The Quest for Digital Literacy

Learning in a 1:1 Classroom

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants – Hmmmm

I am taking a class at Ball State University in Digital Literacy.  I am finding it to be wonderfully thought-provoking.  In our opening discussions, I made a remark about being at odds with the terms, “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants.”  No one seemed to question me and I really did not expect a comment.

One the drive home, I continued to wrestle with the terms.  To understand digital literacy, it seemed that those affected by it could be classified as either natives or immigrants.  Though I remained in flux, it seemed that the digital native term was the more accurate of the two.  Digital natives could aptly be described as people who had lived their entire lives in the digital age; that age being as the time of the world wide web circa 1987 and forward.  I am a native American simply because I was born in the United States.  Those born from 1987 forward are digital natives simply because they have been born in that time frame.

As a native American, I am taught and study the information I need to live productively as an American citizen.  I learn about my community, my state and my country.  I learn the processes that help it function to the betterment of each of its citizens.  I learn both its history and my responsibilities as a citizen.  As a teacher, I provide my students with the information they need to become mature citizens.

I believe the same is true of digital natives.  Digital natives is only a term to describe the circumstances of their birth.  The goal for them is digital citizenship.  They must learn how to be responsible, contributing digital citizens.  They must be taught by citizens who have the necessary skills and information to ratify their citizenship.  And there is the rub.  Who will be their teachers?

They cannot teach themselves.  That leads to confusion and anarchy.  Marc Prensky, in his article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (2001), states that, “Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants.”  Prensky describes digital immigrants using metaphors similar to mine.  He notes that, “…they  always retain, to some degree, their ‘accents,’ that is, their foot is in the past.”  He points out that some, certainly, have adapted better than others, but places us all in digital immigrant boat.  His description of digital immigrant instructors using the wrong language to instruct digital natives aptly describes what many call the digital divide.

I do not deny the validity of Prensky’s arguments, but I believe he paints us all with too broad of a brush.  There was no “Big Bang,” event and suddenly there were natives and immigrants.  Many of us have been actively developing our digital citizenship from the day we were born.  I believe we are “Naturalized” Digital Citizens.  As a teacher, I did not wake up one morning and say, “OMG! I don’t know how to teach anymore!  The students don’t understand my accent!”

I have been teaching for nearly five wonderful, learning-filled years.  My students have applied technology more effectively than most high school and many college students.  It is because they are becoming digital citizens and are being taught by a naturalized digital citizen.  How am I and naturalized digital citizen?  It is because I was taught the responsible use of the expanding technologies that have grown with me.  Here are some of them:  A crystal radio set, black and white television, color television, AM and FM radio, transistor radios, telegraph keys, reel-to-reel magnetic tape recorders, eight-track tapes, cassette tapes, 78’s, 45’s, and 33 1/3 rpm records, monaural and stereo recordings, wind-up wrist watches, propeller planes, jets, space flight, rotary phones, typewriters both manual and electric, and so much more.

After that, there were no “Dark Ages” and then, “Poof!” Web 2.0.  Technology has been and will continue to grow at an incomprehensible pace.  My point is, many of us continue to take the best of those advances and use them to turn our digital natives into digital citizens.  I know technology far better than my students.  I am the one to teach it to them.  I know chats, blogs, and wikis.  I know Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and Hi5 and so much more.  I did not learn them all at once.  I learned them as they happened.  I will continue to learn, for the rest of my life – naturally.

Am I a digital immigrant?  No, I don’t think so.  I am a digital citizen, naturally digitized and able to speak with many, “accents,” even those of my students.

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January 18, 2010 - Posted by | Technology Issues | , , ,

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