Digital Native-Digital Immigrant…Or somewhere in-between? | Channing Degelman

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It’s no secret that the world is approaching, as Marc Prensky calls in his article “Digital natives digital immigrants”, a “singularity”. I’d like to extend on this by specifying that in this case, it’s both a mental and technological singularity- people of my generation (given access to internet and networking) are permanently evolved and adapted to technology in every aspect of their lives, and the technological singularity will certainly not slow this down any time soon. In this article, Prensky offers a compelling argument, effectively saying that today’s students learn and process information differently due to our (over) exposure to screens and technology, that our brains have physically changed to the point that it’s affecting our education. However true the biology of this may be, I firmly believe that it’s very wrong to assume and generalise us all in this fashion, and that in order for students to perhaps even be educated in the first place, they must teach themselves to be flexible thinkers.

The definition of digital immigrant Prensky offers: “Those of us who were not born into the digitial world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated and adopted or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them[Digital Natives], Digital Immigrants”. Older family members- my parents, their siblings, grandparents- would agree that they would consider themselves digital immigrants by this definition, as it’s just factual. Whether or not they agree on the statement Prensky makes is another matter; on one hand it’s quite obvious which method they would best learn with, but on the other, it’s hard to say whether it applies to my generation.

Ironically, Prensky states near the end of his article, “This is just rationalisation and lack of imagination”, when it is well researched and proven that an overuse or reliance on technology and screens leads to uncreative minds, unable to think for themselves and come up with anything original. For example in her tedtalk How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas, Manoush, Zomorodi explains that for original ideas to come alive, there is a “need” to be bored. Applying this to today’s students, every single lesson in front of a screen, this can stifle our creativity and innovation skills, meanwhile ultimately that is one of the most needed skill set for tomorrow’s leaders and inventors. For the world to progress, we absolutely need creative mindsets, and it has been scientifically proven that technology breeds the opposite of this.

Another example of creativity used to- ironically- make new technology, is shown in Derek Thompson’s article Thomas Edison’s greatest invention. Edison himself is a well-known inventor, the article stating that “almost every important technological invention in the 20th century emerged from just the sort of R&D lab that Edison created”. Among other things, the article also highlights how for great inventions to arise, there must be an element of collaboration; standing on the shoulder’s of giants, so to speak. And in today’s classrooms, there is no such thing as this sort of collaboration. Edison created in the time where there was no internet, no shared word documents, no infinite well of useless yet somehow interesting information at your fingertips just a click away. Perhaps we could take something from that.

Secondly, it should definitely be noted that Prensky is writing from a western point of view, raised in a place where access to technology is like food and assuming cultural backgrounds and home-life are about the same for everyone- on the issue of globalisation and cultural diversity. This is completely false. It has been studied and researched intensively, that the most and quickest learning a human will do is in their first 3 years of being alive. In these first 3 years, you wouldn’t be at school. You’d be learning fine-motor skills, how to walk, that cats are great (hopefully). This has nothing to do with their formal education, school, or teachers- this falls onto their parents. Personally, I may consider myself a somewhat typical gen z digital native in terms of the way I interact with IT systems such as social media, but I only had my first device at around 8 years old, and that was the ipad 1. Parents these days of course, have thousands and thousands of device options and brands to choose from, should they so wish to, and of course this will affect their child’s future learning and processing skills.

I must also stop myself here, because as of July 2020 there are around 41% of the population with no access to internet in the first place. That is a stunningly larger percentage that Prensky seems to suggest, as throughout his article he maintains that it is the worldwide norm for students to be”D-gens”- on the issue of accessibility.

In general, I’d say my school is on the fence about this debate; some of my teachers prefer to use IT in their lessons and some stick to worksheets and written notes, though I’d say ease of learning is much faster to process personally, despite studies showing that writing notes makes it easier to dedicate to long term memory.

Despite my arguments here, I personally agree with Prensky article- that in general, education should change and conform to suit today’s students. As emphasised quite commonly amongst the “digital immigrants”, our generation is the future. Thus, in order to allow us to reach our maximum potential, I firmly believe that changing the system and its execution will be significantly beneficial.




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