Category Archives: Digital Natives

Urban Legends in Education

A recent article in Educational Psychologist sets out to debunk three urban legends in education: Digital Natives, Learning Styles and Self-Educators. This takes me back to the early days of this blog – which was started in no small part because I had a bad feeling about the idea of ‘Digital Natives’ as presented by Marc Prensky and similar ideas from others.

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Computer Programming as Digital Literacy

If the so-called ‘Digital Natives’ don’t know how to program a computer, are they really digitally literate? In his blog, Tony Forster presents an “argument for the authoring of interactive or programmable multimedia as an important meta-literacy skill.”  It’s a good start to this particular discussion, I think.

Certainly, in traditional schooling literacy is not just about reading – it is also about authoring. With digital literacy, in writing blogs or posting videos to YouTube students are using digital technologies while authoring written or visual content. They are acting as consumers of digital technology while producing content. Full digital literacy requires the ability to create new interactive experiences – i.e. programming. This view is also presented by Mitch Resnick et. al. in their recent paper for CACM:

Resnick, M., Maloney, J., Monroy-Hernández, A., Rusk, N., Eastmond, E., Brennan, K., et al. (2009). Scratch: programming for all. Commun. ACM, 52(11), 60-67. doi: 10.1145/1592761.1592779

Digital Natives/Immigrants Divide Not Supported By Evidence

Thanks to Stephen Downes at OLDaily for this. First up, the story links to the ‘Net Gen Skeptic‘ blog – how could I have not know about this blog?

In turn, Net Gen Skeptic summarises a new report from the University of Melbourne, on a project which has been investigating how

commencing first year students and their teachers use traditional and emerging technology-based tools in their everyday lives and to support student learning and drawn on the expertise of teachers and the results of this investigation to develop and implement pedagogically sound, technology-based tools to enhance student learning in local learning environments.

Skeptic summarises the findings mentioned in the report, starting with the key note that:

The rhetoric that university students are Digital Natives and university staff are Digital Immigrants is not supported.

Read more, with links to a handbook on good practice for ‘Educating the Net Generation’ and research papers, over at Net Gen Skeptic.

Are social networks harmful?

Are social networking sites harmful? I wouldn’t have thought so particularly, but this is the topic of the week it seems. Dr Aric Sigman has written a paper in The Biologist (membership of the Institute of Biology to even see the contents list, let alone abstract, so no link) saying that “websites such as Facebook set out to enrich social lives, but end up keeping people apart.” – as reported by the BBC, here.

“In less than two decades, the number of people saying there is no-one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled.”

Dr Sigman says he is “worried about where this is all leading”.

He added: “It’s not that I’m old fashioned in terms of new technology, but the purpose of any new technology should be to provide a tool that enhances our lives.”

And earlier in the month there was a debate in the UK House of Lords (part of our convoluted system of national government – think US Congress without elections and less power…) on social networking. This was reported on the Grauniad’s web site today, here.

In this latter article, I note the degree of similarity between some of Lady Greenfield’s comments on the changes to childrens’ minds brought about by digital technologies – and the changes in childrens’ minds described by e.g. Marc Prensky. Very different interpretation of whether these changes are good or not, however. Personally, I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle… TANSTAAFL. I’ll close with a quote from the Grauniad report,but note that the complete text of the debate is available online for any insomniacs out there – occaisional remarks in the debate show that some of the Lords are not completely out of touch with technology. (Baroness Sharp: “Lastly, children must be empowered to manage risk. As in the off-line world, one cannot eliminate risk completely; therefore one must build up resilience in children and educate them about the risks and how to minimise them.”).

Back to Lady Greenfield and the Grauniad:

She also warned against “a much more marked preference for the here-and-now, where the immediacy of an experience trumps any regard for the consequences. After all, whenever you play a computer game, you can always just play it again; everything you do is reversible. The emphasis is on the thrill of the moment, the buzz of rescuing the princess in the game. No care is given for the princess herself, for the content or for any long-term significance, because there is none. This type of activity, a disregard for consequence, can be compared with the thrill of compulsive gambling or compulsive eating.

“The sheer compulsion of reliable and almost immediate reward is being linked to similar chemical systems in the brain that may also play a part in drug addiction. So we should not underestimate the ‘pleasure’ of interacting with a screen when we puzzle over why it seems so appealing to young people.”


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…

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Do students like technology X? Do they need to?

Judy Robertson at Heriot-Watt has been using Second Life for first and second year programming classes, as revealed on Virtual World Watch. She notes that Second Life was an effective and engaging environment for students learning programming due to the rapid feedback and the ability to see what other students were doing. She also notes:

We have questionnaire data which indicates that our students don’t like SL very much. It has had negative publicity recently which makes some of them think it is “sad”. However, the students do on the whole like our module. They seemed to enjoy making their pets and are proud of them. There is not a straightforward motivational effect for SL itself, and it would be a mistake to use it on the assumption that the students will like it because it is fashionable.

Meanwhile, my own most recent class on Collaborative Virtual Environments has a range of comments from students including:

Second Life, the website, the forums and the video conferencing were all useful…

even though i loathed them [forums and blogs] when i started this module (and to a degree i still do) i feel they have played a very important role to the CVE module, and the CGT course.

We should avoid using technology because it is ‘cool’, or we think it might be trendy. Decisions should be based on how they might help student learning… and I’m glad that this year at least my students (and Judy’s, from the sounds of things) were able to see beyond their personal likes and dislikes and benefit from the use of Web 2.0 and virtual worlds in the classroom.

This again takes me back to Sarah Robbins keynote at last year’s SLEDcc conference (slides here) where she emphasised the importance of making explicit bargains with students… explaining why the class is doing something, and bringing them onboard.

Is technology rewiring our brains?

One of the more controversial claims around “digital natives” is that their brains are somehow wired differently from “digital immigrants”. I’ve posted often here about some of the issues I have with the concept of the “digital native” as generally conceived – this is the 38th post on this blog under the digital native category. See the whole set here.

The current edition of eCampus news has a short feature asking whether exposure to technology is indeed rewiring brains, and what sort of effects it may be having. While some scientists are skeptical that there are significant changes, others do think that some changes may emerge as children learn in different ways – not all changes being something to crow about:

When the brain spends more time on technology-related tasks and less time exposed to other people, it drifts away from fundamental social skills such as reading facial expressions during conversation, Small asserts.
So brain circuits involved in face-to face contact can become weaker, he suggests.

This one is new to me, and not something I’d considered before. Though as I noted, not all scientists are convinced. But as we consider how technology can benefit students, it is worth bearing in mind ways in which technology might actually hold them back:

Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain … calls that analysis and comprehension “deep reading.” But that takes time, even if it’s just a fraction of a second, and today’s wired world is all about speed: gathering a lot of superficial information fast.
Wolf asks what will happen as young children do more and more early reading online. Will their brains respond by short-circuiting parts of the normal reading  pathways that lead to deeper reading, but which also take more time? And will that harm their ability to reflect on what they’ve read?
Those questions deserve to be studied, Wolf says.

Review of the 'Digital Natives' debate

The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence by Sue Bennett, Karl Maton and Lisa Kervin

I have to admit to a sense of vindication reading this paper… many of my comments on ‘digital natives’ are reflected here in a review that draws on a number of research surveys and a fairly wide range of articles.

The picture beginning to emerge from research on young people’s relationships with technology is much more complex than the digital native characterisation suggests. While technology is embedded in their lives, young people’s use and skills are not uniform.There is no evidence of widespread and universal disaffection, or of a distinctly different learning style the like of which has never been seen before. … Education may be under challenge to change, but it is not clear that it is being rejected.

From my current class:

  • approx % of students using social networking – 20%
  • approx % of students who knew how to use styles in Word (a very handy time saver!) – 10%

More games please!

I’m starting to think that more of Prensky’s ideas about digital natives are becoming reality, albeit not for the generation he originally identified. While often technologically naive, game playing (and social virtual worlds) are perhaps now so commonplace amongst younger age groups (say six to 16) in the UK that the term ‘gamer’ is likely to become somewhat obsolete – or restricted to those who play the ‘hardcore’ games while other induldge in more casual gameplay.

Via PacRimX and simultaneous email from my friend Chris, a US survey has found that more than 50% of students in grades 3-12 would want to see more educational gaming in school. The figures still do reveal a divided audience however:

In fact, 64 percent of students in grades K-12 say they play online or electronic-based games regularly.

So, 36% don’t play digital games regularly. Still a substantial number, and a case against sweeping generalisations. My own (limited) experience of schools in the Glasgow area makes me believe the figure locally might be something like 90% regularly play digital games (ages 6-12), but I have no real figures to back this up.

More commentary here on eSchool news, or get the Project Tomorrow report itself.