How do Digital Natives beat their drums? It sounds like the beginning of a bad “Dad” joke. However, in education, every since Marc Prensky coined the term in 2001, there has been non-stop debate about the term Digital Native. Mr. Prensky used the term to rightfully describe a generation of people who had been born in an era where digital technology was widely accessible and prevalent. It makes sense. I mean, the students in K-12 right now have never existed on an Earth where cell phones or the internet haven’t existed.
The problem arises, I believe, when educators start trying to interpret the word “native.” Since most educators could be considered analog natives, or even pre-technology natives, we think that the word implies the native person knows everything about what they are native about. However, there is error inherent in that thinking. For example, most Americans are native-born English speakers. However, it takes 12+ years of taking English classes to come close to being considered a master of our native language. Whereas a non-native takes English courses to learn to read, write, listen, and speak English and become almost as proficient within a couple of years of use. In some cases (higher-education cases) a student from a foreign country learns English better than a native speaker because they’ve had reason to extensively research and study it. Being a “native” of something is a label that means we have a disadvantage to what we are native to it. Not because we can’t use it, but because it is so common, we don’t think to explore or use it in different ways.
So, how does this translate to technology? If the students we are teaching now are so used to having the internet (another thing they don’t realize wasn’t always around), they don’t know how to use it functionally or in specific ways. This is when it is vital that every teacher is reinforcing some sort of Digital Citizenship as part of their core curriculum. The students know how to copy and paste. They just don’t know when it is appropriate or not. The students know how to look up a YouTube video, they just don’t know how to analyze it to take notes in a flipped learning environment.
So why should we shift our interpretation of the definition of digital natives? I’ll give you another conundrum as an explanation, the file extension “gif.” It stands for Graphic-interface. It is an image file that is mostly conducive to its use of short animation clips. It was coined by Mr. Wilhite in 1987. Most people pronounce it with a hard “G” like the word gift without the “t”. The problem is that when Mr. Wilhite created the term, he pronounced it jif (like the peanut butter) with a soft “G”. The interesting thing is that there was a pronunciation shift in society during the 90’s. Seems weird, I know. This is where scientific and engineering terms spelled with a “G” shifted from a soft “G” to a hard “G.” I would attribute it to the movie Back to the Future. When Doc Brown pronounces the measurement of energy as “jig-a-watts.” For the first time scientists and computer engineers heard it pronounced in open conversation. I think with the memory of computers starting to increase, computer engineers started thinking of computer memory as “jig-a-bytes” being shortened to “jigs.” This in turn was too close to an insensitive racial slur. That is when I believe, the scientific community chose to shift the pronunciation to a hard “G” giving us gigabytes instead.
So, how does this apply? It shows how the computer field has historically changed the pronunciation or definition of a word to better reflect society. In this case, we change the definition of “native” to mean a person who is casually familiar with a topic enough to discount its importance until necessary. In this case, Digital Natives are students who are so casually familiar with their technology, they dismiss the appropriate, ethical, or creative uses of the devices in question (i.e.: digital technology) to solve problems.
So, How do Digital Natives beat their drums? With key-strokes. Like I said, a bad “Dad” joke.
Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Marc Prensky (2001) https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf