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If my child’s a digital native, what am I?

Well, if you’re born before 1977 or if you didn’t grow up with technology, then you’re a “Digital Immigrant”.  Digital immigrants do things like:

  • print out emails
  • call computers “machines”
  • have trouble switching between two or more computer screens which are open at the same time
  • read or want to read a manual before using a device, rather than just diving in and working it out

According to Marc Prensky, if you do that type of thing, you are speaking with an accent.  You are an immigrant to the digital world and will never entirely lose your “accent”.

Remember “The Beverley Hillbillies”?  It was a sitcom which ran from 1962 to 1971 about a poor, hillbilly family who suddenly become millionaires when oil is found on their farm and so they move to the big city (Los Angeles).  Much of the humour comes from the fact that they bring their hillbilly ways with them and continue to do things the way they were done “back home”.  In an early episode, Granny washes the clothes in the “cement pond” which is in fact a grand, roman-style swimming pool.

People who didn’t grow up with technology can be a bit like Granny.  They use technology but it doesn’t always feel like the most comfortable or the easiest way to do things.  I admit that I sometimes battle with technology.  I’ve bought a 900 page book to help me use this website!

When Parents Text is a very funny website about older people struggling to master texting.

In the weeks to come, we’ll think about whether it’s true that older people speak with a digital immigrant’s accent and if they do,  is it something they need to try to hide or is it actually a good thing to keep.

© Jacqui Kirkman  2013

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What’s a digital native and is my child one?

“Digital Native” is a term that was to describe those born into a digital world. The term was coined by Marc Prensky in his 2001 article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Other writers use different terminology so you may also read about the “Digital Generation” which Don Tapscott in his books Growing Up Digital and Grown Up Digital defines as anyone born between 1977 and 1997. Other writers such as Diana Oblinger and James Oblinger in the book they edited in 2005, Educating the Net Generation, refer to those born before 1991 as “Millennials” and after 1991 as the “Net Generation”.

Prensky and Tapscott claim that today’s young people been “bathed in bits” since birth and that therefore their brains have developed differently from previous generations who were not exposed to digital technology at a young age.

Some of the claims made about digital natives are:
• they can multi-task, switching with ease between different websites, programs, social media etc.
• their brains are differently wired so they are faster and more efficient at using technology
• they know more about technology than their teachers and parents who are wasting their time trying to teach them anything about technology
• they are bored by anything that is not technology-rich (in school or out of school)

Writers like Prensky argue that schools need to radically change their teaching attitudes and practices in order to engage these students and schools certainly have heavily invested in technology over the last few decades. Parents often feel unsure how much access to technology to allow their children, not wanting to disadvantage them academically or socially but also wanting to protect them from harm and wanting them to lead a balanced life.

Over the next few weeks we’ll try to separate the fact from the fiction in the whole Digital Native story and look at what sort of technology children can benefit from and what is better left alone.

© Jacqui Kirkman 2013