Digital Natives and Wisdom

Thanks to the posters on the Second Life Education mailing list for the following links… a critique of Digital Natives from Australia, and a paper by Prensky on ‘Digital Wisdom’.

First up, The Natives aren’t quite so restless. Christopher Scanlon critiques some points from the Palfrey & Gasser book ‘Born Digital’ (a task which has been on my to-do list for some time, and likely to remain there…) and from some of Prensky’s writing. Continues below…

Christopher’s main worry is that college administrators are uncritically buying into the idea of digital natives and trying to reform systems to suit – yet his own experience is that the majority of his students do not really fit the stereotype. He also notes that elsewhere students have petitioned against podcasts replacing lectures.

If I may conclude with some of Christopher’s own words:

And therein lies a problem for academic administrators who are tempted to radically reform the curriculum to better meet the needs of digital natives. The risk is that they are setting students up to fail by presuming their students have innate skills that they don’t in fact possess.

There’s no doubt that students come to the classroom with a different skill set and different attitudes than their parents. And there’s no question that educators should seek to harness and build on those skills. At the same time, exaggerated pop sociological accounts of students’ abilities do little to enable young people to develop and practise these skills.

If we are to equip students to navigate a digital world, education ought to be based on assessing students’ individual strengths and weaknesses rather than making glib generalisations that mistake using Facebook for technological savvy.

Next up, in “H. Sapiens Digital“, Marc Prensky apparently “argues that digital technology can make us not just smarter but truly wiser”. Also from the abstract:

The digitally enhanced person who will emerge from these developments, homo sapiens digital, differs from today’s human in two key aspects: He or she accepts digital enhancement as an integral fact of human existence, and he or she is digitally wise.

The idea of technologies as enhancements of the human users is not new. ( McLuhan called them extensions – so only around 50 years old as ideas go). What is new is the assumption that increased reach or power is somehow the same as increased wisdom. I have not read the paper yet – I have work to do, and I suspect I need to save this one for a less busy week. I don’t think it’ll take me too long to read, but might take me a long time to calm down after ;-)

3 thoughts on “Digital Natives and Wisdom

  1. Jeremy Kemp

    Isn’t this just a case of some educators taking a simplistic concept and misapplying it to the detriment of students? This feels a lot like similar misapplication of “Learning Styles” from Howard Gardner. “Johnny is a VISUAL LEARNER and so I only let him read picture books…” These become like Astrological Signs in a village of the superstitious or like student castes.

    What makes my blood boil is the crude application of these concepts AND NOT THE CONCEPTS THEMSELVES. These become shortcuts and ways to dismiss the nuance and diversity of students. The first step toward disenfranchisement of a subgroup is to plop a label on their head and call them different from yourself.

    As the discussion on SLED is showing, people with 30 years of computing experience do share quite a few attitudes and expectations around their digital selves. We are showing that age is less important than when you first picked the tools up, I think.

  2. Daniel Livingstone

    Hi Jeremy,

    “Isn’t this just a case of some educators taking a simplistic concept and misapplying it to the detriment of students?”

    I think it is well beyond that, because the naive and simplistic concept is taken on board outside of education too.

    “We are showing that age is less important than when you first picked the tools up, I think.”

    Perhaps, but how important is the age at which you pick up the tools? The first article quoted could be taken to imply that that is not a significant marker…

    As I’ve said elsewhere, what I particularly dislike about the digital native concept is the other half – the digital immigrant. This has lots of negative connotations, and is IMHO an unhelpful idea altogether.

  3. Rosie Wood

    As an untypical recent graduate in Computing with the Open University with over 25 years messing about with programming and computing I would like to add my tuppence worth.
    I found distance learning sometimes a bit like being your own tutor because you have to research everything yourself and only get feedback when you have submitted your assignments.
    Not being based in a city, to me, puts a student at quite a disadvantage; as the input from a live person telling you the pitfalls to avoid and what to expect in an exam is something that can only be gained at a tutorial. If you are based in a city this is no problem but if transport is a problem then I think your education has slight gaps.
    I think distance learning is a great idea when there is adequate communication but on most of my courses I was often left talking to myself. I do tend to go on and on…


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