Please refrain from the use of digital native (again)

Prenzky doesn’t use it anymore. Research has shown over and over again that it isn’t true, but people keep on calling young people digital natives. Well, some more (literature) research by Erika Smith (University of Alberta) giving arguments to stop doing this (HT @wrubens). She sees 8 claims in the digital natives discourses for which she sees little proof:

  1. Possessing new ways of knowing and being. A persisting claim within digital native discourse is that there is an urgent need for educational institutions (administrators, educators) and parents to recognize and adapt to digital native learners who possess new learning styles or different ways of knowing and being. This viewpoint sees current problems with education as a part of old ways of schooling (i.e., old ways of being and knowing), often associated with digital immigrants.
  2. Driving a digital revolution transforming society. Another dominant claim is that there is a pressing need to acknowledge and accept a digital revolution transforming society. Many argue that this revolution is especially evident within and important for higher education.
  3. Innately or inherently tech-savvy. Within digital native discourse, students are seen as innately or inherently tech-savvy, desiring and using digital technology in all arenas, as opposed to older educators who lack tech-savvy.
  4. Multi-taskers, team-oriented, and collaborative. Net generation students are often said to be multi-taskers, team-oriented, and collaborative.
  5. Native speakers of the language of technologies. Purported as native speakers of the language of technologies, digital natives are often seen as having unique viewpoints and abilities, especially regarding their unique aptitude for the language of technology.
  6. Embracing gaming, interaction, and simulation. According to digital native claims, gaming, interaction, and simulation (i.e., multi-linear, visual, virtual environments) are both embraced by and well-suited to the Net generation.
  7. Demanding immediate gratification. The Net generation is often portrayed as demanding immediate gratification, with short attention spans and no tolerance for delays. However, even some digital native proponents dispute this argument, such as Tapscott.
  8. Reflecting and responding to the knowledge economy. Proponents of digital native notions often present a strong relationship between needs of the Net generation and the knowledge economy (i.e., students as consumers, demanding customer satisfaction), specifically within the context of the Information Age.

Smith concludes:

Despite a growing body of recent evidence challenging such notions of students as digital natives, these ideas remain influential. As a learner and practitioner who (to some) may also be considered a part of the Net generation, I do see important and well- warranted educational innovations occurring with the use of emerging technologies. However, by mapping the key digital native arguments shaping higher education technology research and practice over the past decade, I am advocating for further discussion and analysis of the varied themes that continue to form the many facets of this debate.

Abstract of the research that you can download freely here.

More than a decade after Prensky’s influential articulation of digital natives and immigrants, disagreement exists around these characterizations of students and the impact of such notions within higher education. Perceptions of today’s undergraduate learners as tech-savvy “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001a), who both want and need the latest emerging technologies in all learning situations, continue to dominate the discourse in educational technology research and practice. Popular yet controversial conceptions of digital natives continue to be embedded within the assumptions of several contemporary research studies on student perceptions of emerging technologies, seemingly without regard for a growing body of evidence questioning such notions. In order to promote critical discussion in the higher education community considering potential directions for further research of these issues, especially within the Canadian context, the purpose of this review of recent literature is to analyze key themes and issues emerging from contemporary research on the Net generation as digital natives.

20 thoughts on “Please refrain from the use of digital native (again)

  1. […] This is a recent talk by Howard Gardner on his new book he co-wrote with Katie Davis. They use the app as metaphor for present youth and life as a ‘super-app’. The old digital native-digital immigrant myth pops up early in the lecture, but let us suppose this is because it’s a popular way of describing the relation rather  than not knowing that research has debunked this idea over and over again. […]

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