am convinced that many students are not digital “natives, ” they are digital “tourists.” Really bad tourists. I’m talking the “standing in line to see the Mona Lisa on the busiest day of the year and then leaving the Louvre once they saw it” kind of tourist….
    Because of their proficiency with social media, there is an expectation that all students attending school today, at any grade level, are endowed by their creator with a new strain of technology enhanced DNA. Because they can operate a joy stick or the Wii remote with grace and ease, they are expected to come pre-familiarized with keyboard commands that would make them more productive Our anticipation that our students are capable with all things digital has led a combined sense of frustration.
    full post at: http://usedbooksinclass.com/2012/05/31/theyre-not-digital-natives-theyre-digital-tourists/

  7. Ed Brazee

    “Then start building a bridge between what THEY know about technology and what YOU know about efficient and effective learning.”
    Absolutely! Why should we expect our students to use technology for anything more than what they would typically do as pre-teens or teens—have fun and stay in contact with their peers—what they did before all these digital tools were available to them. Knowing how to use their various devices is not the same as knowing what to do with them to learn, help others, or contribute to their communities. And as you pointed out…that is our responsibility as teachers.
    Every teacher should explicitly show their students how technology can be used to learn and that must be ongoing. Every school has a group of students who are knowledgeable, willing, and ready to help their teachers and peers learn to use tech for learning, collaborating, and giving back. Why don’t we take advantage of these students’ expertise and interest? Some schools call them student technology teams.

  8. Kendra Grant

    Thank you Bill for you thoughtful post. I agree totally!
    Teachers are the LEARNING Natives. While it is true that students easily use technology, much of it is for socialization and entertainment. They chat, they Tweet, they post, tag and view. They know how to PLAY in this environment but, left to their own devices, they rarely practice the skills they need to LEARN in this environment.
    Without teachers understanding how to use and integrate technology into instruction, we get pretty, digital “bird” activities. David Loertscher* calls these “Bird Units” – you know the ones where students answer – What does the bird eat? Where does the bird live? The finished project might LOOK good but essentially, the activity remains at lower level of thinking.
    I remember a few years ago at ISTE (then called NECC) when a group of excited students showed me their “amazing” technology presentation. I smiled politely but thought to myself – This is just the digital version of the bristle board presentation. An “all about me”. A “bird” unit. Where is the deep thinking? What questions did they answer? Why should I care about what they had to say? It prompted me to question the importance of (and our deference to) digital natives.
    If students are to use technology to think, plan, collaborate, discover, communicate and learn effectively, then it is teachers – with their knowledge of learners and learning, their understanding of pedagogy and content, their ability to create a collaborative learning environment, their skill at supporting a variety of learners – who are key to bringing technology and learning together.
    * Ban Those Bird Units! 15 Models for Teaching and Learning in Information-rich and Technology-rich Environments by David Loertscher

  9. Kendra Grant

    Thank you Bill for you thoughtful post. I agree totally!
    Teachers are the LEARNING Natives. While it is true that students easily use technology, much of it is for socialization and entertainment. They chat, they Tweet, they post, tag and view. They know how to PLAY in this environment but, left to their own devices, they rarely practice the skills they need to LEARN in this environment.
    Without teachers understanding how to use and integrate technology into instruction, we get pretty, digital “bird” activities. David Loertscher* calls these “Bird Units” – you know the ones where students answer – What does the bird eat? Where does the bird live? The finished project might LOOK good but essentially, the activity remains at lower level of thinking.
    I remember a few years ago at ISTE (then called NECC) when a group of excited students showed me their “amazing” technology presentation. I smiled politely but thought to myself – This is just the digital version of the bristle board presentation. An “all about me”. A “bird” unit. Where is the deep thinking? What questions did they answer? Why should I care about what they had to say? It prompted me to question the importance of (and our deference to) digital natives.
    If students are to use technology to think, plan, collaborate, discover, communicate and learn effectively, then it is teachers – with their knowledge of learners and learning, their understanding of pedagogy and content, their ability to create a collaborative learning environment, their skill at supporting a variety of learners – who are key to bringing technology and learning together.
    * Ban Those Bird Units! 15 Models for Teaching and Learning in Information-rich and Technology-rich Environments by David Loertscher

  10. Cellodad

    I like to describe this phenomenon by saying that our kids are not generally “Tech Savvy.” They are adept Consumers of digital technologies such as mobile devices, social media, etc. What the world is increasingly demanding is graduates who are digital Producers- individuals who can collaborate and produce using digital technologies.
    I don’t see this divide narrowing until teachers and administrators become adept digital producers as well.

  11. Kellie80

    Thanks for this post — I couldn’t agree more. I found an old blog post I’d done back in 2008 (http://kellieady.blogspot.com/2008/04/digital-natives-nah-i-dont-think-so.html) about my own discomfort with the phrase. Back then, I was noticing that teachers seemed to confuse competence with comfort when it came to digital tools (and there was still a digital divide with kids who didn’t have access to digital tools). I don’t think that’s changed since I wrote the post. Ultimately, I think using the native/immigrant term lends itself to making some dangerous assumptions about learners and teachers.

  12. Bill Ferriter

    Sean wrote:
    However, the attached value judgments seem to create wholesale embrace
    or rejection of these definitions and the result is that terms swiftly
    come in and out of vogue with undertones of political correctness.
    – – – – – – – – –
    I love this, Sean. I can see an entire post dedicated to the ins-and-outs of popular definitions over time. Kind of like the Evolution of Dance in 6 Minutes video, but the Evolution of Ed Policy in 10 Steps. Show a timeline that walks people through the popular policies that have been discarded/discredited along the way.
    And thanks for your kind words on the Radical. I try, thats for sure — and knowing that the content resonates with readers is always remarkably rewarding for me.
    Rock on,
    Bill

  13. Bill Ferriter

    Rr wrote:
    My idea never caught on, but now many years after the shift from
    computers as consumption machines to creation vehicles, our natives
    are still mostly clueless about what they have that could make an impact
    on their world.
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    And another shift Im having in my own mind throughout this conversation is that digital tools arent really about creating — instead they enable kids to make contributions. Thats something that drives todays students.
    Creating by itself is less motivating than we think. Creating with a purpose — creating with a desire to change the world for the better — is where its at.
    The question, then, becomes why doesnt making contributions play a larger role in the work that our students are doing?
    Bill

  14. Bill Ferriter

    Dean wrote:
    We seek out these examples to show whats possible but statements like, our kids are already connecting drive me nuts.
    – – – – – – – – –
    This is true times ten, Dean — and just as its important NOT to sell the notion that all kids are already using digital tools to do remarkable things, its equally important to remember that some kids ARE able to figure this stuff out on their own.
    But if I were to put a percentage on the number of kids doing meaningful work on their own, Id guess that it is in the low teens.
    I love the tweet from Sophia in the post — it highlights the gap between what kids WANT to do and KNOW HOW to do. We play the key role in building know-how.
    Thanks for stopping by,
    Bill

  15. Shareski

    . My 14 year old daughter is typical of most kids in that she uses technology to entertain herself and talk to her friends. Not only am I a bad parent but I too have shared stories of students who figure stuff out on their own and do amazing, important stuff with the technology. We seek out these examples to show what’s possible but statements like, “our kids are already connecting” drive me nuts. I do try however to add the huge caveat to those examples by saying not “if you can’t beat ‘me, join ’em” message but rather if we want more kids doing awesome things, they need our help. That distinction often gets lost and the digital native myth grows.

  16. Rrmurry

    The “native”/”immigrant” categorization was flawed from the start, with all due respect to Prensky for seeking a purposeful analogy. However, the moniker has been maintained for a decade now. When I first read it, I bristled at the thought of being an immigrant simply based on my birthdate.
    So I wrote and spoke about my own categorization…I am a digital interpreter.
    My idea never caught on, but now many years after the shift from computers as consumption machines to creation vehicles, our “natives” are still mostly clueless about what they have that could make an impact on their world.
    So, as I follow Syria’s war now, the Arab Spring and Occupy Movements of last year, the Mumbai Terrorism of a few years ago all on Twitter, I still await the great awakening of America’s restless natives who will one day ask, “Is this all there is to this digital world?” They have no idea of the power they hold in the hip(ster) pockets…which might be a good thing. 🙂

  17. Seantm

    Thanks Bill for the insightful post. I am a new reader, I had heard some of what I now know were you comments in other places but only just actually arrived at your site recently by following the trail to your well stated “edu-celeb” post -which I’ll also comment on later.
    As for the native/immigrant terms, I think we in the education field are particularly prone towards labeling various, phenomena, experience, and events and then attributing a value to them “right, wrong, in/appropriate, accurate/inaccurate.” Etc. Not a huge surprise really -after all we are teachers and inclined to fall back on Aristotelean schemes of classification. However, the attached value judgments seem to create wholesale embrace or rejection of these definitions and the result is that terms swiftly come “in” and “out” of vogue with undertones of political correctness. One possible causual factor in this is Educational trends are frequently driven by pundits upon whom every word hangs a constituency eager to coin any term that fits the dynamically shifting endeavour of attempting to (effectively) educate our young. In a largely character driven profession, we are indeed, a vocation consistently in search of re-definition…
    I thank you for thinking deeper about what we say and do and being courageous enough to share your thoughts with the rest of us. Your honestly and acumen is refreshing. Will be staying tuned…

  18. Bill Ferriter

    Hatch wrote:
    I showed my own Twiiter stream and demonstrated how I use Twitter to
    learn about things that I am interested in…edtech, teaching, sports,
    etc. When the student saw this, she said, Wow, youre a nerd!
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Thats a perfect example, Hatch, of why we need to do a better job turning kids on to personal interests and passions! I want EVERYONE to be a nerd about something. More importantly, I want them to be efficient and effective nerds who can access information that motivates and challenges them easily.
    Thats instructional nirvana, I think.
    Rock on,
    Bill

  19. Hatcherelli

    Thanks for the quick reply, Bill. To answer your question, I think we need to have this conversation in our schools and in our districts. Yeah sure, kids can use the tools but they need to be shown how to use the tools to learn…and which tool is appropriate for what they want/need to learn. As educators, we have to be willing to learn alongside our kids and we need to model the process. Learning new things is uncomfortable…and many of us don’t like the way that feels.
    Gone are the days when the teacher had all the knowledge and would give this knowledge/information to the students. Now…kids have access to the same information that we do. Times have changed and so should we.
    Want a laugh? I was making a point to a student, the other day, about appropriate use of Twitter. I showed my own Twiiter stream and demonstrated how I use Twitter to learn about things that I am interested in…edtech, teaching, sports, etc. When the student saw this, she said, “Wow, you’re a nerd!”

  20. Bill Ferriter

    Darcy wrote:
    Digital natives? Maybe? Learning and problem solving natives? Not Yet.
    – – – – – – – – –
    I love this, Darcy. Really nice language that is helpful for reminding teachers just what our role is in helping students to move forward in todays world.
    Very cool. Thanks for sharing,
    Bill

  21. Bill Ferriter

    Danica wrote:
    On another note, I just want to thank you for the work that you do and
    your willingness to share. You have created outstanding materials and we
    all benefit from your generosity.
    – – – – – – – – –
    Thanks a ton for your kind words, Danica! Sometimes I wonder if people are really out there and listening! Id write anyway — writing is reflection for me — but knowing that my content is useful and that Im having an impact is just plain rewarding.
    Let me know how I can help. Im #alwayswilling
    Be well,
    Bill

  22. Bill Ferriter

    Glad you dug it, Hatch!
    So how do we get people to change their minds and to recognize that kids wont automatically know how to leverage new tools for learning without our help?
    How should we push that conversation in our own little worlds?
    Bill

  23. Hatcherelli

    Hi Bill,
    This post is absolutely brilliant! You have summed up what I have been telling people for years. I can’t stand the terms “digital native/immigrant”. If you leave a teen alone with a computer for a few hours, they will play games and use social media. We, as teachers, have the power to show our kids how to use the Internet to collaborate, create, and learn.
    Thanks for the post…can’t wait to share it.

  24. Danica

    I appreciate your comments. We have this ongoing argument in our school division regarding the role of technology. Too often it is worshipped as the solution to all learning issues, yet I see our students as being relatively unfamiliar with so many aspects. I have introduced blogging in my grade 12 English class. I am constantly surprised by the number of students who have not even heard the term, let alone participated or created. For most of our students, technology is a toy- we turn it into a tool by showing the way.
    On another note, I just want to thank you for the work that you do and your willingness to share. You have created outstanding materials and we all benefit from your generosity.

  25. Darcymullin

    Bill, I LOVE this post. It is such a great reminder for all of us. Too often I get caught up in the belief that my fifth graders can create magic using technology tools if I just give them the access. While I believe they can make magic, your post is a great reminder that I need to be there to support, teach and learn along with them. Digital natives? Maybe? Learning and problem solving natives? Not Yet.

  26. crazedmummy

    I grew up when the personal computer grew up. We are pals. The new kids are the interlopers. I know how a program works. I can make a computer do what I want, if I have to.
    The interlopers are passive recipients. They have to get interested in learning how to do, rather than how to be done to. That’s our job.