April 26, 2007

Digital natives?


(Graphic by Wesley Fryer on Flickr.)

A lot has been written about youngsters these days as digital natives, i.e. people who grew up in digital environments, using digital devices, as opposed to "digital immigrants", i.e. the older generation who grew up in a different age and have adopted these devices later in life. (Marc Prensky was, I think, the first to use this metaphor, see here).

So there I am in class, the old fuddy-duddy, surrounded by kids who weren't even born when I came to this country, and I ask them to sign up for a Yahoo!Group. It takes them about 30 minutes to work their way through the sign-up page (they are all Japanese natives and the instructions are all in Japanese). Many are incensed that the cute ID they dreamt up is taken. It takes some of them a full 10 minutes to share their indignation with their neighbours: not only is their ID taken, but, man what a drag, that means they actually have to think up a new one! Can you believe it? I can hear some muttering "I'm fed up!" I'm starting to feel the same.

For the true-grit ones who make it through, the final page tells them an email has been sent to the email address they used to register with and that until they reply to that, the registration process isn't quite complete (this is all written in the students' native language). With this email open in front of them, what do I hear? "Teacher! Teacher!! Wadda we do now?"

(Sigh) "Why don't you check your email. You might have received a new message."

They check their email, not without effort. It's obviously not something they do a lot (these students may be cell-phone natives, but not computer natives).

"Oh! I got an email!! Now wadda I do, teacher?"

(Me): "Errrm, well, I think the email tells you what to do."

My bad. The email does tell them what to do, that is correct. The trouble is, that's not the only thing it tells them. It also includes a bunch of potentially useful information, like the address to email messages to the group, etc. I tell one girl the instructions are in the email, then watch, slack-jawed, as she scrolls to the end of the message at top speed, saying "Where? Where?" Maybe she's a very fast reader? It's all a blur to me.

Digital natives. Yeah, right.

Update: I told my better half about this, and here's what she had to say:
The students are not confident. Even if they read the message and the instructions, they're not sure that they understood correctly. Rather than make a mistake, they want to be told exactly what to do. That way they are sure. They're just not confident. What you should say is, "Follow the instructions in the email."

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