Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Is Digital Native the Proper Label? Simple Answer: NO!!

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".

According to Wikipedia:

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.


  1. I've had simlar experiences to you David, albeit with slightly younger students. My school uses pbworks for it's base of digital operations and the difficulty tusdents have had with signing up for it has been staggering! Because they are registered with their email address some of them assume their email password will automatically be their log-in password. Others access the site from the registration email but then fail to set up their accounts properly and say they can't log in again...

    But, as you point out in your post, they are all comfortably active on Facebook, YouTube and online game services!

    It's always dangerous to assume that kids know what they are doing when it comes to tech and that's the path 'digital native' label leads us down. I think 'digital absorber' works - a lot of kids pick things up quickly once you show them but they don't always actively go out and experiment.

    1. Thanks, Dave for your comment. I know exactly what you mean also with the frustrations involved doing the ICT-ELT paradigm shift. But even tho, I still find it more interesting when it is all working than what I started with in 1996, and continued for another 13 years. I only want folk in the UK (especially) to back off with their aspersions about how the world is in our ELT sector. They tend to promote such innocuous labels, which, quite frankly, get on my proverbial "native" goat. Cheers for the follow.

  2. Very good points, David. I'm still a bit of a Digital Luddite, and while definitely seeing the pretty amazing variety of resources and materials for language learners both online and in e-resources, I worry about the amount of interpersonal, communicative use they are put to in the learning process: without practice (using language for a purpose), acquisition cannot take place.

    Thanks again for an excellent piece.

    1. Thanks, Gordon. I totally agree, and in my presentation in Ankara this week I made that very point. YES! there are many positives, but watch out for teacher lethargy, and students unaware of the intentions, objectives and outcomes of their English. But, when you go to these conferences, so many people are saying that it is a solution. For me, it is a tool and we use it less than 50% in our program. As you can see above, we initiated the "Language Boot Camp" as a means of pulling their necks back in. As you are very well aware, so necessary with thirteen year olds in ESL contexts. Cheers min. BTW, I am still up for some collaboration in hz, or maybe a few swallies to whet the whistle, and of course to discuss the benefits?

    2. SWALI, that's related to SPRE, isn't it? Aye, we definitely need to convene, converse and consume. Regarding the Avengers activity, good to see SPRE used in a lit activity, as it's generally used in more EAP contexts.

      Cheers, G

  3. I thought it was amazing to see that out of 20 students, only one knows how to type properly. It makes you wonder what is being taught during the normal computer lessons. It toally changed my perspective on the digital native paradigm.

  4. My three-year-old daughter is an absolute wizard with iPads and other such devices; she even knows to tap the 'x' whenever an advert appears. However, laptops, or devices which require more competence, shall we say (for lack of a better phrase) because of keyboards and mouses, completely baffle her. Sure, she'll grow up to be a digital native, a phrase I'm not too comfortable with myself, but a digital explorer? Although I like the phrase, I'm afraid it might paint a negative picture of people who, for various reasons, aren't very good with computers. Would those people be Digitally Lazy because they don't explore / aren't interested in new technology? Digitally Useless because they can't go beyond the simple day-to-day functions of technological devices? Digitally Daft because, no matter how many times you say "save your work before shutting down" they just don't do it??? We need something fair and balanced. How about Digitally Familiar, i.e., I know my way around all sorts of devices, I'm not necessarily an expert, nor am I incompetent; I can also learn to use new devices fairly quickly / I can learn to use new devices almost instantaneously.

  5. Thanks Batcave Master for the comment. I used "Digital native" to describe how young students have no fear for exploring the use of tablets, phones and netbooks. It is only for that I use it. By doing so, they do find their way round, re: your daughter, but inevitably they do stop very quickly. However, many people older than them are even scared to explore the desktop for fear of deletion etc. It appears to me that there are many more suitable terms / labels that could be used instead of the assumption that all students are "natives". As we know living in a foreign land for a great many years still does not make us natives, only visitors with many handicaps; whether it be language, bureaucracy, relationships etc. Thus teens are visitors to Microsoft or Apple products, Android and Web 2.0/3.0. It is just unfortunate that the former puts so many hurdles in place to hinder easy access and usability.
    I am so happy that the post has garnered reaction and dialog. It is surely the benefit of such a blog post to see educators and those folk interested in the present and future to be listening to what others have to say. Thank you for your balanced response. Cheers min!

  6. hear! hear! i am in total agreement, and blogged about it a couple of years ago here: http://cbotbyl.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/changing-roles-in-21st-century-learning/

    your assessment that you have "football fanatics, shopaholics and procrastinators" seems spot on. as adults we don't always know what kids are doing on the screens in front of them (mostly because we can't always see what's happening), so we make assumptions that they must be doing all kinds of creative and stimulating activities.

    'digital explorer' definitely seems a term that captures the spirit of school-aged kids. they are willing to explore the digital world at their fingertips, but need guidance and support to be promoted to 'digital native.'

  7. Thanks for your reply Christina. The term "explorer" is meant to mean that they are not even remotely worried when they are searching for things to make it work. Of course, they do give up very quickly, but they are so comfortable sliding between applications. That is impressive, but it is not always effective. As I wrote, the students at 13-14 really struggle to do anything outside their fb and games websites.