Who's Afraid of the Digital Natives?

Reading Will Richardson's recent post has caused me to think more about today's students (aka those pesky Digital Natives). In his post, Will asks a series of very important questions. In my opinion, it is crucial that these questions are answered by those of us that understand the positive benefits of mobile educational technologies before these (and similar) questions are answered by ignorant lawmakers and policymakers - thus forcing us to live with the decisions that are made. As a result, in this post I will attempt to set forth a few answers from my point of view and encourage you to do the same. Hopefully together we can arrive at a general consensus.

To preface his "Rhetorical-Question-A-Rama", Will identifies and discusses the tech habits of a very savvy 14-year-old student from South Korea. Apparently, this student, not unlike many American students, is constantly connected to his network when not in school. During school, this student has also learned to access his network through his mobile phone - while his phone is still tucked away nicely in his pocket. While Will (and subsequent comment writers) seemed very surprised by this student's ability to blindly send text messages to members of his network, I'm not surprised at all. I've known students for years that have had this ability. Yes, here in the States. Even in little ol' Utah. In fact, many of these students were in my own classes. In order to catch up to the current state of things: Arthus, if you're listening, how many kids do you know that can text without looking?

In response to this and similar behaviors that I have witnessed in the lives of our students I began, several months ago, to sound the cry for teachers everywhere to Pay Attention! Obviously, we still have a long way to go.

On to Will's (proclaimed "rhetorical") questions:

  • What should we as educators in a country that is about five years behind South Korea (according to this blog post, at least) be thinking about this version of the future? (Or is it already happening now?)
It seems to me that Will, of all people, should know that this "version of the future" is now. It's happening and has happened for quite some time. In fact, it's very much the kind of "now" that he and Ian and David and Marc and all of the other "thinkers in educational technology" have been describing during the last five years. Personally, I like David Warlick's description of tentacles - when we separate our students from their network, it can very much be compared to chopping off an appendage.

As for what "we as educators... should be thinking"? Yes. We should all be thinking. And now.
  • Do we clamp down harder on the technologies our kids use? Try to penalize, even criminalize their use? Keep pretending that there are no acceptable uses of phones or other connection tools?
These are really good questions (actually all inter-related), the answers to which really lie in how we define the purpose of education. Personally, I think that the heart of the purpose in educating our youth lies in preparing them for the future. I think that many people would also agree with such a purpose: We educate our kids to prepare them for the future - even if we don't yet realize what that future entails.

Now, if the purpose of education is mainly to prepare our students for their future, a time when they are presumably adults, are we doing them any service by not letting them use the tools and techniques that present-day adults use in learning? When an adult (in or out of the workforce) needs to learn something, do they not tend to have access to their network? The last time you had something to learn, what did you do to learn it? People everywhere (except in some schools, churches, and prisons that prohibit such behavior) can find ways to connect to their network. They've got Google in their pockets, they've got their social networks, and from each they learn - because their businesses depend on it, because they've come to expect it, and because we've come to expect it from them.

Hence, even as adults, we've become dependent upon our networks. Why should we expect any less of our students?

Rather than fearing the capabilities of such incredibly talented Digital Natives, I think it's high time we respect what they can do, encourage their development, and stop limiting their potential. I know, I know: Much easier said than done. Nevertheless, these kids are only as "dangerous" as we let them be. If we allow them to use their networks while working on schoolwork, what will they gain from hiding such access?
  • Or do we start thinking about changing what we do and how we do it?
Yes, and we start with our attitudes regarding student network access. We teach responsible use. We cease to ignore reality. And we take David Jakes up on his suggestion:

There's a reason Jakes has said this, you know. David Jakes, like many of our students alike, has realized that in far too many cases, our students are learning more out of school than they are in. And that fact is just not right.
  • Should open phone tests be ok? Should we embed the information and connection skills that the student in the story has into our own curricula?
Absolutely. I don't think we can turn back any longer. Or rather, I don't think we should turn back. The kinds of "tests" that are administered to adults on a daily basis are open phone, open network. Why not prepare our students for adult-life. Why not prepare them for reality?
  • Oh, and by the way, who taught Insoo to do the things he’s doing, do you think?
Insoo taught himself, of course. The same way our students often learn, the same way my daughter has learned, and the same way my dad is learning to learn:

Who's teaching whom (no offense, dad)?

I anxiously await the answers you're now prepared to offer - because if we don't figure out the answers to these and other related questions, who will?


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