Tag Archives: digital writing

You might be a digital native if . . . Not so fast.

Labels are great ways to organize. They help us to  store messy things in neat packages. Labels are great for files and boxes, but not so great for people.

Jeff Foxworthy used our love of labels to build a comedy brand: “You might be a Red-Neck if . . .” Now, my sons might be Red-Necks. They hunt and fish. We have a growing deer head collection instead of fine art in my living room. However, this label of “Redneck” limits the description of these intelligent young men who have a range of skills and abilities. In the same way, labeling them as digital natives because they fit the age range is also too simple.

My sons know how to play on the internet and find items to buy. They can post on Facebook and text with amazing dexterity, but they do not know how to search beyond Google or how to create a multimodal presentation beyond Power Point.

Some academics embraced the ill-fitting label of “digital native” to the point of following Prensky’s panicked advice to change education. However, Eszter Hargittai in her article,”Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the ‘Net Generation’suggests:

My concern is that by embracing the ill-defined notion of “digital natives,” those who teach this generation (and subsequent generations) will assume levels of expertise and experience–among all of their students–that simply don’t exist in such an evenly distributed way. As a result, opportunities for teaching critical skills will be lost.

Labels used on groups of people are not definitive. Prensky defined digital natives as those born after 1980. The techno-blog, Websimple simplifies the generalization: “Why the 1980 demarcation? Why not 1990? Why not 2004 (the year Facebook launched)?  What about all those super-users over the age of 30, or the technophobic twenty-year-olds?” Labels limit – especially if they are misplaced.

Digital native may be a 65 year-old professor who knows more about writing in the digital environment than her 18 year-old first year student. The “younger generation” may be more comfortable with technology, but they may also lack digital literacy of someone older.

Just for the fun of it from Websimple:

“You might be a digital native if . . . ”

  • If you have ever texted someone to come to dinner who was in the next room…you might be a digital native.
  • If you think flirting should be done in 140 characters…you might just be a digital native.
  • If you ever have uttered the phrase “I wonder if there’s an app for that?”… you might be a digital native.
  • If you check your phone instead of your wrist for the time…you might be a digital native.
  • If you get more “wall posts” than post cards on your birthday . . .might be a digital native.
  • If you use acronyms like OMG and LOL, even when you are talking to someone…you might be a digital native.
  • If you have ever checked to see if you’re in a relationship by looking at someone’s Facebook status….you might be a digital native.


Must Education Change for Digital Natives?

Students born roughly between 1980 and 1994 were saddled with the moniker “digital natives” by Marc Prensky.  There are other descriptions of this generation as collaborative, optimistic, multitaskers, team-oriented achievers and talented with technology.

The Digital Native Debate has two claims: Digital natives exist and education must change to meet their needs. This unique group, according to the proponents of the digital native theory are not getting their needs met by the current educational system. Prensky says, “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.”

Watch this You Tube promoted on Prensky’s You Tube Channel:

The second assumption is that digital natives “think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors” Multi-tasking is given as an example. While students can listen to music, text, watch television and do homework is not a proof of higher intelligence. In fact, multi-tasking and multi-processing may result in concentration loss and overload according to Rubinstein as reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: “Executive control of cognitive processes in task switching.”

“Digital Native”and “Digital Immigrants” Terms that Say Nothing

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.

(Education Leadership)

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:

Do Digital Natives Do it Differently?

A Facebook conversation with a so-called, “digital native”:

DIGITAL NATIVE: (: age was like I rlly like her!!!

ME: What does: “(: age was like I rlly like her!!!” mean? I am sorry I do not understand.

DIGITAL NATIVE: i have know clue what that means?

This was a real “conversation” between a “digital native” and a “digital immigrant.” This is not an unusual interaction. Marc Prensky might interpret this Facebook narrative as a symptom of “digital native” speak.

Marc Prensky declares that he has proof that “digital natives” think differently.

In his article Digital Native Digital Immigrant Part 2, Prensky writes:

I suggested that Digital Natives’ brains are likely physically different as a result of the digital input they received growing up. And I submitted that learning via digital games is one good way to reach Digital Natives in their “native language.”

Marc Prensky invented the term digital native to describe a generation born after 1980 and the “first generations to grow up with this new technology,” He quotes neurologists as back up for his theory that “digital natives” have new thought processes. The theory is that children raised with the computer “think differently from the rest of us. They develop hypertext minds. They leap around. It’s as though their cognitive structures were parallel, not sequential.”

He further explains: “Linear thought processes that dominate educational systems now can actually retard learning for brains developed through game and Web-surfing processes on the computer.”

The “digital native” moniker is the source of debate. Beyond the debate, “digital native” may not be the best way to define a generation. While some may be offended and consider it insensitive, the term may not mean anything. In the context of the research and the academic banter, “native” is a narrow label that may not be supported by research. Prensky, however, has some interesting points that may apply to people living in the digital age.

“Researchers found that an additional language learned later in life goes into a different place in the brain than the language or languages learned as a child.” Prensky’s conclusions may explain why my conversation on Facebook was so disjointed. I think there should be more conclusive research to make this a stronger argument. However, I can say high school, and college students would benefit from writing assignments that intersect with the way students communicate online.

Writing assignments that require proofing their texts, messages, emails and instant messages would correct lazy writing habits. In class instant messaging and chats might provide a way for students to interact with online texts collaboratively as they have conversations that the partner edits as they chat. Other creative writing assignments involving Facebook Twitter and Email would provide real world lessons for immigrants and natives alike. At the very least, we might be able to understand each other.”

God is in the details or is it the Devil? And Prose goes on and on

Sometimes when I read a book, I can’t figure out if it is the content of the book or the voice of the author that turns me off. The content in Francine Prose’s book is beneficial for the graduate writing student, but the author is annoying by the last chapter.

Details and Gestures

Prose discusses detail and gestures in great “detail.” The author of Reading like a Writer, demonstrates with expertise in literature how important these aspects in writing can be used to tell your story. Well-chosen words used sparingly can alert the reader to plot and character. On the other hand, words used wastefully will lose readers. Simple details and cliché-free gestures will move your story and keep your readers’ interest.

The Prose Problem

I am afraid if I had Francine Prose for a writing class, I would drop. Her arrogance is revealed by her “voice”. She exposes herself with those “big” words she uses. Her motivation is uncovered by the way she arranges her sentences. I don’t like her voice. Her attitude does not resonate. I just don’t like her. She embodies everything I loathe in English education – snobbery.

I may be wrong, I may have not read carefully enough. I certainly have not put a dent in her “Must Read Immediately” list. I am all about reading and encouraging writing students to read to write better, but we could use a better spokesperson.  I was encouraged that Chekov humbled Prose, but she could use a few more trips on that bus. And her description of the people in the bus station – arrogance and elitist dripped from every detail and gesture she used to describe her surroundings. Even the act of reading, People Magazine was a display of disdain. Prose is not in love with literature as much as she is in love with her own voice.

Prose has great advice for writers, but this writer has trouble getting the message from someone who thinks so little of her reader to lecture. How about a little respect Francine?

Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Oh My!

Reading for the writer tells us “how to” write, whereas an editor or a workshop tells us “how not to” write. Reading beyond what we “like to read” is important because good writing transcends genres. Writers have to read differently – with a teachable heart looking for things we can apply to our own writing.

“Writers learn their craft, above all, from the work of other writers. From

Reading Like a Writer

reading. They learn it from immersing themselves in books.” Maria Arana instructs writers in The Writer’s Life. (Arana) Francine Prose in her book, Reading like a Writer suggests, “A workshop can be useful. A good teacher can show you how to edit your work. The right class can form the basis of a community that will help and sustain you. But that class, as helpful as it was, was not where I learned to write. Like most- maybe all- writers, I learned to write by writing and, by example, by reading books.” (Prose) Reading widely and inclusively exposes the writer to good diction and sentences that transcend genres. A well-written passage can be isolated in all styles of writing; the well-read writer will have many teachers.

Writing is done one word at a time, one sentence at a time, line upon line, building point of view and a story. Reading as a writer requires an analytical eye being conscious of word choice, sentence formation, the voice and the message of the author. Paragraphs are still a mystery and to write a good one is better caught than taught. The catching requires reading many good writers. Paragraphs are personal and as varied as the “voice” of the writer.

We learned to read word by word and somewhere along the way we are taught to read faster by scanning phrases. Reading passages, word by word, causes the writer to soak and steep in the rich beautiful descriptions and elegant prose of writers like Pat Conroy. In The Prince of Tides, Conroy employs economy of words: “The only word for goodness is goodness, and it is not enough.” (Conroy, The Prince of Tides) We can learn by reading writers as they put each word they write “on trial for its life.” (Prose)


In Hemingway’s Paris memoirs, The Moveable Feast, we discover that he was influenced by many writers. He spent time reading other authors and commented on them in his memoir. Whether intentional or not, Ernest Hemingway left a wealth of advice to writers. He tells us to stop writing when we know what comes next. He shows us how he does not think about the story when he is not working. The most profound and most profoundly unexplained precept we learn from Hemingway is this:  “Write the truest sentence you know.” (Hemingway 20)

We learn from him by reading his words – line upon line that writing is a joy. Hemingway’s knows how to write a good sentence. His simple unadorned sentences display his ability to observe the world and simmering it down to one central truth. Hemingway suggests that when we focus on the “one truth thing” that we are on our way to writing what is good. Cutting out the superfluous and unnecessary is the key to a successful sentence.

Hemingway was also quoted as saying, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” (Hemingway) Sentences describing what a character says can make them real. Two of my favorite characters in literature are Ruby in Cold Mountain and Idgy in Fried Green Tomatoes. It is their resilience that inspires and entertains the reader; it is the descriptive sentences that bring them to life. In my work, Ichabod, I wanted to bring to life another strong Southern woman I call Emma Leigh. She is like Ruby in Cold Mountain who speaks in simple phrases like, “Well, all ite then.”  I began collecting sentences from my close friend raised on very old southern phrases to give Emma Leigh in Ichabod a persona expressed from her sentences. A sampling of those phrases are: “I slipped and became unpeeled!” and “I eit just a snidbit.” The sentences of dialogue show that Emma Leigh is Southern but not stupid. Good sentences will create real people for your readers, not characters.


Francine Prose’s discussion of paragraphs was obtuse. At some points she gives us guidance with guidelines and then yank them away. Prose gives us room to breath and grow as writers by suggesting that paragraphs are as individual as our writing voice. The non-claustrophobic style of Francine Prose frees the writers; She does not micro-manage our writing process.

Writing careers and what I want to do when I grow up

The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed what I had suspected about the future of writing jobs Their report projects job growth from 2008 – 2018. Cross referencing the information about writing with Post-Secondary Education positions, the numbers support my suspicion that finding work as a writing instructor/professor in the next few years will be good. Work for freelancers is even more promising as companies outsource writing, editing, and graphic design. The factors influencing the increase in hiring include: demographic changes, digital media, and the growth of community colleges.
Demographic changes
Enrollment in postsecondary schools will rise with 18-24-year-old entering college between  2008 and 2018. In addition, adults are returning to colleges and technical institutions as a result of the failing economy. Therefore, Postsecondary teaching positions are “expected to grow by 15 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations.”
Growth is due to enrollment of traditional and nontraditional students and retirement of tenured professors hired in the “late 1960s and 1970s to teach members of the baby-boom generation.” Competition for tenured track positions will be stiff, but more community colleges and smaller institutions are hiring adjunct and part-time instructors. An English major with a Ph.D. will have better prospects of landing a full-time professorship.
Digital Media
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Online publications and services are growing in number and sophistication, spurring the demand for writers and editors with Web or multimedia experience.” Writers and writing instructors who can adapt and grow with the new media will have the required skill sets for the future in academics and as freelance writers, designers and marketers.
Recently, while researching for a column, I came across the following statistics:
It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million users; television reached the same number in 13 years. The internet reached 50 million users in 4 years – Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months. Social media is not a fad; it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. More than 1.5 million pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared on Facebook daily.
Digital communications are here to stay. Generation Y (born 1976-2000) is not sitting in front of television but in front of computers. My twenty year old is more comfortable communicating on chat or texting in the next room than talking to me in person. Instead of fighting this new normal, helping this generation write better is the challenge. We are writing more because of the internet and social media, we need to write better. Current and later generations need to communicate effectively online; I want raise the level of online writing excellence
Community College Growth
With a weak economy and the rising cost of higher education, community colleges and technical institutions have grown in the last few years. A graduate of a Masters of Arts in Professional Writing will be able to gain experience as an adjunct instructor at these institutions. These smaller institutions do not want to hire Ph.D.s and the cost associated with that level of education. Many smaller colleges are even offering tenured-track positions to master’s level graduates.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed what I had suspected about the prospects for writing jobs from now until 2018. Cross-referencing the information about writing with Post-Secondary Education positions in English, the numbers support my suspicions that finding work as a writing instructor/professor in the next few years will be good. Work for freelancers is even more promising. The factors influencing the increase in hiring include: demographic changes, digital media, and the growth of community colleges. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos066.htm

When I grow up
When I am through with my graduate and maybe a Ph.D. program, I would like to work with college student to help them to write better online. I want to stay current with all the latest digital media and trends and merge them into my syllabus. I would like to help traditional and nontraditional students to acquire digital writing skills that will prepare them for a changing job market.