The Digital Natives / Digital Immigrants Distinction Is Dead, Or At Least Dying
I guess I never blogged this before, but I keep seeing references to the 10 year old distinction between digital natives vs. digital immigrants as it relates to educational technology. This is the idea that “kids today” are born in a digital world and have their brains wired differently than us old fogeys. The “single biggest problem facing education today” is that teachers, being digital immigrants, don’t know how to teach digital native kids, who want nothing but video games and so forth.
Quite a lot has been written about how this idea isn’t really substantiated. At the very least, the distinction is quickly growing irrelevant. Unfortunately, the idea is still uncritically accepted even in some journal articles, and perhaps used as an excuse or crutch too often for poor or ineffective teaching practices. The result may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but for teachers, not students. We currently teach pre-service and in-service teachers less technology skills than we do middle schoolers and high schoolers, perhaps because of an implicit belief that adults can’t handle anything more than powerpoint or a basic HTML page.
Anyway, here are some references to criticisms of the idea you can point people to if it ever comes up:
- Digital Nativism, Digital Delusions, and Digital Deprivation – by Jamie McKenzie – the most scathing criticism
- Net Gen Skeptic – a whole blog devoted to the topic
- Some blog posts expressing disagreement with the distinction:
- Some journal/conference papers:
- The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence – “the debate can be likened to an academic form of a ‘moral panic’.”
- Immigrants and natives: Investigating differences between staff and students’ use of technology – “These findings support a growing evidence base that, while some differences exist, the ‘digital divide’ between students and staff is not nearly as large as some commentators would have us believe.”
- The ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’: a dangerous opposition – “empirical data is emerging which questions some of the blanket claims made in the growing body of literature which takes the native/immigrant binary as its starting point.”
- Is There a Net Gener in the House? Dispelling a Mystification – “This essay represents both a critical analysis of such allegations and assumptions.” Here is a longer version of this essay by Rolf Schulmeister in German: http://www.zhw.uni-hamburg.de/uploads/schulmeister_net-generation_v3.pdf
- Is there a Net generation coming to university? – “making use of new technologies but in ways that did not fully correspond with many of the expectations built into the Net generation and Digital Natives theses.”
- [update] Digital natives: where is the evidence? - “generation is only one of the predictors of advanced interaction with the Internet. Breadth of use, experience, gender and educational levels are also important, indeed in some cases more important than generational differences”
- [update] Guo, R. X., Dobson, T. & Petrina, S. (2008). Digital natives, digital immigrants: An analysis of age and ICT competency in teacher education. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 38(3), 235-254. “Findings from this study show that there was not a statistically significant difference with respect to ICT competence among different age groups for either pre-program or post-program surveys. This study implies that the digital divide thought to exist between “native” and “immigrant” users may be misleading, distracting education researchers from more careful consideration of the diversity of ICT users and the nuances of their ICT competencies.”
Even Marc Prensky, who came up with the digital natives / immigrants distinction, wrote last year that it is at the very least growing less relevant. [thanks to Antonella Esposito for two of the refs]
Update December 2010 – some new references:
- College Students on the Web – Jakob Nielsen, usability guru, debunks myths about students’ use of technology
- Learning, the Net Generation and Digital Natives – special issue of the journal Learning, Media, and Technology
- Deconstructing Digital Natives: Young People, Technology, and the New Literacies – a book on the topic forthcoming in 2011
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