How My Thoughts are Changing 2: Digital Natives?

Beyond information literacy (Dr. Gary Stager, linked blow, might blow me up for “fetishizing information”), I am not convinced at all by the arguments for or my experiences with “digital natives” insofar as they are more savvy with technology or somehow fundamentally different from earlier learners. As Siemens notes, “How people work and function is altered when new tools are utilized.” (¶32) He goes on in the same paragraph to state that “learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity,” but I wonder when learning was? Babies and toddlers don’t learn language through monastic study because that’s silly and people are hardwired to learn in cooperation with one another (David Brooks is all over this in his book The Social Animal and related TED talks). So, as NYU’s Clay Shirky points out repeatedly in text and Ted, computing and networking allows us to connect and learn from people well beyond our physical space, but does this really fundamentally change us?

After all, as explored in “Living and Learning With New Media: Summary of Findings From the Digital Youth Project,” kids follow personal interests into the interwebs, emulating models and avoiding behaviors that might get them shunned. Kids create media, like digital photography, that lives up to “the expectation of an audience of friends that makes the effort worthwhile. Youth look to each other’s profiles, photos, videos, and online writing for examples to emulate and avoid in a peer-driven learning context that supports everyday media creation” emphasis mine (Ito, Horst, & Bettanti et. al 26). So what’s new? The learning is social, it self-organizes and creates genre – note the now classic high angle Facebook profile shot. But, I’m not sure that these kids have been radically altered beyond simply having new tools to use.

Will Richardson covers the flawed idea of “digital natives” when he writes:

One conclusion that I totally agree with concerns the knowledge that kids have around these technologies from a learning perspective:

Overall, as Bennett et al. (2008) suggest, there is little strong evidence for the main claims of the net generation literature, which they summarise as follows:

  • Young people of the digital native generation possess sophisticated knowledge of and skills with information technologies.

  • As a result of their upbringing and experiences with technology, digital natives have particular learning preferences or styles that differ from earlier generations of students.

Weller makes the point that

There seems little real evidence beyond the rhetoric that the net generation is in some way different from its predecessors as a result of having been exposed to digital technologies. There is some moderate evidence that they may have different attitudes.

Different attitudes, different practices, but not different hardwiring that gives students an innate leg up on my generation. Dr. Gary Stager responds to Richardson’s post in a comment by exploring the implications of the digital native perception this way:

First problem, the notion that being “exposed” to technology changes anything. Papert fought this simple-minded criticism of his work for decades.

I agree with the author that most young people have an alarmingly superficial understanding of or agency over the technology so central to their lives. We do not help this by fetishizing the information aspect of computers and pretending that “computing” (verb) is a thing of the past. For far too many kids, computer use in schools is a lot more like “Computer Appreciation,” just as science is often just “Science Appreciation.”

We conclude that the chatting we do over the Internet is revolutionary while leaving the curriculum untouched and unchallenged.

As we start to consider the movement from “hanging out” to “messing around” and “geeking out,” Stager often speaks about teaching computing, teaching robotics in constructivist learning spaces that support and allow for tinkering and exploring technology as “new spaces of possibilities” and authentic learning (Ito, Horst, & Bettanti et. al 26). Rather than teach PowerPoint 101, or “Computer Appreciation,” the curriculum should change and students should be getting their hands dirty, geeking out like the kids who, on their own, were:

Raised in a context where economic constraints remain part and parcel of childhood and the experience of growing up,xlvi they were able to translate their interest in tinkering and messing around into financial ventures that gave them a taste of what it might be like to pursue their own self-directed careers. While these kinds of youths are a small minority among those we encountered, they demonstrate the ways in which messing around can function as a transitional genre that leads to more sustained engagements with media and technology. (Ito, Horst, & Bettanti et. al 28)

What I see in my 1 to 1 classes is a lot of frustration with the basics and almost no programming, coding, hacking, or otherwise digging into the technology and geeking out. There may even be an argument to make for Computer Appreciation, but that should not be the end point. Students who have an opportunity to geek out and build stuff, break stuff, hack stuff, combine stuff, and otherwise play may have life altering experiences leading to self-efficacy with technology that becomes a career path, a lifelong ability to solve problems, or satisfaction at school that makes essay writing or calculus less painful. I’d say that’s a powerful potential. After all, we are all connected and problem solvers might help me, freeing me to do something else, teaching me to solve my own problem, or making something I use problem free. That’s the power of geeking out, as I see it.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s