From Digital Natives to Student Experiences With Technology

From Digital Natives to Student Experiences With Technology

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7365-4.ch029
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This chapter charts the development of the digital native idea and the debate that has surrounded it. It provides an account of the research and conceptual work it has stimulated and suggests future directions research may take in the coming decades.
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The idea of the digital native appears to have first emerged in an essay entitled Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace by Barlow (1995) in which he admonished parents with the charge: “You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants” (p.12). Papert (1996), in The Connected Family, similarly evokes a rift between parents and children, and teachers and students, portraying older generations as being both afraid of computers and technically incompetent. Clearly, the idea of a digital generation gap was gaining currency at this time.

Regardless of its exact provenance, it has been Prensky who popularized the term ‘digital native’ in his widely cited 2001 article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Around the same time, Tapscott (1998) had put forward the similar notion of ‘the Net Generation’, while social commentators coined the term ‘Millenials’ as a generational label (Howe & Strauss, 2000). Since then a proliferation of less widely used epithets has appeared, all attempting to capture the essence of the same phenomenon (e.g., Generation C, Google Generation, Nintendo Generation, etc.).

In short, the idea of the digital native captured the imaginations of teachers, parents, journalists, commentators and academics. Closer examination of Prensky’s arguments, particularly in his influential 2001 paper, reveals little in way of evidence to substantiate his claims, however. He relies on anecdotes, conjecture and speculation. Nonetheless his ideas have often been uncritically repeated and cited as if fact. Similar arguments purportedly based on evidence provide few details of the data collection methods and analysis processes, thwarting critical scrutiny of these studies (e.g., Tapscott, 1998; Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). This presents a significant challenge in assessing the quality of this research.

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