on analog immigrants …

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by pestoverde

I came across an incredibly funny post by Brian S. Hall via Read Write Web titled, My Teenage Son Does Not Know How to Mail a Letter–I Blame Technology earlier today. After quickly sending it on to my brother and sister-in-law as well as any friends with kids who might have to teach their kids this important (a least for another 5-15 years) life skill, I got to thinking about how it is that a child can get through to high school and not know how to mail a letter.

He’s an analog immigrant!!!

Now that I’ve published that phrase in a fixed form, I own the copyright to it.  I’m going to start writing about it and, hopefully  make millions so I can retire, sit on the sofa, and watch TV all day. Anyway …

As a middle school librarian, I have some experience with analog immigrant in the wild that is middle school.  I have witnessed fourteen-year-olds attempting to feed a hard cover book through the document feeder on our copy machine. I have met twelve-year-olds who do not know why the save icon is shaped the way it is (they’ve never seen a floppy disk … which isn’t floppy when you think about it).  And I was there when my eleven-year old niece and twelve-year old nephew discovered a printed phone book under the seat of my mom’s car and looked inside a phone book for the very first time. “Hey, check this out! There’s, like, a whole bunch of phone numbers in here! It’s really thick!”  Uncle Librarian explained that it was, indeed, really thick but it used to be even thicker since a lot of people now don’t have a land line and the phone book doesn’t include cell numbers.  “Wait, there aren’t any cell numbers in here?  Why would you even want this?” Yes …  Analog immigration!!!

This, though, got me thinking more seriously about technology integration and these “digital immigrants.” It seems that in any discussion about the integration of technology in education that runs longer than twelve minutes, at some point, will include the phrase, “digital native.”  Let me just say that, well, the term “digital native” is really, really irritating largely because it is most often tossed offhandedly into a conversation by two main groups of people.

The first group of “digital natives” tossers are folk who want to pay lip service to “21st century skills” (the second most irritating phrase in educational technology discussions), but who have not really thought through what it entails or what it means.  It often looks and sounds like this.  A committee (the third most irritating term in educational technology … or maybe just … education or organizations in general) of people will be sitting around a table discussing technology integration and someone will pull out an iPhone, wave it in the air, and state, “Well, they’re digital natives and they know all this stuff so we don’t need to teach it.”  Wha?  Let’s think this through … They are digital natives and the so they don’t need to receive instruction in how to use digital tools … Well, are they not virtually all native speakers (here at our school, at least) of English?  Is our English department, then, GROSSLY overstaffed?  They have a year of English in the 7th grade, they’ll figure our the rest, right?  It seems, that when this parallel is pointed out, the point is usually dropped, but the flawed point sure has legs!  It makes a comeback in discussions time after time after time!

Marc Prensky who has been associated with the term for a long time (I really don’t know if he coined the term or just popularized it) actually wrote in Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants about students of today being:

“native speakers” of the digital language of  computers, video games and the Internet.

Which, actually, makes a lot more sense.  Native speakers of English truly still require instruction in the effective use of English in many forms.  I would argue the same about native speakers of digital language.

The second group of “digital natives” operatives are folk who, for a wide variety of reasons (some legitimate, others not), just do not want to see technology integrated into the school curriculum.  The thinking, often though, goes something like this, “They are digital natives.  They know so much more about all this stuff than, I that I just do not want to to deal with the digital movement.”  I have sympathy.  I know it is hard.

The arrival  of technology and 1:1 laptops at the doorsteps of our classrooms seems to be causing us a lot of disruption.  The thing is, though, that the technology and the laptops are not the cause of the disruption.  They are the educational community’s logical response to the incredibly powerful disruption of our world that has already occurred.  Our world has changed and an education must change in order to remain relevant to the lives of the students we are educating.


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