I presented at the Istanbul ESU conference on Thursday and represented my school. It was a genuine honor to do so, since getting one's school to admit they need PD is often not an easy job. Well, that used to be the case at the last place I worked, but thankfully, my current place of employment has a very hands-on approach to professional development, especially ICT PD. However, this post is not about PD. It is about labeling kids with the wrong thing, or anything for that matter; but, in particular, the use of "DIGITAL NATIVE" for young people. Before my rant starts to gather steam, please watch this awesome short video. Well awesome, that is, until the minutes 2:02-2:06. See for yourself.
Now just as I warned you, the video is brilliant, right? It is a true reflection and perception of education in today's world, with facts and figures and the only solution is ICT. Well, maybe the message isn't all about ICT as the savior of our children, but it does definitely lead you to think that way. However, I used it in my presentation because I liked how it had comments from children talking about what they want, need and expect to get for their time in education. That to me is awesome when students start to properly believe that they are the ones who can change their education, and we are definitely starting on the road (again) towards ICT as a part-solution to our needs. My own message is that ICT is not a solution, part or otherwise, it is a TOOL, and should always be considered so. But that is for another day. For now, I want to focus on "DIGITAL NATIVES".
A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologia and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts. Alternatively, this term can describe people born during or after the latter 1960s, as the Digital Age began at that time; but in most cases, the term focuses on people who grew up with the technology that became prevalent in the latter part of the 20th century and continues to evolve today.
Other discourse identifies a digital native as a person who understands the value of digital technology and uses this to seek out opportunities for implementing it with a view to make an impact.
I really have a problem with this definition. It basically covers everyone born since the middle to late 60s, or people who grew up at the same time as the first Microsoft desk top, or even more unfortunate, someone like MYSELF: "...a person who understands the value of digital technology and uses it to seek out...etc etc." I know that Wikipedia is not to be fully trusted on first read, and it is there for me to contest with better sourcing and definition, but surely we cannot possibly be expected to accept that everyone is a digital native as long as they were born during the height of the Beatles?! No way!! But, my rant is not about Wikipedia's definition. It is about the misuse of Digital Native to describe young people at school.
I teach classes of students born in 1998. YES! 1998!!! And I have to try and get them prepared for a life of English at high school. My main focus is English, but I have the fortunate task (no irony intended) of also integrating students with ICT-ELT. This has been an extraordinary awakening of two years for me battling with technology and compatibility of emerging systems, but mainly it has been a huge undertaking to get these thirteen year olds able to use a normal, run-of-the-mill netbook. A mini lap top, in fact. A gadget that is very functional on Windows and is only slightly bigger than an iphone 5, (well eight times larger, but you get my drift that they are small).
Let me tell you, that has been the most difficult part of addressing young Digital Natives (now irony is on the desktop!) From both intakes last year and this, 2012-2013, there has been one in each year; both boys. The rest fall into several other categories ranging from football fanatics, shopaholics and procrastinators who simply don't care what a netbook does apart form access Facebook, Youtube and Video Games like World of warcraft. In fact, even the two boys who have been identified as the only people capable of being labeled "Digital Native" also came to school unaware of the basics; it has just been that they pick it up very quickly, and don't need telling twice-one hundred times.
It took my colleague and I eight school days to instruct our students on how to access files, save files, passwords, sign ups for sites, our PLN , writing journal and sending email. Eight days means we were together for nearly forty periods. Of course we did teach English as well, but this can put it into some sort of perspective that they have no awareness of what is going on around them, so they forge ahead exploring, making errors, getting lost and ultimately giving up. This has been when we, as the teachers, came in and had to retell the basic instructions. Surely, if Digital native was an a accurate label, those kids would have come already aware, kitted up for our ICT-Language bootcamp. But NO!! They have not been, and I don't see it changing even remotely soon. Children are skeptical that they can actually benefit from it. Their initial reaction was, and has been, leaning towards only having short-term fun on the device. One can only concur that education has clearly never been a consideration.
So, I propose DIGITAL EXPLORER as the new and accepted lable for teens and computers. Kids love to explore the internet for things that make them shocked, first, and laugh, second. They are definitely experts at FB, YouTube and İnteractive games, but I know that they are not comfortable with the tech-side of things. That has never changed since I was at school. So, lets not kid ourselves. It is up to us to make them sound in their practices so that they can really benefit from all the hoo haa about ICT-ELT. I love the fact we have this opportunity, and if, by doing more to encourage students getting on board in my lessons, I am all for keeping them interested and exploring for more.