05 October 2011

Digitally native?

The term 'digital natives' was coined by Marc Prensky to describe the younger generation's relationship with technology. The implication of the term was that young people were born into technology, hence ‘natives’, and the older generations were ‘immigrants’.  According to this theory, young people are natural at using technology whilst the rest of us are living in a foreign country. A conversation with a friend, also a social networking specialist, raised questions for me about this theory and classroom experience has challenged how I use these terms.

I was recently reminded that students need to be taught about both quality content and critical use of the Internet.

Some secondary students embarked on the analysis of a variety of websites as part of a unit of study for English. During these lessons it was revealed that whilst students seek much information from the Internet, many have not yet mastered how to critically evaluate the material they consume.

Students confirmed their recently acquired knowledge of the grammar of visual design as they evaluated how a website delivered information according to its purpose. Explicit teaching of the language and structure of web pages accompanied the investigations. For the end product, students demonstrated excellence in their design of web pages, showing they had grasped the visual elements with ease, but found imitating the language more challenging.

So I surmised that the students’ years of internet surfing had impressed on them elements of design which only required brief explicit teaching for them to be able to reproduce. However, language forms and features appropriate to this style of writing need continual drilling in order for mastery to occur.

The message for us: don’t assume that because students are what Prensky calls ‘digital natives’, that they do not need explicit teaching of certain aspects of web culture. 

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