What was that about digital natives again?

So I had private meetings with the students who were involved with this situation. Those meetings were pretty amicable and I think I got the point (i.e. don’t play with Facebook during class) across without being indignant about the content. In fact i didn’t even reference the content, although I did mention to the students that I had read it. A couple of days later when we had to spend class time on the computers using Derive, I mentioned again to the entire class that they should be attending to the class task at hand and not, say, messing with Facebook, because after all I do read those Facebook pages.

A couple of days after that, I went to browse through some of these Facebook pages, and I found that I had been blocked from about half of my students’ pages, including the student who wrote the offensive comment.

On the one hand, I’m glad that the students finally figured out that Facebook pages are public and have learned how to take steps to protect their privacy. On the other hand, it makes me even more prone to deride the notion that today’s students are “digital natives” who are really impressed when we “digital immigrants” try to speak their language, e.g. by using Facebook. Unfortunately it appears that a lot of students just want to use Facebook as a means of bitching about things without adult supervision — an impulse which hardly appears to be anything new, much less deserving of an entire paradigm shift in how to educate these folks.

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Filed under Education, Life in academia, Student culture, Technology

5 responses to “What was that about digital natives again?

  1. JimMc

    If I recall correctly, I think there’s a case or two in history where the immigrants were able to teach the natives a new trick or two.

    Congrats on getting your comments fixed too. Tech bugs are a drag.

  2. virusdoc

    Why do you even read their facebook entries? I’ve never been to the site, but I know enough about it through the mainstream media to understand that it is an informal digital hangout. What legitimate education purpose does it serve, in your opinion, for you to read them? I’m not surprised they blocked you out–in their shoes I would have done the same. It’s a little creepy to think about professors lurking around reading those things. They may be public in their form, but they are clearly designed to be private in function and content.

    And more importantly, when do you find the TIME to surf Facebook? 😉

  3. Eric

    “It’s a little creepy to think about professors lurking around reading those things.”

    Maybe, but employers are looking at these things as well.


    If they were designed to be private in function in content, then that is some pretty crappy design.

  4. virusdoc

    I think the age of blogs and facebooks and other online forums forces us to rethink the traditional dichotomy of public vs. private. You can make a large forum truly private by password protecting every directory of it, but that is cumbersome and difficult to implement on a large scale. So I think we need to start thinking in terms of semi-private functions performed in semi-public venues. It’s a little like a conversation with your friends over dinner in a restaurant. Is it a public forum? Sure. But wouldn’t you think it rude if someone you didn’t know, or new only as an acquaintance, sat down at the table uninvited, or went out of their way to listen in to your discussions? I think it’s clear that some public online forums serve the same dual public/private functions, and I believe digital “natives” are justified in their offense when digital “immigrants” disregard (or are ignorant of) the tacit rules of etiquette for these forums.

    A similar offense happened to me when i used to blog: I had a very personal blog dealing with some intellectual and spiritual struggles I was going through at the time, and the blog was largely frequented by close friends who knew me well. But a complete stranger happened upon the blog and started posting mean-spirited comments about my struggles. I couldn’t really do anything about it, because it was of course a public blog. But at the same time I felt like any reasonable individual could read the content and realize that those types of comments from a stranger were unwanted and inappropriate.

    That said, the fact that prospective employers (and spouses, and in-laws, and law enforcement, and…) read these things is an important point to keep in mind, and one that changed my blogging habits considerable when I went on the hunt for a faculty position.

  5. “But a complete stranger happened upon the blog and started posting mean-spirited comments about my struggles. I couldn’t really do anything about it, because it was of course a public blog.”

    Actually there’s a lot you can do, such as blacklist the commenter’s IP address by altering some of the access-control files for the blog. I’ve had to do this once before (not on this blog) and it’s very easy and very satisfying.

    Although your blog is public in the sense that any Joe Schmoe with the URL can see it, it is also a private venture that you fund, develop and control. As such, First Amendment protections of freedom of speech do NOT extend to it, and if you want to kick somebody off, you may do so with or without provocation.

    This appears to essentially be what happened with my students’ MySpace pages.