Aisha Walker

Thinking onscreen

The danger of the ‘digital natives’ myth


The ‘digital natives’ meme is extraordinarily pervasive.  The term has now been around for almost 15 years and has been substantially critiqued and yet is still in use.  For example, today I am due to speak at an event and the question I have been given includes this “Are you getting more ‘digital native’ trainees?” The ‘digital natives’ myth is damaging to two groups of people.  The first is the so-called ‘digital natives’ themselves for two reasons: the first is the assumption that young people already know how to use anything digital (and it is therefore not necessary to teach them) and secondly, the assumption that copious use of digital technology is necessary to engage young people.  The second group damaged by the myth is the so-called ‘digital immigrants’, in particular, teachers.  There is a risk that teachers assume that because they were not brought up with digital technology then they are automatically incompetent and will forever be lagging behind their students.  They believe that they lack ‘digital literacy’ and need training in order to be able to use digital tools in the classroom.  Teachers who believe the myth, and who believe that they are not ‘digital natives’ are likely to lack confidence in their own digital abilities.   I have spoken to rooms full of smartphone-owning educators who are happy users of Skype, Facebook and Twitter, who write emails daily and who word-process all their documents but yet believe that they are not ‘digitally literate’.  They cannot see their own competence because it is obscured by the belief that they are not ‘digital natives’.  These teachers need two things.  The first is confidence in their own digital abilities.  If you can use Word, email and the WWW, then you can learn to use and create many other digital resources.   For example, the procedural skills that you need to use Word will get you started with using Audacity to create digital audio.  The second is the vision to imagine how digital tools might be used in the classroom.   This is not so much a matter of specialist knowledge but of thinking about the areas of teaching that are problematic and then about how they might be improved.  For example, a well-known problem with classroom writing is that it is artificial and lacks an audience.  Digital tools enable student work to be published to an audience and in several different formats.  So, those procedural skills developed using Word can be applied to Audacity to help students voice the stories that they have written which they can then publish online so that others may listen.

As I said in my talk today, to work in digital classrooms, educators need to build their CVs – Confidence and Vision.

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