students, technology

My Students Are Not Digital Natives

My students are not digital natives.  There I said it.  They are digital consumers, much like the rest of us, but natives, not so much.  I used to believe in the whole digital native myth and that if I just gave them a device they would be able to make it work and adapt it to their needs.  Make it work; sure, adapt it; not really.  Push themselves beyond their comfort level; very rarely unless they have an interest in all things technology.  Yes, most of them are afraid of technology just like many adults.   Most of them don’t want to just figure things out even when I encourage them to, they would rather just be told how to use it and then use it for that specific purpose only.  So even though I tell them to just figure it out, my 5th graders would laugh if anyone called them digital natives, and then they would ask what that term even meant.  So why do we persist with the pushing of the digital native persona?

Tonight I asked that question on Twitter, or rather I made a statement:

As always Twitter did not disappoint…



So what are our students?  Do we really need to label them?  I like to think of my students as kids who like technology a lot, but I have never called them that.  Should I?  Should anyone?

7 thoughts on “My Students Are Not Digital Natives”

  1. Dear Pernille, You raise a critical question, and the responses on Twitter suggest that we as teachers have a long way to go to help our students use technology to its fullest potential as a communication and creation tool. Myths and assumptions aside, we need to realize that as teachers, many of us are more facile with using tech tools than our students are. However, isn't it our role to lead them on the way? Also, we need to remember that many teachers still need the professional development to enhance their skills with successful technology integration to promote literacy and students' abilities to create competently with the array of technology tools available to them.Thank you for starting this discussion and raising the issue of technology myths and false stereotypes.Sincerely,Judy A.

  2. I don't like what that term implies either. While they may only know a networked, technology heavy world, and be more comfortable navigating it, it doesn't automatically make them an expert in it. I'm a librarian, not a teacher, but here's how I think about the technological ability of a kid versus an older adult… when I explain how to search a database, or check out an ebook, if I'm explaining it to a kid it takes half the time it does to explain it to the adult. Not because they have some magic tech knowledge imbued upon birth, but because they are more familiar with how to navigate a website or browser, what logging in means, what downloading is. I don't have to stop and define terms for them, I don't have to break down logging in to micro-steps, because they know the basics. I still have to show them how to do the same tasks I show adults, they're just more comfortable with the tools we're using.

  3. I really like Marc Prensky's description of a digital native. He discusses the idea of "trains" versus "rockets" in his book "Teaching Digital Natives." I won't go into great detail here in case you've already read it. If not, I encourage you to check out the book. I think you'd really connect with his partnering approach to instruction. However, I think, more than anything, being a "digital native" is a state of mind and perhaps even a reference to brain research on how kids' brains are wired differently than ours. I find that my students are fearless when it comes to technology use. Yes, they want to be told how to use XYZ device, but I argue that it's not really about the devices. It's the expectation that they are going to consume and create digital media with whatever tool they are comfortable with. When I work with other adults as a technology facilitator in my district I just don't see that level of expectation that my students have. To me, being a "native" doesn't imply that students are proficient in using the tools the world offers to them.

  4. I have found that my middle schoolers are comfortable with:textingdownloading music and videosyoutubegame appsgooglingThe vast majority cannot complete "work-related" tasks such as:saving and organizing filesusing word processing toolssending an emaileffective searchesopening multiple tabs in a browseretc.They are truly consumers of technology, not users. We have a long way to go to get kids to be savvy users, as well as savvy consumers.

  5. Since "native" implies that someone was born in a specific place then to me "native" isn't necessarily an incorrect term. My students were born in a place where they expect technology to be present in their lives. They can't imagine a world without computers and cell phones because they have always been present in their lives. I am a "native" Californian but that doesn't mean that I'm blond and blue-eyed and know how to surf (the ocean not the web) or that I'm a TV star or that I live on the beach. Similarly, just because our students are "natives" of a world filled with technology, it doesn't mean that they know how to use that technology well.

  6. In a sense, you are an electric native in the same way that they are digital natives.Most of us couldn't survive without electricity, or would be at the very least lost without it. It doesn't mean that we understand it or can create new things with it, just that we depend on it and assume that it is there. Our students are the same way. Take away their devices and the internet and how many could make it through life without feeling completely lost? They use it and depend on it, and assume that it will always be there, but a large number can't do anything but consume what is served to them without discernment. The problem is with the adults who think that because kids consume something that they are proficient in its use or can create new things with it. In this sense, the term is meaningless and probably does harm. It's just another of the ways that we jingoize everything instead of taking a more nuanced and in depth approach to things.

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