MyNotes - Debunking the Digital Natives Myth

JOLT - Journal of Online Learning and Teaching
    • MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching
      • Vol. 7, No.4, December 2011
        • Digital Natives: Ten Years After 
        • Apostolos Koutropoulos; University of Massachusetts Boston, MA 02125 USA
          • The digital native became a rallying cry for change in education, (expensive) technological infusion at all levels of education, and broad-changes in institutions that are providing learning opportunities and environments to these digital natives.
            • Other overgeneralizations put forth by authors like Prensky, is that the digital natives prefer images over text, they prefer games over "serious work," they function best when networked, digital natives can't pay attention (or they choose not to!), and finally digital natives have skills, with digital technologies, that they've perfected.
              • most people prefer to do fun things rather than something that they perceive of as work.
                • Prensky doesn't provide facts or empirical evidence, just suppositions. When Prensky writes about his preferred method of teaching (2001a) he writes that he prefers to invent video games, but he never considers that this may not be the most appropriate method of instruction, and that it might not be the learner's preferred method for instruction. Thus in the same article he talks about the needs of the learner, while at the same time ignoring the needs of learners by imposing his own preferred method of teaching.
                  • rensky's technological determinism culminates in a biological determinism in part 2 of his introduction to the concept of the digital native (2001b). Prensky argues that the brain's neuroplasticity makes it so that the brain adapts to the environment that it is in, so in a technology-infused environment the brain will adapt to better use the tools that are available in that environment. While this may be true, there are two things that Prensky does not take into account. The first is that as human beings our brain is continuously rewiring itself throughout our lives. We don't fossilize at a specific state of our lives, but we learn to use the tools that are available to us, thus digital natives should also exploit that physical ability to learn to function in environments that don't necessarily have the tools that they are used to. The second thing that Prensky never questions, in either article, is the need to impose radical change on our educational system.
                    • This, taken together with the, unknown at the time, numbers of technology use within the digital native population, means that we weren't really talking about pedagogy, and what's really good for the learners, but rather, perhaps, change for change's sake, or the technological equivalent of "throwing money at the educational problem."
                      • Oblinger (2005) for instance portrays a vision of technological utopia, something that supposedly exists today, where students are proactively using their iPods to learn, snap photos everywhere they go and use these tools for impromptu study meet-ups.
                        • First, experiential learning, another name for learning by trial and error, goes back at least to the early 1900s with the work of Piaget. Presky's later proposals (2006a, 2006b; 2010) for using peer groups, allowing students to pursue their passions, and essentially going from a sage on the stage to a guide on the side aren't new, but they go back to Piaget (Singer & Revenson, 1996), Vygotsky (1978) and even Socrates (Karasmanis, 2002), just to name a few. If Piaget, Vygotsky and Socrates thought of these notions, this means that these traits aren't inherent to a population who grew up in a digital age, but rather these are traits inherent in humans as a whole, and everything else is just a tool that we can utilize.
                          • Another trait that is ascribed to digital natives is that they are multitaskers, moreover they are efficient at it, and it is technology that encourages this multitasking.
                            • Has the efficiency of multitasking been proven? And how much brainpower are we giving to each individual task?
                              • According to Tapscott (1999) digital natives are non-sequential with their use of information, going back and forth between programs and sources and their learning style is an outgrowth of these ingrained habits of seeking and retrieving information from the Internet. This marks a striking contrast to previous generation of students, who tend to acquire info more passively from authority figures (Tapscott as quoted in Barnes, Marateo & Ferris, 2007). Perhaps one of the bigger claims made is that this generation (i.e. digital natives) exists across the world and across socio-economic conditions, not just in advanced economies (Tapscott as cited in Jones & Healing, 2010).
                                • The devil is in the details and unfortunately the early literature on digital natives that built upon the work of Presky, Oblinger, Tapscott, Dede and Frand lacked that fine attention to detail; they seemed to rework the same old assumptions, and fit their data within the Weltsaschauung of the digital native proponents.
                                  • digital natives are described as striving "to stay ahead of the technology curve in ways that often exhaust older generations," and to achieve this they "rarely pick up the instruction pack to learn programming or a technique. Instead, spurred by our youthful exploration of the Internet, we tend to learn things ourselves, to experiment with new technology until we get it right, and to build by touch rather than tutorial" (Windham, 2005).
                                    • Digital Natives may indeed start without looking at a manual, but when what they are using is not intuitive, they either get the manual, as is exemplified by the great numbers of computer game walkthroughs online; they will give up, as we shall see digital natives aren't that great at adapting when compared to older students; or they stick to what they know, which means not experimenting and goes counter the claims of digital native evangelists.
                                      • VanSlyke (2003) had originally questioned the global reach of the digital native, and Prensky, in a rebutal, disagreed with him stating that he expected children in much of the rest of the world to exhibit the behaviors of the digital native (2003). Research, however, has shown that the location does matter. In the US (Smith & Caruso, 2010) we see different levels of computer and web technology usage among the same demographic of digital natives in Australia (Kennedy, et al., 2010; Margaryan & Littlejohn, 2008) and than those in the UK (Stoerger, 2009). In South Africa, as well, we see that only 26% of the population might be described as having grown up digital (Brown & Czerniewicz, 2010).
                                        • , this digital divide has spurred a Moral Panic, calling for radical change in education where arguments are articulated in dramatic language, with no empirical evidence or theoretical foundations, based only on "common sense" and personal anecdotes (Bennett & Maton, 2010). Anyone who resists or questions these calls radical change is said to be out of touch, lazy, or just dismissed as not having legitimate concerns (Jones & Healing, 2010).
                                          • College students don't represent whole populations because they tend to be from a segment of the population that has the financial capacity to afford to be able to go to college (Bradley, et al., 2008 in Bennett & Maton, 2010). As Brown & Czerniewicz (2010) framed it: it's not about a generation but an elite.
                                            • Only 36% of digital native students contribute to blogs, only 40% contribute to wikis, and only 42% contribute to video sites. Social games and social bookmarking sites are only used by 25% of these digital natives. Fewer that 20% of the students said that they used course lecture podcasts or videos (Smith & Caruso, 2010). Similar results were also found by the Corrin, Bennett & Lockyer in the Australian academic context (2010) and the Pew Internet Internet and American Life Project in the broader US context (Fox & Madden, 2006; Jones & Fox, 2009; Zickuhr, 2010; Rainie, 2011).
                                              • over 80% of first year students reported a "slight confidence" and "basic skills" with presentation software and online library resources - sources that they were familiar with.
                                                • only a minority of students felt like it was important to them to share and upload content.
                                                  • only 15% of the digital natives were "power users" and 45% were rudimentary technology users
                                                    • In Australia a study found that
                                                      • (Kennedy, et al., 2010). In a related study, more than 70% of Australian first year students never kept a blog, more than 80% had never produced a podcast and have never contributed to a wiki (Kennedy, et al., 2007). Similar results were reported by Corrin, Bennett and Lockyer (2010) indicating that only 23% of students self-reported as advanced computer users, 66% never had a blog, 69% did not maintain a website, video editing or creation was rare, and they seldom (31%) or never (41%) listened to podcasts.
                                                        • the digital natives are missing out on this rich environment because they have poorly developed information-seeking skills, in other words they consume from sources that they already know.
                                                          • the collected statistics from a variety of studies paint a different picture; the fact is that the average "digital native" entering college is not technologically sophisticated; this digital native is not a power user. Even in countries where there is more access to a computer and the Internet, usage of these technologies tends to be read-only, checking facebook or looking things up on Wikipedia (Selwyn, 2010; Margaryan & Littlejohn, 2008); in other words passive interaction.
                                                            • One final element to consider is student locus of control and the independence to experiment freely (and without consequence) with the technology. Kvavik (2005) found that in quantitative studies students say that they have the skills that they need, however qualitative data contradicts the collected quantitative data. Students only have very basic office suite skills, and they have difficulty moving beyond those basic activities; it would appear that these students don't recognize that their applications have enhanced functionalities that they can use.
                                                              • digital natives are mystified by technology and some are afraid to putz around, to experiment, for fear that they will do something wrong and break the computer
                                                                • Educators are perhaps falling into the same trap as parents are; that is that we have a tacit expectation that kids will have spontaneous engagement with schooled interests spurred by the availability of the computer as a tool (Kerwalla & Crook, 2002),
                                                                  • Looking at the research, however, we see that there is no one, monolithic, group that we can point to and say that those are digital natives. As a matter of fact, the individuals who would fit the stereotype of the digital native appear to be in the minority of the population.
                                                                    • From a US context, in a post-No Child Left Behind USA, if our digital native learners aren't engaged, they have no incentive to work around the problem and find a solution. In contrast, older learners, I would posit, are more engaged and thus do work at changing their approach in order to find solutions.
                                                                      • Instead of having education professionals focus on the technology aspect of the debate and in certain digital native behaviors, which "common sense" has told us, are immutable, we ought to be focusing on proper pedagogy and exposing our students to information retrieval and critical information analysis skills that are in both the digital and the analog realms
                                                                        • We out to teach our students to actually change their approaches to learning when what they are trying out is not working for them, instead of assuming that they possess this "Nintendo over logic" which enables them to modify their learning plans when things aren't working out.
                                                                          • we need to move away from this fetish of insisting in naming this generation the Digital/Net/Google Generation because those terms don't describe them, and have the potential of keeping this group of students from realizing personal growth by assuming that they've already grown in areas that they so clearly have not.
                                                                            • Learners don't know what they don't know (Christensen, 2006), but if they come to the table from a position of superiority, like they are better than the so-called digital immigrants (Roberts, 2005; Windham, 2005) they lose an opportunity to learn something that they don't know that they don't know, something that may be beneficial to them. Let's resist "common sense" because common sense isn't all that common.
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