Hanging with the Digital Imigrants, Talking about the Natives...

I'm sitting here sipping my coffee and eating a cheap danish, waiting for the keynote speaker. Laptops on the table are the rule rather than the exception. The woman to my right is video chatting with her 7 and 10 year-olds on her Mac book, while the woman to my left is checking email on her Blackberry. Bear in mind, these are the digital immigrants. We're all teachers and administrators in our 30's through 50's. If this is the norm for us, imagine what our students did before or during breakfast, this morning!


In fact the entire point of the presentation this morning and this conference as a whole is examining where our students really are (or should be) with technology and learning and how to act with them to move forward. We are teaching a digital generation and failing miserably. We are clearly on the crest of a wave of extreme change in our way of life. As Karl Fisch notes, "shift happens". In one arena, the world at large, our economy is moving from a manufacturing-based system to a global services provider, our children are becoming hyper-communicators and hyper-multi-taskers who are armed with gadgets that give them access to anyone and anything they need or want from anywhere at any time. In the other arena, public education, we are feeding our students the traditional diet of our old world:

  • Attending school one location at a time

  • Learning the teacher’s way

  • Learning is solitary

  • Feedback comes when it is ready

  • There is usually limited or only one learning path or style used.

It’s not that education doesn’t mean well. We’re really trying. We buy lots of computers and software, we analyze lots of data, we discuss the needs of students and how they learn, and we even attend large conferences about how to do all of these things. So, why are we still failing so darn miserably?

For starters, we need to "act with" our students, as Deneen Frazier Bowen often says in her performance-lectures. What's the point of analyzing technology related data without including the students in the process? We may be asking the wrong questions. We need to listen to the learner and value their opinions and input when it comes to technology. How much money does your school district spend on software that kids don't want to use or refuse to use? Who controls access and choice when it comes to technology? Are the students ever involved, or is it just the teacher? Worse yet, is it a network administrator locked away in a server room somewhere? Today's technology is designed and implemented around an intuitive, collaborative, and investigative model. This means, when a student wants to know something, he or she knows that the answer is not far away, and if a student wants to accomplish something, he or she knows that like-minded people are just as close. Yet, we are using our limited financial and technological resources to serve up such stale dishes as Autoskill's Academy of Reading or courses on how to use Microsoft Word. Incidentally, have you ever heard of Google Docs or ZoHo? It begs the question, how many people beyond clerical workers will be using Microsoft Word in five years?

Second, in this highly-litigious age, where education is so often the target of frustrated parents, zealous politicians, and a sensational news media, we're too darn scared to provide students with the twenty first century skills they'll need to survive. We are rendered totally inept and inconsequential by FEAR.  While we sit around discussing AYP and analyzing data in the name of covering our own behinds, our students' future survival is dying quickly. While they sit in classrooms meeting standards and in computer labs that are so crippled by strict filtering of everything from email to newsgroups and chat that they're nearly a reflection of 20th century technology, rather than 21st, our students' future survival is dying quickly. Our behinds are covered though... until, of course we're in our sixties, living in a third-world country with a stagnant economy and a crumbling infrastructure because the generation after us just wasn't able to keep up (sorry, that may have been hyperbole... but then again...).

The question remains then, how do we move forward?  How do we claw our way out of this gross ineptitude that is slowly rendering us inconsequential and irrelevant to our students?  How do we "act with" our students to help them become communicators, collaborators, and problem-solvers, equipped with the technical knowledge to survive a rapidly changing world?  How do we feed the digital natives an educational diet consisting of something other than the stale traditional diet that is failing us so miserably?  Perhaps we should start with an appetizer of:

  • School that can be attended anywhere anytime. (Is your classroom available online? We're not talking about a gradebook and homework list.  Can your students communicate with you and each other in a safe social platform?)

  • Resources that are available to help students learn in the way that works best for them. 

  • Learning activities that are social and collaborative.

  • Real technology that students actually use in real life is available to provide the timely information and feedback students are accustomed to.

Finally, we need to get our heads out of the sand and stop being paralyzed by fear.  We should be embracing the technologies our students are using anyway, rather than filtering and blocking them wholesale. Results of a 2007 national survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that 55 percent of all online American young people between the ages of 12 and 17 use social networking sites for communicating about everything from school-related issues to where the next party is taking place. Many of the unsafe uses of such technology as blogs, social networking sites, MUVE's, and secondlife.jpgMUD's collectively referred to as the Web 2.0, have found their way into our collective consciousness as a nation, due to the many news stories chronicling the disastrous effects of unsupervised uses of this technology by our children. Clearly, this generation—poised to shape the future—has already found Web 2.0 applications integral to daily life. For education not to step up and maximize these resources for teaching, learning, and driving innovation is to risk becoming marginalized as a viable influence in helping to shape the 21st century. Too often, we, as adults, have decided that the tools that our students use when at home are inappropriate for school and learning. Since we do not like the content students produce on blogs without adult supervision we will not let them near a blog, even with adult supervision. Educators should co-opt these tools not only to increase motivation but also to teach appropriate, ethical, and safe etiquette for using such tools.

Additional Research and Resources:

Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social – and Educational – Networking, National School Boards Association
Related Articles
Digitales: The Art of Digital Storytelling
Cybil’s story can be found under the StoryKeepers Gallery: The Path of Me
Speak Up! Day, a project of NetDay
Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: A New Way to Look at Ourselves and Our Kids
Student Voices Count: A Student-Led Evaluation of High Schools in Oakland
School Climate in Boston’s High Schools: What Students Say
Milennials Rising: The Next Great Generation by Neil Howe and William Strauss
Why Listen to Students? By Chris Unger
Student Voice: The Voices of Today and Tomorrow by Sharon Pekrul
Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans: State of Our Nation’s Youth, 2004
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott
Got Game: How the Gaming Generation is Reshaping Business Forever
by John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade
Dr. Maulana Karenga
Angelo Ciardello’s Essential Questions – Article by Barbara Jansen


  1. Preach on, brotha. The more opportunities we have to discuss these inequities, the more likely we are to affect change. I agree that our system is failing, but not due to the lack of trying. Like you said, we are all trying. Education just moves too slowly.
    I like what Deneen Frazier Bowen has to say. Why not let students get involved? Let's empower them in some decision-making. We can have them analize their own data. Maybe they can help us make better choices when we purchase software? Maybe. It can't hurt to try, can it? After all, the world isn't waiting for us to catch up.

  2. Interesting.

    Presuming that everyone in the world is in the same situation (in fact most people are a lot worse off than your students), and your so-called "digital natives" will also become obsolete in their time, I'm not sure there's all that much of a panic about "new technology."

    The technology is the easy stuff. Any future technology that catches fire is, a) going to be a lot easier to implement and use than existing applications, b) going to be so compelling that everyone will use it, and c) going to be accessible and cheap.

    It won't do anyone any harm to learn to use MS Word. I've used 50+ different text editors/word processing applications so far in my life and one can move from one to the other really easily, just like learning to use a new pen. Some of them feel better in the hand than others. "It's just a tool, laddie!" Typing into a computer is a productivity improvement over a quill pen.

    As an aside, it's pretty funny to consider that only a couple of decades ago people were bemoaning the "Death of literacy" and saying that too much TV was the cause. At least the current on-line model has encouraged almost everyone to want read and type. It might not be like that 20 years from now.

    We're really talking about education as a foundation course for life, no? What are the fundamentals?
    Make sure people can read.
    Make sure they can write effectively.
    Above all make sure they can think, and critically analyze the things that they read and hear. Make sure that the on-line world can be understood like the street scene in a city...complete with the the time-wasters, the weirdos, the creeps, the perverts, the potential good friends and potential mates.

  3. ummm i get my cool glasses on the 13th. grrr i want them now.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Hey, Computer Teachers, stop wasting students' time! (Part 1)

3d Resurrection - Getting your Cube 3 Working again

Classcraft and ARIS