Digital Natives

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  • Topic: Digital native, Education, Marc Prensky
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  • Published : February 8, 2013
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Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants:
Some Thoughts from the Generation Gap
by Timothy VanSlyke
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In a two-part series entitled "Digital Immigrants, Digital Natives," Marc Prensky (2001a, 2001b) employs an analogy of native speakers and immigrants to describe the generation gap separating today's students (the "Digital Natives") from their teachers (the "Digital Immigrants"). According to Prensky, the former are surrounded by digital media to such an extent that their very brain structures may be different from those of previous generations: Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics beforetheir text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to "serious" work. (2001a, p. 1 [print], ¶ 11 [online]) In contrast, those not born in the digital world reveal their non-native status through a "Digital Immigrant accent" that manifests itself in a number of ways—printing out a digital document to edit it rather than editing it online, for example (Prensky, 2001a, p. 4 [print]; ¶ 8 [online]). Prensky's analogy struck a chord for me. I could easily identify with the 12-year-old boy who moves with his family to the "new world," quickly assimilates into the new culture, and learns to speak without an accent. As a 30-something, I am a bit older than the generation that Prensky describes, but like that generation, I spent my share of time on television and video games, and I have assimilated into the digital age relatively easily. Until recently, I was employed at a U.S. university where I played a dual role: Part of my job was to help faculty integrate technology into their teaching practices, and the other was to teach technology courses to candidates in the teacher preparation program. In this dual role, the cultural divide that Prensky describes was apparent. The native/immigrant analogy can help us understand the differences between those who are comfortable with technology and those who are not; however, I disagree with many of the conclusions that Prensky draws from it. In this article, I consider the implications of Prensky's analogy and whether it provides sufficient justification to radically change the way we view teaching and learning. Bridging the Gap: New Technologies, New Languages

Prensky argues that the gap between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants is the fundamental cause of the alleged "decline of education in the US," and he contends that our current educational system has not been designed to serve today's students (2001a, p. 1 [print]; ¶ 1 [online]). Today's students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past, nor simply changed their slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles, as has happened between generations previously. A really big discontinuityhas taken place. One might even call it a "singularity"—an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back. This so-called "singularity" is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century. (2001a, p. 1 [print]; ¶ 2 [online]) How can we bridge the cultural and linguistic divide separating today's teachers from their students? According to Prensky, Digital Immigrants are attempting to teach the Digital Natives with methods that are no longer valid; the only choice may be for educators to change the way they teach. "Unfortunately," he says, "no matter how much the Immigrants may wish it, it is highly unlikely the Digital Natives will go backwards. In the first place, it may be impossible—their brains may already be different" (2001a, p. 4 [print]; ¶ 17 [online]). The solution Prensky proposes is for today's teachers to learn the language of the Natives, to speed up instruction, and to provide...
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