This post is written in response to Michael Barbour’s blog post Examining Generational Differences.
I can remember one of my undergraduate teachers telling the class that Sesame Street changed education. Gone were the days of long lectures and practice on reading, writing and arithmetic. Children were spending hours watching shows like The Electric Company and Sesame Street, shows that offered information in bite-sized chunks, almost like commercials. Because children had changed, schools needed to change too. Students required teachers to offer information in, you guessed it, small bite-sized chunks, the better to accommodate their now shortened attention spans. Fast forward to today, and schools are again being told to change because students today are, again, different. But are they really?
Marc Prensky, the author of “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” believes they are. He has written several books about how best to teach digital natives, and the issues involved when the teachers are immigrants to this strange new world. The quote below has taken on heraldic proportions, being used by professors and students alike. It’s a great sound bite, but is it true?
Dr. Jamie McKenzie doesn’t think so. In a thorough rebuttal of Prensky’s article, (found here), McKenzie refutes almost everything in it with references and data, both items that he accuses Prensky of lacking. Unfortunately, McKenzie’s presentation, to me, is off-putting. I have a hard time hearing his message through all the negativity.
So who is right? When I look in the mirror, is that a digital immigrant looking back at me? What about my students? The poverty rate in my classroom is very high, leaving most with little or no access to today’s technology outside of school. Are they still considered digital natives? Last year, I had to teach a large percentage of my students how to use email. Most have no idea how to search Google effectively. Does that change our roles, making me the native and they the immigrants? I’m not sure any of us can be pigeon-holed into these roles. There are areas in which I am much more tech-savvy than my students. Just like there are areas they can run rings around me. Can you say stereotyping???
Technology, like special education, is a gray area. There are no absolutes, no perfect way to use it that will work for every teacher and every student in every classroom. In fact, what works one day, may well not work at all the next. Teachers need to view technology as a tool and use it accordingly. When the relative advantage of using technology is taken into consideration, you might find that going old-school makes more sense. You will understand this if you insist on your students completing their math homework in a Google Doc. While the opportunity to share with peers and figure out as a group what worked in a problem and what didn’t is valuable, typing mathematical equations and making them look correct is difficult. For many of my students, the effort is not worth the time and frustration involved. It is so much easier and makes more sense to grab a piece of paper, and everyone sit together and work the problem out. The communication and collaboration are still there. It is just not in a digital format. And that’s ok.