Palfrey and Gasser define Digital Natives as “children who were born into and raised in the digital world.” These children (or adults in some cases) have grown up in a world that is saturated with technology, ease of access to information and an exposure to media unlike any other generation before it. The wide spread use, simplicity and intuitive nature of digital devices now means children know how to control and interact with technology from a very early age. A great example is a popular YouTube video of a baby controlling an iPad, then opening up a magazine and thinking it’s broken because it doesn’t respond to touch:
However, we need to be careful that we do not assume our students know how to use technology proficiently simply because they were born into a world where they are exposed to it from a very early age. Yes, some children do know how to use technology to a very high level. But some can be anxious when using technology and are not comfortable using it. Just like some adults, we need to guided them through the process and set up learning opportunities so that they have exposure to technology in a range of settings. I believe that we still need to teach all children explicitly how to use technology safely, responsibly and efficiently. We have done this for generations with a range of analog tools that we use in education from dictionaries and atlases to pencils, pens and pain brushes. So we should also do this with the digital tools we use. We must explicitly teach students how best to use them so that they are safe and able to fully utilise their power.
The other aspect that should be taken into consideration when discussing Digital Natives in education is the amount of information that these children have grown up with access to. Cathy N. Davidson once wrote, “Wikipedia is an educator’s fantasy, all the world’s knowledge shared voluntarily and free in a format theoretically available to all, and which anyone can edit.” I believe this does not just apply to Wikipedia, but the internet in general. And when we are teaching our students, we should assume that they have access to this information, so asking them to memorise content is what our roll as educators should be. Unlike in times gone by, we are no longer the source of knowledge in our classrooms. Not to mention that our classroom walls are slowly but surely coming down and students are learning what interests them, when they want to and how they want to. As a result, our roll as teachers have change. we need to be teaching students how to access the knowledge that they are seeking, how to critically evaluate it and not just how to memorise it. We should be expecting them to draw connections between sources, teaching them to synthesise the information and apply it to the tasks they need it for.
But when you think about it, this is true for all people, not just those born this century. We all need to know how to access the vast troves of knowledge that has been created and shared on the internet and then use it for whatever our intended purpose is. This is also true for using technology, just because a person is a Digital Immigrant does not mean they useless on a laptop. The same way we should not assume our students know how to use a digital device. We need to keep an open mind and make sure we are teaching children the skills they need to function in a world that is changing so rapidly.