There are 4 different types of digital learners. They range from Digital Foreigners to Digital Natives. Each has a unique way of looking at the world of technology. Most likely you are in a category based on when you were born and what technology was like at that time. Learning what digital category you are in will help you know what you have to do to move up on the technology continuum.
As we are moving further into the 21st century- yes, we are already here folks- there is a distinct and ongoing pressure for teachers to embrace technology. We are to modify our lessons, our teaching, and our technology skill set. We are encouraged to incorporate technology into every area of our classrooms. And yet a lot of teachers have trouble with this movement into all things digital. Some still struggle with the new digital language, new programs, or the new skills that are needed in this digital world.
What does this mean for our classrooms and students?
We have teachers that are digital foreigners trying to teach digital natives- our students.
These folks are pretty resistant to change. The old way is fine...why change it? They are unwilling or unable to adapt to the digital age in a consistent manner. Maybe it is just beyond their scope of experiences or maybe they just don't want to. Either way, the digital way of life is foreign to them. They may know the new digital world exists, but they do not want to "move" there. Paper and pencil are just fine thank you very much.
Digital immigrants have migrated over into the digital world. They are getting their toes wet. They are beginning to develop a digital skill set but may not have mastered much yet. Maybe they have a Facebook account and a tablet. They probably even have a smart phone. Someone who falls into this category probably sees the benefits of the digital world but doesn't quite know how to embrace it yet. They are living in the new digital world but are hanging on to some of their old ways too.
Example: My mom called me with a computer emergency. I had signed into my Google account on their laptop and forgot to sign out. The emergency? How to sign out of my email account and sign into hers. My mom has email, a smart phone, a Nook, and a tablet. She has Facebook and Pinterest. She is even the most faithful reader of this blog. But she still is technologically challenged. (Sorry MOM! Love you! And that's why you have me ;))
Teachers as Digital Foreigners or Immigrants
Teachers who fall into the categories of digital foreigners or immigrants think and speak differently than our students. Think of it as having a heavy foreign accent. Like someone learning a new language, you might get some of the nuances of the language wrong and you would speak with the accent of your first language. Students who are digital natives will find it hard to understand these teachers. Communicating with, connecting to, and catching the interest of their students will become an increasing challenge due to the digital language and technology skill gap that exists.
Digital settlers weren't born into technology, but they are surfing the digital wave in high fashion. They have integrated and "settled" into the digital landscape. These folks know current digital terms and can keep abreast of the fast paced changes in technology. A digital settler has a mad set of technology skills but wasn't born in the digital age. They have "settled" into the new digital world and are prepared to integrate with the natives.
What is a digital native? The term was first used by Marc Prensky in his book On The Horizon (see video below).
Digital natives are born into technology. They are born surrounded by the world of technology and all things digital. They can adapt to the changes in this digital world with ease. These students are not "mini me's" of us. They learn in a non-linear fashion. These are the kids that are sending 6 billion texts a day and downloading 2 billion songs a month. These natives can blog, YouTube, instant message, spend hours playing XBox with a friend in another state, and text with one thumb.
Example: I was at a birthday party with friends who have a son that is not even 2 yet. The parents gave the baby their smart phone since we were at a restaurant. The baby boy then proceeded to swipe, touch, and open his favorite Youtube video. He then got tired of the video; closed it out; searched for a game; opened it and played. He was amazing! I sat and watched him in absolute wonder. This baby boy was completely comfortable and adept at using a smart phone but couldn't even use the toilet yet! That is a digital native my friends.
Technology is not a tool to a digital native...it is their foundation!
Check out this video of Marc Prensky talking about our students as digital natives.
Which are You?
Take a moment to reflect on your digital prowess. What category do you fall in? You may find that you fall completely in one category or that you fall somewhere between two. I see it more as a flow from one group to another- moving along the spectrum so to speak toward becoming a digital native. Or at least trying to connect with the natives as a digital settler.
Okay. Back to teaching. Should teachers be moving toward becoming a digital native? Should teachers be aspiring to integrate more into the digital world that is developing around them? Is the push toward technology justified? Should it even matter inside the walls of our classrooms?
My answer is this...Absolutely! If we teachers want to speak the language of our students, we are going to have to migrate into the digital world and embrace the technology of the future for the sake of our students. If we don't, we will never connect with them and never be able to actually impart anything of importance to them. We might as well be speaking Latin. No communication, no connection, no motivation...no learning! The digital natives are becoming restless!