A Resolution For The New School Year

It’s a new school year so why not adopt a good resolution to get it started?

My nomination would be for everyone drop the antiquated digital native myth.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen the phrase used in several different back to school edtech articles as a lazy shorthand to excuse their lack of understanding about how kids relate to technology. Too many educators and parents also seem to have accepted the idea as scientific fact. 

It’s just plain false.

A paper recently published in a European teacher preparation journal is just the latest research to make the case that growing up with PCs, texting, and PlayStations does not endow kids with “native” technology skills.

In particular this and earlier studies knock down the concept of “multitasking”, that these “digital natives” are able to accomplish two or more tasks at the same time. Plenty of research shows the human brain just doesn’t work that way.

For years I tried to get the educators I worked with to understand that students have two big advantages over adults when it comes to using new devices and software: they have more time to spend on them than you do, and they are highly motivated to learn.

Teachers can’t do anything about the time issue. It’s just the nature of being a grownup with grownup responsibilities. They can do something about the motivation part.

However, teachers also need to realize that their students are not highly proficient in all aspects of using technology.

They are wizzes with social interaction apps. They know all the popular Instagram filters and the best emojis to express their feelings. They are quick to find the YouTube channels from which they can learn new skills, and maybe even make some videos of their own.

Kids are lacking when it comes to using their devices and the web for learning more broadly about the world they will enter as adults. They have difficulty filtering through the internet stream to find valid information. They need help understanding how to best present themselves online.

Which is where you come in.

You don’t need to match the abilities of your students when it comes to social media and the rest. You do need to understand how students can apply the technology available (including their personal devices) to collaborate and communicate online.

Just stop calling them “digital natives”. And don’t call yourself a “digital immigrant” either.