Sunday, January 25, 2009

Don't Throw the Baby Out With The Bath Water: Exploring What Digital Natives Need From Teachers

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

“Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.”


At first I was eager to jump on Marc Prensky’s bandwagon with a rowdy “yee-haw!” Out with the old and in with the new! But then I spent the past week watching my students through the lens of that assumption. Time and time again I was overcome with feelings of nostalgia. I kept catching myself thinking, “gee, I remember when I had to go through that, or thinking that a student was the spitting image of a younger (and thinner) me”. So, I decided to look a bit deeper into Prensky’s argument that students have radically changed. I hit the net and found information on the different generations. As I read the different descriptions of the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Y and finally Generation V (or as Prensky calls them, Digital Natives). I found that yes, there were differences based on what the world was going through during those two decades, but I found that there were more commonalities that could be used in an educational context. Here is what I found:

Presnsky states that Digital Natives are accustomed to:

- Receiving information fast

- Parallel process

- Multi task

- Used to being in a network

- Want frequent rewards

- Instant gratification

- Crave interactivity

Billings and Kowalski (2004) state that:

Baby boomers

- Want to have a say in own learning

- Want a caring environment

- Respond to positive feedback, desire to do well

- Connect learning to outcomes

- Want to feel connected to others in the learning environment

Generation X

- Manage independently and participate in discussions

- Adapt well to change

- Tolerant of alternative lifestyles

- Try to attain several goals all at once

- Are comfortable with technology

- Self-directed learners; work in teams

- Want clear information of practical value

- Use fun and humor; games and activities are appropriate

Generation Y (Digital Natives)

- Grew up experiencing digital media and internet access

- Use mobile devices to access and process information

- Technology is expected

- Prefer to work in groups and teams

- “always on” connectivity blurs work time and learning

- Want “augmented reality” – real work environments similar to the work setting such as simulations and

virtual reality.

- Active learners; seek innovations; want immediate response to learning needs and questions

- Have difficulty focusing on one thing; prefer to multitask

- Have difficulty honing skills of critical analysis necessary to read between the lines due to volume of

available information.

- Use “hyper-learning” models as opposed to linear acquisition of information; want to construct information on their own; are independent.

- Enjoy being mentored by older generations

Now, let’s pull the commonalities out from these lists and see how all three generations are similar.

All three generations:

- Want to construct information on their own; are independent.

- Are active learners; seek innovations; want immediate response to learning needs and questions

- Prefer to work in groups and teams

- Try to attain several goals all at once

- Manage independently and participate in discussions

- Want to have a say in own learning

- Want a caring environment

So, between all three generations, we have quite a few similarities. Within these similarities lies the true pedagogy of teaching. Do we need to completely reinvent the way we teach students? Not if you agree that we still have many similarities connecting the generations. I prefer to think of the new technology as a new and innovative vehicle in which to present learning opportunities. Merritt Colaizzi is of the same mind when he stated, “These vehicles enable students to collaborate, make connections to ideas in new ways and have conversations they haven't been able to have in the past”.

Digital natives or generation “V” are very comfortable with these new technologies and are motivated by the use of these technologies. Teachers can still use tried and true teaching strategies that have worked in the past with these “digital natives” because universal truths about students learn still exist. However, teachers can't ignore the fact that teaching, in and of itself is an innovative and creative process. Students may still have many similar learning preferences and attributes but the resources that we use to teach them need to keep up with what the students are used to dealing with in their everyday lives. Check out this video that illustrates the need for these resources in the classroom:

Marc Prensky says, “My own preference for teaching Digital Natives is to invent computer games to do the job, even for the most serious content.”---While I am reading this I am thinking to myself, what kid doesn’t prefer playing games to listening to a lecture. How is this new and innovative? Yes, the technology that is being used today is new but the pedagogy behind it is the same that it has been for years………………. Are these new methodologies or just new resources being used to engage the learner?

Over 2500 years ago Confucious knew how students learned best. I cannot believe that in ten years time student’s have changed so dramatically that this quote is no longer applicable:

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. “

Am I ignoring the differences? Certainly not, I feel that it is those differences that we each bring that will enrich our learning experience (notice the learning experiences are OURS not just our students!).

Implications for the classroom

Despite having doubts about some of Prensky’s ideas about the need for new methodologies, no teacher can ignore the fact that technology is changing at a rapid pace and we are, indeed, preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist (Frisk). We also can’t ignore that there are differences between our generation and this new “Virtual Generation”. These students have changing needs that reflect the changing landscape of technology, business, commerce, and global relationships and, as teachers, we need to constantly reflect upon if our resources and strategies are adequate to prepare our students to be contributing members of society. That means that I will constantly be assessing what my students need to be learning and how best to engage them. Not exactly ground-breaking, I know but if Confucious’s words can still hold such truth, I can stick by my teaching philosophy written ten years ago!!

Anyway, I would like to leave you with one of my favourite Confucious quotes to end this post:

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”


Mrs. Hilland, Librarian said...

I apologize for the strange change in colour throughout my post. Strange error messages and font issues kept popping up and I finally gave up on trying to fix it! I hope it doesn't distract from the post!

Anonymous said...

Hi April - I found your post engaging and informative. I like how you explore this issue through the eyes of your learners. I agree Prensky has given educators a lot to think, about but I think you've put a good perspective on his message!


Jes said...

Your post made me think about a couple of things. First of all, after watching the TeacherTube video, I found myself questioning where the human interactions are that I hope most of my students are having sometime after the last school bell of the day, and the first school bell of the next day. I realize that the video is trying to make a point, but I found it to be a little too extreme as well as disturbing. I want to believe that students have some sort of physical and social interaction with others.

I really like the fact that you brought in Confucious' quote, which should be a simple reminder to all of us digital age educators about how our students learn. We need to prepare our students for "doing" the jobs of the future, and the only way to do this is to get them involved with technology in the classroom. But this doesn't necessarily mean that it has to take over our lessons - it can simply be used to enhance ALL of our learning.

Jodi said...

Hi April, Jodi here from our SD42 Lit. Teachers group. I've checked out a few of your posts and have really enjoyed reading and viewing them and your collaborators' responses.
You might be interested in reading Ursula Franklin's Massey lectures on "The Real World of Technology". Franklin insists, contrary to commonly-held and often unexamined prevailing beliefs in educational circles, that technology is not only artifacts but also complex and complicated systems of social practices. Hence, it is very much more than a "tool" and comes with a set of assumptions, particular affordances and limitations, as well as complicated power dynamics. As such, Prensky's assertion is bang on: the dominant North American education system is designed to reproduce a certain kind of self/subject/identity/individual and society. It seeks order and control and uncritical simulation of culturally valued knowledge, roles and practices. We have only to scan a typical classroom to see the privileging and authority of printed text and the textbook, of the notion that learning only takes place inside the four walls of a building (see Jeremy Bentham's technologies of surveillance and Michel Foucault's ideas on power as they connect to timetables, bells, records of accountancy, and normalizing populations through technologies of the body and the soul) and that knowledge and knowing is all about dividing a day into discrete and fragmented units and blocks of time (aka the "shape or schedule of the day"). I think Prensky's claim is that students today, more so than ever, are faced with largely linear, static, disconnected, passive consumption models of and in education when what, who and how they "are", do, think, value and believe with respect to identity formation and learning is networked, divergent, hyperlinked, deeply connected and relational, fluid and dynamic. Prensky's assertion is that the education system does not cultivate the novelty, nurture the differences, inject complexity or favour (intentionally) transgressive disruptions through genuine and agentive production and creation (in this case, through technology, like Web 2.0 social networking sites). Prensky and others (de Castell, Haraway, Jenson, Bryson, Lessig, Innes, Ihde, McLuhan, etc.) all point out how technology is typically used in educational and institutional settings, where power and authority are hierarchical, to deliver set curriculum and programs, to meet set standards, to evaluate outcomes based on pre-established criteria, to administer remedial practice (to "make them like me", or homogenize and normalize) and to track, record and document with little, if any, analysis around the sociocultural and political implications of such practices. I think that's Prensky's point. If the system were indeed set up, for example, to promote collaboration and a view of knowledge as shared, distributed and collective, then we wouldn't have age-based grade-groupings, learning would not happen in buildings built and organized on factory and business structures, systems and practices, and most students wouldn't be going through the same chapter in the same book in the same order every year in math, separate from science, distinct from reading, and so on.