We’ve all heard about the digital native / digital immigrant divide as initially proposed by Marc Prensky. However, we can’t make the assumption that because our students may be digital “natives,” then they must be instantly comfortable with all technology-related tasks we give them. Even when learners “do possess a good degree of computer literacy, they may not have ever used those skills for formal learning” (van Ameslvoort and Shiozaki, 2009, p. 24).
For example, a study by Kennedy and colleagues shows that while it is true that for traditional age college students, there is near universal access to certain tools (mobile phone, computer, email), there is variability in the tasks that students are doing with these tools. For example, over 50% of students responding hadn’t built or maintained a website, used RSS feeds, created a blog or commented on one, contributed to a wiki, or used their mobile phone to access services on the web, or send or receive email (although almost 80% sent text messages daily).
Helpser and Eynon considered different types of internet activities (including shopping, entertainment, fact checking, social networking, finance, and diary) undertaken by internet users of different ages. They discuss that while age / generational differences was a convenient initial idea for Prensky to propose, the reality is more complex than that. One needs to consider gender, education, experience, and breadth of use to explore variability in internet usage by task. It is most helpful to consider a “continuum of engagement instead of being a dichotomous divide between users and non-users” (p. 515).
So what’s an educator to do? A study reported by van Amelsvoort and Shiozaki discuss success factors in helping students become more proficient in the educational use of internet technologies. These factors include: requiring the regular use of the technologies in multiple courses, providing active instructor support and engagement through all stages, and allowing sufficient time for students to do the work. Fortunately, with a little planning these shouldn’t be that hard to carry out. So don’t make any assumptions about the level of technological proficiency your students have, and design your course or curriculum to help develop the skills your students will need to be successful.
– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Director of Academic Training & Consulting
Helpser, EJ and R Eynon. 2010. Digital natives: where is the evidence? British Educational Research Journal 36(3): 503-520.
Kennedy, GE, TS Judd, A Churchward, K Gray, K-L Krause. 2008. First year student’s experiences with technology: are they really digital natives? Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 24(1): 108-122.
van Amelsvoort, M and Y Shiozaki. 2009. Developing digital natives at a junior college in Japan. Proceedings of the Third International Wireless Ready Symposium. Accessed here: http://opinion.nucba.ac.jp/~thomas/vanamelsvoort2009.pdf