Digital Immigrants vs. Digital Natives

My #oklaed partner in crime @vperezy got my dander up the other night with the following tweet:

Oh man…where to start?  Let’s talk about us…

Digital Immigrants

I have loved music as long as I can remember.  I used to listen to my Dad’s early 80’s country and western vinyl records.  My Step-Dad played Harry Chapin on 8-Track.  I have no idea how many mix tapes I made in my youth.

Look at music now – Spotify lets you create your own mix.  iTunes lets you buy anything in their catalog.  Pandora will create a playlist based on what you like.  Gone are the days of the 8-track, the cassette tape, and compact disc audio.  Sure those things are still around, but ask any 7th grader you see what these items are.  I’ll bet most have never heard of any of them.

Remember when call waiting was first introduced?  Or when there were only three channels to choose from on television AND you had to manually change the channel…on the TV?  What about those IOWA tests we used to bubble in every year…wait….we still do that…

Now Entering the Digital World

The thing is this technology is always changing.  Always.  I would probably be considered a digital immigrant.  I did not grow up with a computer in my house.  The first family computer showed up my senior year of high school (1990-91).  We had no idea what to do with it.  It was “off limits” unless Dad was right there watching.

I used Word Perfect for the first time on that computer for a writing assignment in my Calculus class.  We had to do a paper over a mathematician – there was this feature called “justification” and I chose “full.”  My teacher took off points because the dot-matrix printer left large spaces between the words so that each line was justified on the left and the right.  Talk about first world problems…

Fast forward to now.  I Tweet.  I Blog.  I Snap.  I Research.  I Insta.  I FB.  I even Tumblr and Podcast.  The thing is, all of these things came out after I graduated from college the first time and several came after I earned my master’s degree.  Nobody told me how to use these things, much less teach with them.  Or use them to learn.

However, I found some peeps who were doing these crazy things.  I asked questions, read blogs, tried doing some cool stuff.  Made some mistakes.  Got wiser…

The thing is, for me, all of this digital immigrant business has been a really fun journey.  I have had the opportunity to meet people I would never have been able to meet in real life.  I have learned more than I ever thought I could.  And, these relationships and learning have led me toward a Ph.D. in Educational Technology (on track to graduate in December).

We all come from somewhere – we all immigrant from someplace.  I joined up with the digital people.  They tend to be fun, helpful, and full of hope and excitement.  And I like that.

Digital Natives

My own children are digital natives – they have never known a day without Netflix or wifi.  In fact, when the wifi goes down in our house, it is a huge problem.  But it is what my kids know.  They have no idea what an 8-track is or how to use one.  We do have some audio CD’s around the house – but they all have an iPod Shuffle.  They are growing up with all of this really, really cool stuff.  Stuff that connects them to the world in ways that are scary and terrifying, yet so full of wonder and knowledge.

Here is the difference, though, just because they are digital natives doesn’t mean they know how to use any of this technology properly.  Teenagers Snap things that I wouldn’t be caught dead doing.  Look at the number of followers that any of the Kardashians have.  You think these “natives” are using this stuff the right way?

On the other hand, these natives are whiz bangers at using all of the cool apps.  They know exactly how to troubleshoot problems that come up.  They think up ways to be creative.  They have intricate online networks.  They can tell you when the next movie of your favorite series is coming out, who is directing it, and can probably find the script for you.

Now, let’s harness this amazing brilliance in a way that can benefit them for the rest of their lives.  We need to move past the latest Britney Spears wardrobe malfunction and connect with some astronauts.  Let’s teach them how to swipe past Justin Bieber and look for the author that you will be studying next.  Model for these natives an inquisitive nature, then turn them loose to root out fake news.

Be a Model for the Digital Natives

The point here is this, yes they may be digital natives, but oh my gosh, they still need us to help them.  You see, we have experiences and wisdom.  We have made some mistakes and learned from them.

With social media being so prevalent right now, mistakes can magnify at a rate we never had to experience.  Let us help our students to understand what they can do, what impact they can have, and push them in a direction that allows their brilliance to shine.

It’s okay to admit that you are unsure about the technology that our students are using.  It’s okay to admit to your students that you don’t know how to use something.  Let them show you – let them help you – let them use their skills.

Going back to the top of the post and the tweets – I can drive a car, but at this time I could not manage a NASCAR race.  However, with proper training, anything could happen.


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