The myth of digital nativism in the classroom

By way of a happy coincidence yesterday, I was reading a new article on the use of Twitter in the classroom on the same day I was getting my students to prepare for their use of Twitter in our classroom.

The article bears out much of my own anecdotal experience of the knowledge and aptitude that students have for new technology. Our assumptions about what ‘the kids’ can do with new technologies are often incorrect. I still vividly remember the long discussions in the staff common room some years ago when colleagues introduced an assessment based on building a wiki: students had (almost without exception) protested that they had no idea what a wiki was, nor how to use it [please insert Wikipedia joke of your choosing here].

As Reed notes, the association of youth with technological ability is largely non-existent and reflects our lay attitudes as educators that all this new stuff we hear about must be understood by someone younger, with more free time on their hands, like when we were younger, with more free time on our hands.

The implication is clear in all this: we have to be very careful in the assumptions that we make, not just about new technologies, but about all aspects of learning & teaching.

Consider my own exercise, which students will be doing next week. I have told them that they need to set up a Twitter account and to be comfortable using it. This second element is something that I had to add after the first run of the exercise, when it became evident that several students had literally no idea how to do anything beyond writing a tweet. Couple this to an apparent lack of reflection about what the actual exercise might entail (e.g. using your account to talk to others), and one can see how things such as making your account private or not knowing about hashtags can cause considerable problems.

Indeed, the fact that most of my students don’t have Twitter accounts in the first place is an indication of the very uneven penetration of a system that one might think was used by everyone in the world, to listen to some media reports.

Of course, from my perspective, such difficulties actually play to the agenda that underpins the exercise, namely the problems one encounters when communicating. I can be confident that the feedback to the session will result in the exposing of a number of themes that speak to this agenda, precisely because of the frustration they will encounter.

One might imagine that the students will read this blog and think about how they can outflank me and resolve the exercise will minimal fuss. But I’ll also going to guess that even if they do, the technological barrier will still confront them and I’ll still be able to get to my learning objectives.

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