The myth of the digital native?

This article at InsideHigherEd points to something I’ve blogged about before: it appears that despite the so-called “digital native” status of the current generation of K-12 and college students, many of them know how to use technology only for entertainment purposes and not for processing information and solving problems. Educational Testing Services did a study (pdf) of 6,300 high school, community college, and university students and found, among other things, that:

…when asked to select a research statement for a class assignment, only 44 percent identified a statement that captured the assignment’s demands. And when asked to evaluate several Web sites, 52 percent correctly assessed the objectivity of the sites, 65 percent correctly judged for authority, and 72 percent for timeliness. Overall, 49 percent correctly identified the site that satisfied all three criteria.

Results also show that students might even lack the basics on a search engine like Google. When asked to narrow a search that was too broad, only 35 percent of students selected the correct revision. Further, 80 percent of students put irrelevant points into a slide program designed to persuade an audience.

A researcher for ETS says that information literacy skills “need to be learned”, and that “students don’t just pick them up on their own”. This is in profound contrast to the “digital native” paradigm, which says that today’s students, having been surrounded by technology from birth, innately know how to use technology to solve problems and to access and evaluate information.

The findings of this study should come as a surprise to nobody, except maybe those who have built up a nice cottage industry around inventing a fictitious student demographic and then hopping from conference to conference, laying out their vision for the digital native educational experience, while never setting foot inside a classroom to actually teach these people. It certainly doesn’t surprise me. No matter how bright my students are, most of them do not know how to perform some of the basic technological tasks that are assumed to be genetic among the “natives”. It doesn’t mean they’re dumb; it means that the study is right — these are skills to be learned, not genes to be inherited, and those skills need to be taught.

That’s why I think the digital native kool-aid is particularly dangerous — it prevents us educators from teaching skills that students really need but don’t have.

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Filed under Education, High school, Higher ed, Student culture, Teaching, Technology

2 responses to “The myth of the digital native?

  1. Oh, it was much easier to teach my mom how to use google and other internet tools than it is to teach my students how to use the tools EFFECTIVELY.

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