The Gloss and the Reality of Teaching Digital Natives: Taking the Long View

The Gloss and the Reality of Teaching Digital Natives: Taking the Long View

Star A. Muir (George Mason University, USA)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1852-7.ch089


Characterizations of youth growing up with the Internet as Digital Natives have begun a revolution in teaching, but have also been problematized in the literature, opening up significant questions about stereotypical assumptions made by teachers about students in the classroom. Research indicates that a continuing gap exists between “power users” and “digital strangers,” which has broad implications for educational priorities and classroom practice. Evidence is also mounting that heavy internet and concurrent media usage impacts both students’ ability to focus and their evolving habits of mind as the brain responds to new sources of positive reinforcement. This chapter explores some of these tensions in characterizing and responding to Digital Natives, and seeks to identify a responsive pedagogy of classroom practices that tap into student passions, offer students some techniques to learn focus, attention, and other important skills for both digital and “analog” environments, and address persistent skill gaps between students.
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Contextualizing The Digital Native

In the 1990s, the media ecology tradition began identifying an emerging cultural evolutionary shift, which included in part the fall of linear thinking, and the rise of an age of chaos. Rushkoff (2006) describes the rise of holism, animism, consensual hallucination, and distanced participation, and explored myriad ways the “screenagers” embrace chaos, ultimately leading us in adapting to our new cultural milieu. When Prensky introduced the native/immigrant distinction in 2001, he emphasized the need for new learning tools, particularly video games, that would interest as well as inform students. Later, in Don’t Bother Me Now, Mom—I’m Learning (2006), he extolled the problem-solving and decision-making skills learned using video games. In his most complete work to date on Digital Natives, Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning, Prensky (2010) likens his Partnering pedagogy to Problem-, Inquiry-, Challenge-, and Case-based learning, with additional perspectives on the roles of teachers and students in using technology to engage students in ways our current “digital immigrant” designed schools do not. Teachers should avoid the classic “tell and test” in favor of asking probing questions, suggesting challenges, topics and tools, being open to learning about technology from students, supplying context, and evaluating student output for rigor and quality.

Aimed at least in part at reassuring educators uncertain of their new roles, Prensky distinguishes between perennial and relatively unchanging learning Verbs (skills needed to master, like analyzing, evaluating, reflecting, problem-solving, presenting) and rapidly changing Nouns (tools used for developing skills like podcasts, wikis, blogs, brainstorming and game creation tools). In his view, teachers have a responsibility to focus on the selection of Verbs and provide clear quality expectations and feedback, but will often have a learning role because of lack of familiarity with some of the Nouns. Through partnerships, teachers need to tap into student passions to drive learning, and to provide learning that is not just relevant (it relates to something students know) but real (there is a perceived connection between what is learned and doing something useful in the world), while letting students have more control over the Noun (technology) they use.

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