Can We PLEASE Quit Calling Teachers Digital Immigrants?

Last night, my school district sponsored a REALLY cool community-wide conversation to kick off a strategic visioning session designed to imagine what our schools need to look like in order to prepare today’s kids for tomorrow’s world.  The keynote speaker was David Houle — self-described futurist and author of Shift Ed: A Call to Action for Transforming K12 Education.

Many of Houle’s thoughts resonated with me.

He argued that the ubiquitous screens we carry around are changing our expectations for physical spaces — a case that I’ve made before here on the Radical.  He also rightfully nudged us to create more creative, collaborative schoolhouses; emphasized the need for a clear vision before we got neck deep in planning; and suggested that global challenges needed to play a larger role in the work our kids do in classrooms.

#signmeup

He lost me, though, when he pushed the notion of digital immigrants and digital natives on the audience.

His language was all too familiar:  Today’s kids are savvy.  Today’s teachers are not.  Fixing the problem depends on our willingness to put kids in charge of technology in our schools.  At one point, he even asked all of the teachers under 30 in the audience to raise their hands.  “There’s your future,” he said.

#ouch

Write this down:  Labels like “digital immigrants” and “digital natives” — and the connotations that they carry — do more harm than good in conversations about changing learning spaces.

On the simplest level, they create false assumptions about proficiency:  The olds can’t POSSIBLY understand how digital tools can be used to create engaging classrooms, right?  They can’t even figure out how to create a contact or set up the speed dial on their new iPhones.  Put ’em out to pasture and turn the classroom over to the kids and we can FINALLY revolutionize education!

They also place the focus of conversations about future classrooms on technology instead of on learning outcomes.  That’s a distraction, y’all.  Proficiency with new digital tools and spaces ISN’T a goal worth celebrating even if it is easy to identify.  Leveraging those tools and spaces to create meaningful learning experiences — learning experiences where kids master useful skills or tackle projects that change the world, or ask and answer powerful questions — is what REALLY matters.

See this.  While you are at it, see this too.  And this.

Finally — as my buddies Paul Canceilleri and Brett Clark pointed out — calling teachers digital immigrants and students digital natives inadvertently lets teachers off the hook.  “I’m just not tech savvy,” becomes a ready-made excuse for refusing to embrace practices that CAN make learning spaces more meaningful and efficient.  But it’s an excuse that is reinforced every time that a futurist or visionary stands in front of audiences and argues that kids ALWAYS know more about technology and teachers are ALWAYS at a disadvantage in a digital world.

The truth is that no matter how savvy we think they are, today’s kids rarely see the power in the digital tools that they’ve embraced.  Need proof?  Turn ’em loose in a room full of technology for an entire day and watch what they do with it.  Chances are their choices won’t impress you.

Moving them forward takes the support and guidance of people who understand learning — and who can find ways to use new tools to make learning more efficient and effective.

We call those people teachers where I’m from — even if they WERE born into a world without data plans.

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Related Radical Reads:

Digital Immigrants Unite!

Teachers, Chainsaws and the Dreaded IWB

The People Formerly Known as the Audience

 

10 thoughts on “Can We PLEASE Quit Calling Teachers Digital Immigrants?

  1. agarry22

    Bill-
    I was interested in the post when I saw the title because I do visioning days across the country and I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I start out the day by saying that we need to discuss the role that technology can play to support learning and then leave it behind because the real focus has to be on the type of learning outcomes we want to produce. All to often the discussion of vision or the future is about how technology will transform everything and it is completely the wrong message. The two things that I have found that really matter are in your post above: creating learning environments that support tackling difficult problems and relationships with educators in the process. You can ask any graduating student to tell you the thing that had the biggest impact on their education and I guarantee that most of them will name a teacher and not a piece of technology.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Adam wrote:

      You can ask any graduating student to tell you the thing that had the biggest impact on their education and I guarantee that most of them will name a teacher and not a piece of technology.

      ————————-
      This is such a great quote, Adam. I’m fixin’ to make a slide/post around it! Hope you’ll be okay with that.

      And you’re right: When we constantly pump tech as the solution, we forget that tech does nothing without a good teacher behind it.

      Rock on,
      Bill

  2. Melissa Edwards

    Reading this made me smile! Thinking is not a new thing … and that is what we, as educators, are encouraging our kids to do! Saying that a student who knows how to turn on a device can use that device effectively for learning is like saying that any child who opens a book can automatically read ….

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Melissa wrote:

      Saying that a student who knows how to turn on a device can use that device effectively for learning is like saying that any child who opens a book can automatically read

      ——————–

      Great analogy, Melissa.

      If the “they were born with it” thinking worked, why WOULDN’T that apply to books or bikes or chainsaws or mopeds or remote controls?

      Never thought of it that way.

      Might even make a slide out of your quote!
      Bill

  3. Derek Hatch (Hatcherelli)

    I was looking forward to the post that you were going to write after the #wakevision session. I agree with you, Bill, the terms “digital native” and “digital immigrant” have become so cliche. Kids are device savvy, not tech savvy. If you leave a kid alone in a room with a computer or a device, they will be playing games. Our job as educators is to show our kids that they can use technology to learn, share and connect. Technology is a tool and should be thought of no differently than we think of pencils, paper, and scissors.
    I really like the comment that you made about the terms “digital immigrant and native” letting teachers off the hook…so true. How many teachers do you know that make the excuse for not learning by saying, “I’m not very tech savvy”? As a school admin and tech coach, I find this excuse unacceptable. We live in a world where everyone needs to have certain skills and fluency when it comes to technology.
    Thanks for another great post.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hatch wrote:

      Kids are device savvy, not tech savvy.

      ———————

      Another great point, Hatch. I like this language. Makes it easier to keep focused on just what kids know and can do.

      Bill

  4. Sherry Langland (@slangland2)

    Being a ‘digital immigrant’, I couldn’t agree more. Just because they were born with a cell phone in their hand, doesn’t mean they are more tech savvy.

    And while I’m at it, I’m going to admit that ‘ 21st century skills’ buzzwords that are flying around are beginning to grate on my nerves. Students still need the same kind of skills we needed for the 20th century; they just need to use them better and in different arenas, globally and locally. Who doesn’t, or didn’t, need curiosity, collaboration, innovation, ethical values, and a good dose of background knowledge?

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Sherry wrote:

      Who doesn’t, or didn’t, need curiosity, collaboration, innovation, ethical values, and a good dose of background knowledge?

      ——————

      This is so important, Sherry — and it makes teachers feel more comfortable and competent when they realize that the skills that are important haven’t changed.

      Another big difference, though, is that these skills are important to MORE kids than ever before. In the past, kids who were going to work on an assembly line in a factory didn’t necessarily need these kinds of skills to have a good life. Today, those kinds of well-paying jobs almost always go to folks who can master higher order skills.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Bill

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