Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

I heard that his work had been criticised a lot but was interested in what he had to say so read one of his articles that was suggested by a lecturerer: Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf (accessed 22nd January 2012).

I have an argument against his first paragraph, which states that “our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach”. Firstly, he was focusing on the US and seems to be generalising to all schools and education systems which are fundamentally different.

Although, I have heard the debates about education, not in the US but the UK getting easier, with the older generations saying ‘it’s getting easier’. But is it? Schools are emphasising the same amount on the core subjects: Maths, English and Science, but students seem to be choosing more artistic/non-core subjects such as art, drama, sociology and psychology for their GCSE and A Level options. How do you know that people who did O Levels instead of GCSEs wouldn’t have chosen these subjects – they simply didnt have the choice. Instead, I think standards of education have improved as children get more help with the core subjects.

Listening and reading the news there has also been a lot about the help of gifted and talented, and I agree. The argument is that all attention goes on low ability students and not shared out equally throughout the class. I believe that the teachers should spend more time enhancing, and empowering the whole classes’ education so everyone can progress at the same rate. However, because teachers have to reach certain targets by certain ages, for example, 80% of the class at level 4 maths, English and science by the end of year six, it is just not possible to do this. The pressure on teachers by the government is growing immensely and this pressure is changing the education system. This pressure goes on to secondary schools ‘League Tables’ which is there as a ‘advertising campaign’ almost to see which school is the best and which school parents want to send their children to go to, to get the best GCSE and A Level results.

Prensky then goes on to argue that children have not just gone to change “incrementally” but “discontinuity” because of the “singularity of the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century”. I agree that there is no going back now – but do we want to go back to the education system we had previously? Or try to progress to get the best education for the children at the time we are living in currently. I believe we should think less about the future and past and more about now.

Prensky suggests that children haven’t just changed their ‘slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles’; legislation, teachers, head teachers and other staff need to be flexible with these changes.

I think slang, body adornments or styles are the most important out of those mentioned; all which can lead to stigmatation in schools and at the work place – especially in the world of media. If you don’t have the right slang you are less likely to get on with the teachers because you are less likely to build up a rapport.

The body language of children is also important because body language needs to change from situation to situation. Also, body language can be negative in certain situations and is vital for children to understand to progress to be successful adults in the future.

Clothes I don’t think are of particular important at a home setting but at a school setting I believe it is vitally important. Children are expected to ware school uniform in the UK and not in the US, and what is the difference between the social aspects of the two systems? In the UK they are trying to teach students to dress in a professional way from the age of 4 when they start the Foundation stage, and maybe even earlier if children have been to a private pre-school. It seems that they are being told to conform all their lives, but in America they are not told to do this and stand out with their own personalities. On the other hand, this could provide the social problems such as ‘bullying’.

Bullying could be increased and be more serious with the help of digital technology through the ‘digital literates’ and the ‘digital immigrants’ may not know how to stop this because of their ‘lack of knowledge’ on the subject in hand.

Prensky looked at US college kids and said “They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Today‟s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives.” But not everyone can afford this, even though, I was told when studying sociology at a level that the people who have the most high technology and most expensive clothing brands are the bottom 2% of the lowest earners. Why’s this? Is this because brands and technology are the most important to them? I am currently looking for research to support this.

What Prensky has said above also looks like a bit of a generalisation, with programmes on television during the day not aimed at this age group. There are also educational programmes for children after school in which children learn. So maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. Previously, children could only learn from books and other such resources, but now children have a multitude of resources they can use. Is this a bad thing? On the other hand I can understand that there are risks to these new resources, such as e-safety, but handled in the correct way, these risks can be minimised or even eliminated. It just needs teaching, knowledge and less fear of the digital immigrants to teach the ‘digital natives’ about e-safety and risks and trust the ‘digital natives’ with their abilities. Although, I have learnt through my experience at primary schools that teachers don’t even try to use it – with ICT being taught less than once a week and only between seven and fourteen computers in a school. More harm could come from the digital world if no-one is willing to talk about it.

Another argument that could come from this is the argument that should ICT be taught in a suite with lines of desks? Or should it be taught with children in a big group or in pairs or groups so discussion can take place? Should it be in a more informal setting to allow children to feel more relaxed about ICT? And what should be taught?

Prensky comments that “This is obvious to the Digital Natives – school often feels pretty much as if we’ve brought in a population of heavily accented, unintelligible foreigners to lecture them. They often can’t understand what the Immigrants are saying.” But is this necessarily true? Because if in an open classroom where things were discussed and questions were asked between children and children and children and adults then everyone would learn more. And this is one of the reasons that I like to write my blog – to help people. Children could also do this – sharing their work online.

Prensky suggests that “Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast” but what if you don’t have the technology at home and you don’t use it at school? You are used to the steady pace that you find out information at school by exploring the information and your environment and not just on technology. In my opinion information should be ‘fast’ but ‘accessible’ for the children anywhere and should be able to cross-reference information. They shouldn’t be restricted to no technology or technology just at school or technology just at home but a variety of technology. Hand-held technology that they use at school should be able to be taken home and vice versa. This way they can get a rich variety of knowledge and be able to share this knowledge easier and open new ideas to their class and teacher from technology they bring from home. Prensky also brings the idea of multitasking – but is this such a bad thing? Even though it could be a bit distracting.

I believe that it is good for children if they do “…prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards.” If it makes children think out of the box and it could help with their literacy work – learning context dependent meaning. Although, I do agree that children shouldn’t ‘thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards’.

“They prefer games to “serious” work” – but isn’t it true that children learn and understand more if they are having fun. What does Prensky define as “serious work”.

Prensky argues that teachers who are digital immigrants teach digital natives step-by-step but I believe this is the best way for some students and differation should be used for the most advanced students because you cannot assume that all children that enter any education system, anywhere in the world are all digital natives.

I disagree with Prensky when he suggests that learning shouldn’t be done using Television and music and shouldn’t be fun because I have seen teachers of the digital immigrant generation in practice and their lessons have been fun and interactive with interactive and digital games, television programmes and music.

“Digital Immigrant teachers assume that learners are the same as they have always been, and that the same methods that worked for the teachers when they were students will work for their students now.” I agree with Prensky when he suggests that this is not valid anymore but I don’t agree with the statement. Teachers have gone on courses and had other ways in which they have develop professionally, such as own research to improve themselves, so this shouldn’t happen. Instead, some teachers will do this. I also agree that there are excuses made by teachers that shouldn’t be made for them to make these sort of assumptions and to justify their step-by-step approach to the teaching of ICT in the primary school.

I hope that I, as a trainee teacher, will “…learn to communicate in the language and style of their students…” and “…go faster, less step-by step, more in parallel, with more random access, among other things”. I also want to use the right sort of content in my lessons, which Prensky suggests are “Legacy” and “Future” content. Also, I agree that we as teachers have to: “Adapt materials to the language of Digital Natives”. I want to have “Digital Native methodologies for all subjects, at all levels, using our students to guide me” and have no objection about doing it

I share the same definition as Prensky of “Legacy” content and “Future” content. He describes Legacy content as: “reading, writing, arithmetic, logical thinking, understanding the writings and ideas of the past – the traditional curriculum” and the future content as: “content is to a large extent, not surprisingly, digital and technological. But while it includes software, hardware, robotics, nanotechnology, genomics, etc. it also includes the ethics, politics, sociology, languages and other things that go with them. This “Future” content is extremely interesting to today‟s students.”


Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants By Marc Prensky (2001) [PDF Online],%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf [Accessed 22nd January 2012]