Still Fighting the Native Myth

Northwestern University is concerned about how their freshmen present themselves on the web and offer a course in the Communications Studies Department called “Managing Your Online Reputation”.

While the course developed by Ms. Hargittai and Mr. King uses cautionary tales, it also seeks to train students to build robust, productive online identities through which they can engage topics of interest, command audiences, and advance their careers. The course draws on social-science research about reputation and crisis management. The professors believe it to be one of a kind.

Is this class really necessary? These days most kids are “digital natives”, right? They start using communications devices as babies and quickly learn to work those social media sites that totally baffle their parents. Don’t they?

But Ms. Hargittai and Mr. King, among others, say that the familiar narrative about tech-smart young people is false. Their course grew out of years of research conducted by Ms. Hargittai on the online skills of millennials. The findings paint a picture not of an army of app-building, HTML-typing twenty-somethings, but of a stratified landscape in which some, mostly privileged, young people use their skills constructively, while others lack even basic Internet knowledge.

I’ve ranted on this topic a few times over the years and the bottom line is that the “digital native” myth is one of the most detrimental edtech clichés of the past decade. Far too often used as an excuse to avoid the kind of instruction, by schools and parents, being offered in this course.

So, why is it “one of a kind”? More importantly, why doesn’t this kind of instruction start in high school?

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