Conference Abstract for Presentation on "Digital Natives"

The day abstracts were due for the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association conference (Nov 6-9, 2009 in San Francisco), I whipped up an abstract for the “teaching with technology” panel. I am assuming, based on similar conferences I have attended, that the audience will consist of people mostly unfamiliar with technology but willing to learn; these are the late majority, definitely, and in some cases laggards (in the language of the technology adoption lifecycle by Rogers et al.

My goal is to dispel some myths, orient people toward work already done/going on, and provide some “best practices” (which actually riff off Jeremy Boggs’s Three Roles for Teachers using Technology post from February. I wrote this more like an evangelist than an academic, hence the lack of a colon or parentheses in the title.

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, and Web n.0 Participation Models in the Classroom

The terms “Web 2.0,” “Digital Native,” and “Digital Immigrants” have been in play for almost a decade—long enough to make their mark on pedagogy in higher education, in which it is often assumed that the students are the “natives” and the instructors are the “immigrants” in a digital space where cooperation and collaboration rules. Adhering to Web 2.0 models of content delivery and creation would have instructors creating virtual worlds, focusing on fostering a sense of community among students, and requiring writing in wikis in blogs—and many instructors do. But many instructors do so with misguided assumptions about their students and about the technology, such that the classroom becomes a space for learning about technology and one’s own digital pedagogy rather than the tasks at hand. Academic blogs, conference programs, and refereed journals contain numerous stories of failed implementations of Web 2.0 technology and methods in the classroom, leaving other instructors and students alike to wonder “what’s the point?” and become wary of technology in the classroom.

In and of itself, technology does not solve problems; as many of us know, technology often creates new problems. But problems can be avoided and knowledge-making can commence when instructors shade their eyes from the glare of the shiny new tool and assesses their and their students’ own level of familiarity with digital tools and spaces. Although the typical undergraduate can be labeled a “digital native” in that they have grow up in the era of ubiquitous computing and internet access, by no means should instructors assume all students had access to that power, or spent any time learning how to harness it. Time and again we see students faced with the task of setting the proper margins for their essay, when they turn to the instructor and simply say “it doesn’t work”—no “play” has occurred; students often only want the answer to a question and are more interested in the end result than acquiring a technological skillset. How then, for example, can we expect the typical undergraduate to learn the nuances of writing in a public space, for an unknown audience, using unfamiliar tools, and still achieve the goals of the course for which they are ostensibly registered?

In this presentation, I will first briefly examine the dichotomy between “digital native” and “digital immigrant” and then provide a short explanation of the current (Web 2.0) and future (Web n.0) models of participation—the downloaders, the synthesizers, and the content creators. I will then present three case studies of technology used in a composition course, a literature survey, and a course devoted to the rhetoric of information. Success was achieved in all cases, when the instructor was the “native” and students began with minimal knowledge of the tools used for knowledge creation. I will offer lessons learned and best practices for bridging the knowledge gaps and moving students forward from downloaders to synthesizers to content creators.

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3 Comments on “Conference Abstract for Presentation on "Digital Natives"

  1. Bill: I love that post/talk.

    Michael: Thanks! Unfortunately, I can’t claim the clever part. That’s Lunenfeld. Sigh.

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