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Friday, March 02, 2007

Repost from the AECT BlogTrack - More On Digital Natives

This entry from the AECT BlogTrack is the third and final entry for the month of July and the seventeenth overall in the re-posts from this series.

Continuing on this theme of digital natives (see What Are Virtual Schools Doing For Digital Natives? for the most recent post), let’s get back to this issue of whether or not they exist and how they are defined. When I look around the blogsphere I see entries like:

One of the more interesting blog entries I’ve seen comes from the horse’s mouth, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: Origins of Terms from Marc Prensky’s Weblog.

Even in my own writing, in a recent manuscript that I am working on I wrote (and please excuse the notes to self included):

The covers of Time and Newsweek for the last week of March and first week of April 2006 read “Are Kids Too Wired for Their Own Good?” and “Putting the ‘We” in Web” respectively. The idea that today’s students are somehow different than previous generations and these differences are caused by access digital technology, such as the Internet and cell phones, is becoming common theme in both the popular media and is even being introduced in the academic literature (although there has been little actual research reported or conducted into these perceived differences). One of the first to discuss this in the literature, Tapscott (1998) labels these students the Net Generation. Basing his categories on David Foote’s 1996 book Boom, Bust, and Echo, Tapscott includes the echo generation or those born after 1977 as being a part of this Net Generation. While Tapscott acknowledges that not all of those born during this time frame have access to the Internet yet, he claims that they all have “some degree of fluency with digital media” (p. 3).

Similar to Tapscott, Howe and Strauss (2000) have also given the next generation a label based on a specific date of birth: millennials. [Add in sentence or two about the millennials once I get that recalled book] On the other hand, Dede (2005) groups these students – which he calls neomillennials – based upon a set of learning characteristics and can include the next generation of students that we now see in our educational institutions, but also baby boomers, Generation X’ers, or the children of the echo. The learning characteristics that he believes makes these students different include:

  • fluency in multiple media and in simulation-based virtual settings,
  • communal learning involving diverse, tacit, situated experience, with knowledge distributed across a community and a context as well as within an individual,
  • a balance among experiential learning, guided mentoring, and collective reflection,
    expression through nonlinear, associational webs of representations, and
  • co-design of learning experiences personalized to individual needs and preferences. (¶ 2)

While these various labels have been introduced over the past decade, most have not caught on outside of their immediate fields, with the exception of the label “digital native”.

Prensky (2001) has dubbed this next generation digital natives, as he feels that they “are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet” (¶ 5), with those of us who are not native to this digital language are considered digital immigrants. Today’s teenager has grown up with digital technology (e.g., cell phones, video games, computers, DVD players, video cameras, MP3 players, etc.) around them since birth, and according to Prensky (2006) the average kid by the time they have graduated from college has “spent fewer than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but often more than 10,000 hours playing video games, another 10,000 on their cell phones, and more than 20,000 watching television” (pp. 27-28). While he doesn’t provide a specific date, like Tapscott, Howe, and Strauss, Prensky alludes to the fact that this generation of digital natives began at a specific time – in the same way that an immigrant is one who comes to an existing place, these natives were born during the digital age.

So, I guess this boils back down to some fundamental questions:

  1. Are today’s students actually different than previous generations?
  2. Are these differences physical (i.e., are they actually wired differently)?
  3. How do we define these differences?
  4. What do we do about these differences?

Selected Bibliography (University of Chicago formatting):

Dede, Chris. “Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles,” EDUCAUSE Quarterly 28. (2005): http://www.educause.edu/pub/eq/eqm05/eqm0511.asp

Foote, David K. and Daniel Stoffman. Boom Bust & Echo: Profiting from the Demographic Shift in the 21st Century. Toronto, ON: Stoddart Publishing Co., 2000.

Prensky, Marc. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants – Part II: Do They Really Think Differently?,” On the Horizon 9, no. 6 (December 2001): http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/default.asp.

Prensky, Marc. “Don’t bother me mom – I’m learning!” (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2006), 27-28.

Tapscott, Don. Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation (New York: McGraw Hill Inc., 1998), 3.

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