Honestly, I was offended when my writing hand was slapped for using the terms “digital native” and “digital immigrant” in a graduate discussion post. I felt it was political correctness rising up, once again, demanding re-wording as not to offend. After reviewing the literature and subscribing to Google Scholar Alert for the terms: “digital native” and “digital immigrant” my thoughts have changed on this topic. Instead of being loaded with socially unacceptable terms, saying that someone is a “digital native” or a “digital immigrant” is not really saying much at all.
According to Russell Stannard in his podcast challenges these terms used to describe a generation. From Marc Prensky we have his original definition of these terms.
I’ve coined the term digital native to refer to today’s students (2001). They are native speakers of technology, fluent in the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet. I refer to those of us who were not born into the digital world as digital immigrants. We have adopted many aspects of the technology, but just like those who learn another language later in life. We retain an “accent” because we still have one foot in the past. We will read a manual, for example, to understand a program before we think to let the program teach itself. Our accent from the pre-digital world often makes it difficult for us to effectively communicate with our students.
Prensky’s use of “digital native” and “digital immigrant” has been creating an academic debate. Stannard suggests that Prensky is saying very little.
Russell Stannard is the winner of the British Council ELTons 2010 and Times Higher ICT award in 2008. He writes, tweets and podcasts about technology in ELT. He writes “Webwatcher” and manages the website: http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com. Stannard says, those who grew up in the digital-age are “happier and less afraid about technology” than those who had to learn it. However, this does not make the “digital native” able to write a blog or post clear web content. In the same way, those who had to learn the technology and were not born into it can write effective web content and learn new tools quickly.
I have three sons. All would be considered “digital natives” in this discussion. It is easier to talk to my 22-year old on Google Talk or Facebook chat than catching him on the phone and quicker than waiting for him to check his email. When he asked me how to create a PDF file I was shocked. He was in graduate school, just like me and unable to scan and create a PDF.
My youngest son carries his iphone everywhere and seldom picks up my laptop. Instead he texts, chats and “Facebooks” everything. When he was designing a brochure in MS Publisher, he was stumped. He could not design a simple desk-top publication without my assistance. They may not be afraid of technology, but they have much to learn.
People my age often apologize for their lack of techno-savvy. However, once they over come the anxiety, they learn quickly and find many tools more effective than the old way of doing things.
Stannard suggests that the great “digital Native vs. digital Immigrant” debate is deflecting the discussion away from the core issue. He is saying that these terms are saying nothing because, “The real issue is about pedagogy and using technology because it is underpinning what we understand about language.” He explains using technology for writing instruction is about motivation and processing information. Web writing is developing language “within a context that makes it understandable.”
Listen to this podcast by Russell Stannard: