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Mythbusting the “Digital Natives”

Every time I hear the term Digital Natives, I release the safety-catch of my virtual mythbuster kit!

I heard Marc Prentsky speak about three years ago – and he’s a man with many interesting points about gamebased learning – he is also known for coining the term “Digital Natives” to refer to the technology savvy youngsters. Now his own use of the term was fairly relaxed – but since then people (often in the public speaking industry) have been nailing down the definition, trying to decide whether 1980 or 1985 is the magic year. Making it sound like every single child born after that year are inherently tech-savvy, almost like some innate Chomskyan natural tech skills… This is usually the point in the conference, where I raise my hand and ask something like:

Aren’t you just elderly men who are amazed by what your grandchildren can do with a mobile phone? Or afraid of them?*

Really, I’m not trying to piss people off …I’m just fed up with the idea, that we do not need to teach young people about technology, they already know it all. What a load of cr*p! True: Most of them are not afraid of technology – but that does not necessarily mean they know how to use it very well.
Managing their digital identity, critical assessment of webpages, reading strategies to skim through search result lists to find the relevant hit – these are not skills people are born with. And maybe a few privileged american school children develop that all by themselves, but that would be the exception, not the norm. This is a view point I share with many other educators, who deal with student born well into the 80’s and even 90’s who don’t particularly like to use technology, and are certainly not particularly tech savvy.

However the idea of “digital natives” is so compelling, isn’t it? As educators, we don’t need to bother with teaching technology, well actually we can leave the tech stuff to the kids – they’re much better at it, and since we’re never going to be anything but digital immigrants, so it’s okay… Meanwhile we can make slideshows about how to deal with those multitasking figures of our imagination. Sorry got sidetracked there…

Well imagine my joy, when I met a fellow mythbuster at #ece11 at Salford University. A much more polite and scientific mythbuster, I might add. Mr. Antoine Van Den Beemt (who btw. was honored for having submitted the conference’s best article). Van Den Beemt has reserched the so-called Digital Natives in rather large numbers, and come to the conclusion, that they are in fact not innately tech-savvy. Just like the rest of the population, only around 9 % are content producers – another 9% are gamers, while the rest are traditional users or networkers (around 40% each), but why not let himself explain it:

Thank god someone is finally researching this myth to death! And he is not alone. So from here on out, when refering to young people, could you please use the new technical term “young people”? Thanks!

*I’m really not making this up, last time I did it was at Online Educa Berlin 2011’s Schoolforum, as Linda Castaneda is my witness!

Published in English Learning

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