The Return of the “Digital Natives” – r u ready? ;)

Children with TechnologyThe relative quiet of summer gives faculty time to think deeply and ambitiously about course structure and assignments. Whether you’re developing a new course or tweaking a familiar one, the syllabus likely includes technology-dependent activities – maybe the familiar Moodle discussion board or a novel hashtag project. As you put on the finishing touches and plan your “Welcome to this course” talk, it may be worth pausing to consider what assumptions you’ve made about your students’ experience with and access to technology. What digital tools will they need to be successful in your course?

We often assume that our students  are “digital natives” – that they intuitively navigate websites and apps, readily adopt and easily adapt to new platforms, and possess an enviable, seemingly inborn ability to solve nonchalantly the kinds of technology challenges that inspire fear and loathing in their pre-millennial “digital immigrant” forbears.

For technology-rich courses and assignments, this would be a most convenient state of affairs. Students would dive into Google Drive, iMovie, WordPress, Skritter, and all the other resources we offer at Conn with little need of guidance or the waste of precious class time. Unfortunately, our experience working with students on technology assignments does not support this version of reality. Fortunately, we have some research to support our anecdotal data.

The notion that technology competence is a function of one’s year of birth was the subject of an excellent study in the British Educational Research Journal in 2009. Authors E. Helsper and R. Enyon ask, simply, in their title: “Digital Natives: where is the evidence?” By distinguishing the “being” from the “doing,” as they put it, they are able to conclude that while young people do use the internet more, differences in experience, education, and self-efficacy make for a wide range of digital literacy among them. Their call for a research-based approach to the matter is echoed and amplified in Deconstructing Digital Natives (2011), the authors of which analyze the products, processes, and perceptions of young people in various digital contexts around the world. They urge us to adopt a more pluralistic view of the term itself and demonstrate how discipline-specific investigations can enhance our understanding of what and how students are learning online.

While it’s indisputable that students are surrounded by technology, they may be adept at using it in ways that have little to do with the kind of work they need to do for your class. Or they may not be adept, having had limited access to mobile devices, scholarly databases, and other resources. We know from the 2014 MISO survey that not all Conn students own smartphones, for example, so if you were to require an app for your course, you’d want to think about options for those without.

In any case, Information Services offers resources that can help! You can invite an instructional technologist to your class to show students how Moodle or Google Drive works, or propose a DELI course that will provide all students in a course with the particular technology they need. Finally, if you would like to run your technology-infused assignments by a colleague, plan to join us on September 10 at the “Workshop your Technology Assignments” event or contact your Instructional Technology liaison.

Image credit: “digial natives” Juan Cristóbal Cobo on Flickr, used under CC BY 2.0 license

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