Digital Natives (part 1)

“Children are the future of the country” if you want to know the future you should know how children are nowadays. The succeeding question is how are the children today?

Today’s children are born digital — born into a media-rich, networked world of infinite possibilities. But their digital lifestyle is about more than just cool gadgets; it’s about engagement, self-directed learning, creativity, social networking and empowerment.

The author of “Teaching Digital Natives” Marc Prensky says: “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 discontinuity has taken place”…. “the explosion of technology over the last 10 years is just the start of a symbiotic new world. Computers and handsets are becoming an extension of body and mind, creating a Cyborg-like population”.

You only have to realize how they spend their entire days surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, cell phones, tablets and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Computer games, email, the Internet, social media and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives. They grow up with this new technology. They are Digital Natives. [Marc Prensky (2001a2001b) 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”).]

Prensky defines Digital Natives as those born into an innate “new culture” while the digital immigrants are old-world settlers, who have lived in the analogue age and immigrated to the digital world.

Here is an image of a mind map created to show the differences between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants:   (click to enlarge)

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Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They 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. They prefer games to “serious” work. The following infographic takes a look at today’s kids as compared to the children of the past:     Click here

The single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant teachers, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.

Parents live with it. Teachers see it daily. You can’t observe young people and not notice how smoothly and seamlessly they dive into new Web 2.0 communication technologies. With a flick of the cell phone, they share more texts, photos, music, and video than any other demographic group on Earth. Either way, the teachers, moms, and dads among us find ourselves on the outside peering into a world we neither know nor understand. Too often, we draw conclusions that miss the point — and the promise — of what these new communication tools offer. Sound familiar? Perhaps it’s time for all of us to explore the Web 2.0 frontier.

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Digital Natives accustomed to the twitch-speed, multitasking, random-access, graphics-first, active, connected, fun, fantasy, quick-payoff world of their video games, social networking sites (facebook, tuenti, twitter, etc.), and Internet are bored by most of today’s education, well-meaning as it may be. But worse, the many skills that new technologies have actually enhanced (e.g., parallel processing, graphics awareness, and random access)—which have profound implications for their learning—are almost totally ignored by educators. Digital Immigrants typically have very little appreciation for these new skills that the Natives have acquired and perfected through years of interaction and practice. Every time Digital Natives go to school they have to power down.

Digital Natives1

The possible solutions will be discussed in the next post.

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