Naive Digital Natives

I’ve been itching to blog about ICT since I started this thing. The problem though, is that it is such a ubiquitous concept in education these days, I haven’t known where to start. To solve this, I’ve decided that over the next few weeks I’ll take a specific term or idea and run with it until the word count says I’m approaching 800. Hopefully that will limit being overly preachy or repetitive.

This week I’ll start with one of those catchy terms that sounds oh-so-profound, the ‘digital native’.

History, I’m told, will remember this modern generation of students as the world’s first digital natives. This term has never sat well with me. It suggests that the youth of today are born naturals with ICT tools and gifted in ICT processes. Therefore, the digital native needs to be educated in a new way. Not by teachers who were born in another era. Those people are ‘digital migrants’. No, they need people who speak their language and live as completely in the new world as they do. Maybe even not by people at all but computer games and the technology itself. If we do that, I’m told, the youth of today should take society to hitherto undreamt of heights.

Sorry. I just don’t buy it.

At least, no more than I would buy anyone in the last century being credited as an ‘automotive native’, or, for that matter, anyone in my generation being described as a ‘video native’. For the entirety of the automotive era ‘natives’ have been able to ride them, drive them, fill them and occasionally clean them but anything more complex has always required experts. As for video, we’ve had VCR recorders for decades and how many of us can honestly say they worked out how to program the darn things?

No, I’m not prepared to accept that little children automatically appreciate technology simply because they grow up surrounded by it. Being born into a society with existing technology doesn’t make people a master of it. Of course they’ll use it confidently but there’s no certainty they’ll understand its broader significance or deeper impact. Quite the opposite, in fact. The ‘digital native’ is so familiar with the toys of their age they fail to see dangers where we mere ‘digital migrants’ fear to tread.

Admittedly the term may have a more complex meaning than the one I’ve given it here. Nevertheless, I’m fairly sure the crucial point of it’s inventors was that the older generations don’t understand where the younger generation are coming from, or the world they live in, and should move with the times. Seriously folks, isn’t that just basic generational divide stuff?

You see, a digital teenager is still a teenager. That means their behaviour will be, at times, rash, bombastic, egocentric, stubborn, subjective, hurtful and potentially lacking in much empathy for the effects their actions have on others. We sort of know this right? We also know that this fades over time and a more mature human emerges eventually…hopefully sooner rather than later.

Nowhere is this more obvious to me than in the realm of online activity and social networking in particular. In my role as a Year Level Coordinator I deal with the fallout from students whose online misdemeanors impact on all levels of the school community time and time again.

At this point, I suppose, I could list a few of the more remarkable examples of wrong doing. Trust me, I have lots I could share.

But you see, this is precisely the problem. Just because I could, doesn’t mean I should! I don’t want this to be a forum for scandalous case studies. I want this to be a forum for positive solutions.

Here’s one; let’s teach students how to use technology judiciously.

Let’s draw from disciplines such as linguistics, philosophy, psychology and sociology, and arm these natives with understanding of context and ethics. Perhaps then, there would be fewer students finding themselves in trouble for “just mucking about with a friend”.

We could encourage students to consider the virtual arena they are operating in. How this virtual arena is not, in fact, the empty and quiet bedroom they currently occupy. It is really a stadium full of all the people they know – and all of those people’s contacts too – watching with mild curiosity. We could tie in a few lessons on the concept of how language is different in its written mode and its spoken mode and how e-communication exists in a really tricky combination of the two. How the level of formality in the language people use to communicate, needs to pay attention to the status or authority of others involved.

Here’s another one. Lets inform students on addictive behavior and educate them on ways in which to best manage addictive tendencies.

You know what? You could do all this in a classroom, and make it interesting,  without even turning on a computer.

No. I’m definitely not a fan of the ‘digital native’ label.

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