Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Digital Natives... Digital Nomads... Multi-technoral

So I have been bugged for a while with the term 'digital natives' and finally I am bugged enough to write about it. I keep on hearing this term bashed around suggesting all our kids are digital natives, therefore it is ok just to launch technology at them and they will deal with it. This term comes cloaked in sayings like; 'the kids know more than us', 'just give it to them and they'll work it out faster than us'... the list goes on. What it looks like is teachers throwing technology at kids and expecting them to use it without enough guidance (I am guilty also).

The reality I see is that this is a facade. The whole idea of digital natives is a load of trash. Our kids grow up in a digital age, but many are not 'natives' in the true sense. The term 'native' points to an individual who has a handle on the things in their environment, they can use the surroundings and survive fine. A jungle native can use all the jungle and live effectively within.

What I have seen is that our kids aren't digital natives, they are digital nomads, nomads in the sense that their environment is always changing due to developments around them and their digital desires which shift them like the sand in the desert.

This environment is also a multi-technoral (a made up word I have created equivalent to 'multicultural') environment, as within it there are many tech languages. Each kid is entering this multi-technoral environment with different digital languages, some speak games, others text, some program, others talk facebook, a few type and the list goes on. The reality is there are many digital languages that they don't have a handle on.

So as a teacher my concern is we often throw them into this environment and expect them to survive, however the reality is that we need to ensure they speak the digital language we are using. We can't assume we have digital natives, we can assume we have a multi-technoral class with many different languages. It is our job to ascertain which digital languages are spoken and to ensure we are multi-techno-linugal in our teaching so we can speak, teach and engage all our kids.



  1. I go back and forth on the digital native thing but most of the time land on the digital native argument. BTW......you are a digital native. Digital Native is anyone born in 1975/76 and after. What I like about the term "Digital" is it goes beyond the computer.

    "The term 'native' points to an individual who has a handle on the things in their environment, they can use the surroundings and survive fine."

    I would argue that kids are native to this digital world. You might not understand all your native surroundings, but you are native to them. There are things however that these digital native do and figure out, for the most part, very well.

    TV: I do not know a Digital Native today who can't run/figure out to run a TV set. My grandfather won't upgrade his TV in fear of having to learn a new remote control. Digital Natives have no fear.

    DVD Player: Most digital natives today could figure out a DVD player relatively fast. It's not only knowing what to push but having the "no fear" to play and experiment until the result they want happens.

    Gaming Consoles: There are not many kids today, or 20 somethings that could not figure out a gaming console in a matter of minutes, and they seem to be able to adjust as new gaming consoles come out.

    That is the digital world they have grown up in. It's in the 1st graders who will tell you their favorite website is Google without knowing what it is, they just know their parents talk about it.

    I would even argue your own daughter is growing up as a digital native. She expects all her music to be digital and on the iPod. She expects that when a picture is taken you can view it right now.

    She is also being exposed to the computer every time you are on it.

    I like the idea of Digital Nomads as those that wander where the new technologies take them. Within this digital environment you could be a digital nomad. I do believe we call those people geeks. Those that try every new thing, get excited about every new product and wander where the new technology takes them.

    Within that is the digital society we all live in. The ability to watch TV with news reports within minutes of events happenings. The ability to follow #redshirts in real time via Twitter.

    I believe Digital Natives handle the "digital norms" of society better than digital immigrants. Facebook is quickly becoming a society norm in America as last month more people visited Facebook than Google. Most of the people on Facebook are digital natives ages 13-40. That age group needs very little help learning and using Facebook. As it becomes the norm of society the Natives are able to adapt to the new environment. The problem is what is the norm? Google, Facebook, YouTube, Cell Phones, Gaming Consoles......

    The issue to me is one of overwhelmed opportunity. That there are so many tools, websites, information that we become overwhelmed. We cannot expect every student to know the tool we want them to use. But I would say we could expect them to learn that tool rather quickly if we give them time and structure it appropriately.

    Whether we call them digital natives or digital nomads the key word there is that either way....they are growing up in a digital world...and teaching them to navigate, be safe, and be productive in is, is what teaching is all about. :)

  2. Wow, Jeff; you beautifully stated what I've been thinking for some time now but could never have articulated so well. As usual, we have taken the term "digital native" and thrown it on the most extreme side. I keep wondering what Marc Prensky thinks about all of this hullabaloo. Thanks so much for sharing your words with us, Jeff.