Debunking the Myths About Digital Natives and Immigrants

In an article by Marc Prensky, he coins the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”. A few excerpts:

It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors…

What should we call these “new” students of today? Some refer to them as the N-[for Net]-gen or D-[for digital]-gen. But the most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives. Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.

Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants.

I do find the dichotomy that Prensky propose slightly problematic, as I feel like this distinction doesn’t serve anyone much good. He does have some good points, though.

Since I started my position with the Faculty, one of the things I hear on a regular basis is the concern over a self-perceived lack of technological skill. Many perceive those that have grown up in the era of technology are super tech savvy. Likewise, others that have recently returned to school feel that their skill sets don’t measure up to some of their peers.

There’s also the assumption that students all “digital natives” possess a wealth of knowledge and experiences related to technology. That is definitely not the case at all: some will have had the opportunity to learn bits and pieces, others not so much. If the assumption holds true, then there wouldn’t be students close to my age who come to ask for help. On the job, I learn about different programs, apps, and software on a rolling basis. There’s a lot I don’t know about, and I’m pretty young, too. Anecdotal evidence, but it gets the point across.

When you do integrate technology into the classroom, do highlight to the students that this is a learning process for everyone. Students appreciate it when teachers experiment with new technologies, and are also quite forgiving if something happens that doesn’t go as planned. Often times, you will find students that are eager to help teachers when faced with a tech issue. And this, my friends, is where the learning happens!

So, what does Iron Man have to do with any of this? I like to use this clip to make an analogy. You might feel like a bit like Heather, the first flight attendant that Iron Man saves. Remember that there are others just like you, ones that experience the same fears and concerns. And when you’re out teaching or in your classes, remember that there are many tools and resources available at your fingertips.

Recommended readings

Fear of Classroom Technology Just Doesn’t Compute

Jumping off the Cliff of Comfortability – Classroom Tech Integration

Overcoming Technology Barriers: How to Innovate Without Extra Money or Support

11 Reasons Teachers Aren’t Using Technology

5 Tips and Tools for the Tech Terrified Teacher


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