Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Digital Natives

In the second part of ED6114 -Using ICT in a Tertiary Setting, our discussion revolved around digital natives v. digital immigrants. Simply, the former are those for whom the use of technology (as we currently know it) is second nature; while the latter are those who may use current technologies, but who have not really assimilated it into their everyday lives. Digital immigrants may use many of the same technologies as their native counterparts, but they do not do so instinctively.

Often, this is a generational divide. I am lucky in that I grew up with (personal) technology - my family had a computer throughout my childhood (my father was interested at a relatively early point, I suppose - hardly a geek, but probably ahead of many other people), and then I got to witness the changes - using the internet in my late teens, emailing school friends when we were all at uni & so on, but still coping with a dial-up connexion. And during my time as a postgraduate student, Web 2.0 really took off - I remember discovering sites like everything2.com & then Wikipedia, along with blogs (political and otherwise).

(Indeed, I have no reference for it to hand, but have read somewhere that the rise in political blogging can be closely matched with the presidency of George W Bush - particuarly around the time of his re-election in 2004 - as the American political discourse fragmented and intensified.)

However, I am also in some ways still a digital immigrant, or perhaps a digital skeptic. It took me a while to try this Facebook thing my friends were talking about - although I do now use it on a daily basis - and I've only just set up a Twitter profile for myself last night in response to discussions about it in class. And while I refer to Wikipedia almost every day, I've never contributed to it; nor do I regularly contribute to any blogs/discussion boards/forums (although I read a lot). Web 2.0 stuff is therefore something I've tended to approach in a fairly primitive way.

That said, for all that skepticism, I'm also really excited by some of the things open to us as teachers that weren't there even a few years ago. Sure, for most of us, most first-year undergrad courses are not going to be based around class-built wikis or whatever, but in time we will find practical uses for these things.

One only needs to remember that the developers of the home computer originally couldn't think of a better use for a computer in your home than as a device for organising recipes to recognise that communications technologies that digital immigrants currently view as unnecessary or pointless may one day be a fundamental assumption of both students and teachers.

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