Back in 2001, Marc Prensky coined the terms “digital native” and “digital immigrant” referring to the divide between teachers and students and the way each view technology.
From his “Listen to the Natives” article in Educational Leadership from December 2005:
“I’ve coined the term digital native to refer to today’s students (2001). They are native speakers of technology, fluent in the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet. I refer to those of us who were not born into the digital world as digital immigrants. We have adopted many aspects of the technology, but just like those who learn another language later in life, we retain an “accent” because we still have one foot in the past. We will read a manual, for example, to understand a program before we think to let the program teach itself. Our accent from the predigital world often makes it difficult for us to effectively communicate with our students.”
Since that time educators throughout the land have used the excuse that they are not “digital natives” to justify why they aren’t “up to speed” with the latest in educational technology. I have attended many meetings where speakers declare themselves “digital immigrants,” reminiscent of how one introduces themselves to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting:
“Hello, I am Brenda, and I am a Digital Immigrant. I don’t understand technology.”
“Hello Brenda. You are so damn brave for admitting your problem.”
In education, we often hear the excuse that people just “don’t have the time to learn that ‘stuff’ because there are so many other things going on,” as if that “stuff” is different from learning how a new textbook is written or how a new curriculum is structured? “The kids know technology, the teachers don’t,” is conventional wisdom. I say it is about time we stop using this term to describe educators that do not use technology. I propose a new term: “Digital Refuseniks.
A Refuseniks, is according to my Microsoft Word Encarta World English Dictionary Thesaurus:
re•fuse•nik (n) somebody who refuses to agree to, take part in, or cooperate with something, especially on grounds of principle (informal)
Why do I think people are Refuseniks? Let’s look at a little history: The first major introduction of computers into the classroom took place, essentially with the introduction of the Apple II-e computer. The Apple II-e was introduced in 1983 and became a staple of campuses around the world.
So, in order to keep things simple, let’s just say it was 1985 by the time Apple II-e’s really hit it big in the classroom. So, without too much mathematical calculation going on here, it is not a stretch to say that computers have been in the schools for at least 24 years. A teacher, even with 35 years experience today, will have had 63% of their professional life exposed to computers in their work environment. A teacher with less than 24 years of experience will have not known a school without a computer.
According to the US Department of Education, 70.2% of all US teachers have 20 years or less experience (in 2000), meaning 7 out of 10 teachers have never seen a classroom without a computer, or a campus without a computer lab. Apple, IBM, Tandy, Wang, HP, Gateway, Dell…the list of computers in classrooms through the years is a long one, both in name and in time. The point is, digital technology has been around a long time in the schools.
In Texas, Technology has been a mandated part of the curricula in all areas since 1996. Did you get that? 1996! That means your little snowflake needs to be using technology, not as part of a remediation class, but as part of the everyday use working of class. And that law has been in place for 13 years now.
Suffice it to say, very few teachers, percentage-wise at least, have not essentially grown up professionally with technology. Along with all those computers came printers, modems, monitors, and other associated peripherals. Eisenhower funding, Title II Part D, E-Rate, E2T2 funding and other federal and state funds have spent literally billions on training and equipping educators on technology in the classroom. Where have the Refuseniks been all of this time?
Are the Refuseniks making a conscious effort to avoid using technology as part of the classroom experience?
How many people have you met that have said something to the effect that they don’t “get technology?” It is too hard to learn. It is too difficult to understand? It is all too new to them? The same people that claim that technology is too difficult to use t in the homeroom have no problem with the following technology in their homes:
Microwave ovens , cable television, and video games came along in 1975, Walkmans, VCR, camcorder, and cell phones came into widespread use in the late 70’s or early 80’s. The list of technology in the home goes on and on. Items like remote controls, digital alarm clocks, LCD readouts on stovetops, rechargeable power tools, CD players, and DVDs are all technologies that are part of almost everyone’s everyday experience. If you look at the above list, and believe that the majority of teachers have been in the classroom 20 years or less, then they are certainly not, for the most part, digital immigrants. Refuseniks yes. Immigrants no.
Educators have been playing video games (how many of you visited arcades in your teen years for a rousing game of Galaga?), have been multitasking (ever call someone on your cell phone while driving to the store?) and have capturing videos of their kids for years. Digital immigrants? Hardly. Teachers have been purchasing iPhones just as fast as their students. (Hey, who has disposable income, a 15 year old or a 40 year old?) How many educators use the Internet at home for paying bills, shopping, or emailing? I have no real data on that, but I suspect it is a pretty large number. Many teachers are natives at home, Refuseniks at school. The idea that they are immigrants, and therefore subject to some special dispensation because they are “not used to the all those blinking lights” is pretty much laughable.
Educators are not “from the pre-digital world” as Prensky writes. If they are younger than say, the era of Pong (1975 making them 34 years old as of this writing) they were born in a digital world. If they started teaching after say, 1985, giving them 24 years of experience in the classroom, they have never been in a non-digital teaching environment. (Whether they have seen or have participated in the environment is another thing.)
Prensky says that these “pre-digital” educators have an accent from the life they knew without technology. I say that “accent” is a conscience effort to REFUSE to drop the accent, much like Lawrence Welk who had, and played up a strong German accent even though he was born in South Dakota. That “digital accent” is pretty much something they choose to live with.
Now I agree that there are mitigating circumstances that keep educators from using technology with their students: lack of training, lack of equipment, lack of time, and emphasis on other priorities are just a few. However, and this is a big however: Student must learn to use technology to do things other than surf the web and update their MySpace accounts (See my previous piece: Eating the Napkins). Research, collaboration, problem solving, and content creation are all things that need to be taught in school, are supposed to be taught and in Texas at least, should have been part of the experience since 1996. It takes everyone from parents to superintendents, to principals, to teachers to board members to agree and say “This is important.”
(To get just a brief idea of what your kids SHOULD be doing in school with technology, check out the National Education Technology Standards for Students (NET-S) here. Now, after reading those, check out the Texas Technology Application Essential Knowledge and Skills here. The TEKS are the rules for Texas. Are your kids getting that at school?)
After a certain amount of time, if students are not receiving the proper technology integration in their classes, parents just have to say “You are not a digital immigrant. You are a digital Refuseniks, and we won’t tolerate that silliness any longer. My kid needs technology instruction just as much as she needs math and reading. There are no excuses for not having it. What is this school doing to help my child use technology?”
Drop the term Digital Immigrant. It just doesn’t make sense anymore.
This first appeared in my Intended Consequences Blog—TBH