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digital natives

EDT902 Critical Issues in Ed Tech

  eMagazine for educators   -  by Diana Knight  -  April 2013  -  Vol. 1




Digital Natives: Who are they? How should education respond?

Rationale for this project

As educators, we have heard about the changing needs of the 21st century learner for many years! Although, I saw many changes in the technologies themselves, I did not recognize changes in the user until most recently. From 2006 to 2012, I had to "teach" kids to navigate new software, programs, browsers, and devices, and with that, I needed to help build confidence and provide access to these items. 




However, today, I have noticed a distinct difference between my learners. I find the differences between my second grade vs. my fifth grade students to be very surprising, and reflecting of the change we’ve been warned was coming. Now, when I teach "how to" lessons to my second graders, I can give a two minute tutorial on, let's say, how to add images to a PowerPoint presentation. They run with it! Their learning and absorption is almost instant. They have no fear, no hesitation. These natives are able to complete a presentation quickly; adding and evaluating content is their only obstacle, but they are second graders, so that's expected. 

Whereas, teaching fifth grade students to add images to Animoto, requires more prompting, reminding, a longer tutorial, time spent building confidence, and allowing for trial and error. They have apprehension and hesitation, along with a fear of doing the wrong thing, pressing the wrong button. Even though computer technology has been available their whole life, they take the approach of the digital immigrant. 

As a side note, I discussed using Animoto with tenth grade high school students that volunteer in my library, and they stated that they had never used this website, nor made video creations of anything.

I can't help but wonder why there are such extreme differences in our learners. They grew up in the same environment, same socioeconomic backgrounds, same school district, but the technology gap between them is noticeable. I can only assume that the true digital natives are the second graders, everyone else falls in the digital immigrant category.

Ian Jukes speaks of natives, “They operate under the strategy of useful failure and have no problem sourcing help online while people of our generation often operate under the assumption that all failure is bad and help comes from an expert of a book. . . People of our generation are afraid of breaking the device; the digital generation knows there is a reset button.” This is exactly the mentality I am beginning to see, mainly with the second graders.

The gap between native learners and immigrant teachers is another critical issue. My question is; how will this affect our future when two-year-old babies already know how to navigate iPads or tablets? If we believe our teaching practices had a gap before, will this gap continue to widen with our newest natives? What can education do, how should education respond to keep our newest learners active, as we learn alongside of them? 

This eMagazine will feature videos, cartoons, graphics and captions that look at this technology gap and explore what we can do about it. I chose the eBook format so that my adult audience could experience the way our digital natives are learning. I have also chosen the format of video because this is what our natives are using, viewing, flipping, and creating. While these two formats may be uncomfortable for my target audience of adult educators, I would like them to try to experience how our natives learn and prefer to be actively involved in the learning. 


Who are digital natives?

Who are digital immigrants?

Is there a gap between them?

21st Century Fluency Project characterizes native and immigrants by what we prefer in the following manner (Jukes, McCain, Crocket, 2010).

25% of teens are “cell-mostly” internet users—far more than the 15% of adults who are cell-mostly. Among teen smartphone owners, half are cell-mostly.

(Pew Research, 2013)

This annotated video remix explains who are digital natives and immigrants, from a couple viewpoints. Various experts discuss the aspects of the gap between digital natives and those teaching them today. 

78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half (47%) of them own smartphones. That translates into 37% of all teens who have smartphones, up from just 23% in 2011.

(Pew Research, 2013)

How should education respond to our active learners?

Courtesy of 


web 2.0 tools

low level to high level











This next video clip asks the question, how should education respond? Various experts, Scott McLeod and Ian Jukes, of the 21st Century Fluency Project, talk about solutions, the need for leadership and moving forward with all that we know about digital natives. 


Leadership needs?

Moving forward?

95% of teens use the internet.

(Pew Research, 2013)

What do Natives want?

23% of teens have a tablet computer, a level comparable to the general adult population.

(Pew research, 2013)

3 years later . . .The original Digital Native - Abbey from the Vala video - is back! This time with her sister Mali and instead of talking about libraries they're talking about fashion! Listen to how the world is viewed through the eyes of two very connected little girls.

Abbey is a 3 year old digital native. This is what she wants from her library. Abbey's video launches the 15th Biennial VALA Conference and Exhibition in Melbourn.

Next steps and suggestions

Recommendations for Educators

Suggestions in the videos stated that a place to start would be changing from low level thinking skills to higher level thinking skills. Another suggestion was to take "baby steps" and make small changes; change one lesson this week, add a new activity, change one unit this quarter, start small so that the changes won't feel so daunting. 

Then start using searches. Get comfortable searching. Search your own interests first, then start searching the interests of your students. There is an abundance of things to learn on the Internet, Jukes recommended starting with sites like these:

Sites for Teachers:

The best on the Web for Teachers:

The Teacher List:

I don't believe in reinventing the wheel; there's always a lesson online that I can tweak to my own specifications rather than reinventing a brand new lesson. 

"It's time for everyone involved in education to put aside their own personal preferences for teaching and consider thelearning styles of these new students who have grown up in a radically different digital world. " (Jukes, 2010)

Other considerations in my readings suggested that we "take the sage off the stage." The model whereby, the teacher, as expert, does the talking, students do the listening. One thing that Jukes points out, that I have discovered myself, is that it's getting hard to be an expert! It was increasingly difficult during the latter part to the 20th century, but has become impossible during the early 21st century. The amount of information in the world has grown exponentially. (Jukes, 2010) It is difficult for everyone to evaluate and filter the amount of information overload we receive in any given day. "Research consistently shown that having students sit and listen to a teacher is one of the least effective ways to teach, " states Jukes. 

So what then? How do we teach these natives?  One way is through project-based learning. Allowing children to solve problems as a way to learn for themselves. Another important skill our natives need is to be able to collaborate with others; in the classroom, through email, chat, and with students in other classrooms in the building, city, state or across the globe.

The digital generation needs to be able to see the big picture in the information they access and to use that knowledge to solve problems and accomplish tasks.    (Jukes, 2010)

The world of communication has gone visual.  We've all hear the phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words. Jukes says, "This is precisely why so much of the communication in the world is going visual. visual forms of communicaiton convery much more information in a given period of time than traditional reading could possibly accomplish (Jukes 2010). 

We don't receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one else can take for us.   ~ Marcel Proust

What can educators do? We must teach students visually and teach them how to construct effective visual communication.  Not just in high school, but early on, as seen in many of my videos, we need to include students in visual communication. Jukes explains, "As consumers of visual messages from a very young age, our students must be given the understanding necessary to correctly interpret what is being conveyed visually. Without the understanding, they are ripe for receiving biased and even blatantly misleading messages through visual manipulation from advertisers, political parties, religious groups, minority groups with some sort of agenda, and a wide variey of groups on the fringe of scociety."  This understanding proves to be a critical part of our new digital world and should be taught to students from an early age (Jukes, 2010).

I'd like to end my eMagazine project with a quote from Understanding the Digital Generation. It's long, but I think it's important and to paraphrase might ruin the meaning. We talk about balance with technology and about the gap between generations;  I think that the insights in the following exerpt will help all educators move forward with a clear understanding of what is needed for our natives. 


"But leading education into the 21st century will also mean at least partially going against the grain with students as well. It will mean making the digital generation turn off their digital devices once in awhile. They will complain, of course, but kids will realize that their teachers are drawing from personal experience in the digital world to ensure that they have the best instructional approach. That experience in the digital world will enable teachers to know both the good and the bad of digital culture, so they can lead young people into the positve aspects of digital culture while guiding them away from the negative ones. That personal experience in digital culture will also result in knowing when to use nondigital tools to guide students into nondigital experiences that will develop truly balanced and well-rounded young individuals."

Helping our students to become well-rounded individuals, is why we became educators. We need to get past our fears and insecurities with technology and do what we can to make learning relevant and balanced for our digital natives.  Good luck on your journeys!

In fact, a certain level of discomfort in the teacher is likely a good indication that they are on the right track with what they are doing with their students. 

(Jukes, 2010)

To view references used in this eMagazine, please download the PDF file.