Henry Jenkins has a very useful blog post exploring the origins of the term “digital natives” and showing how its a term that’s increasingly problematic today. This ties in beautifully with the talk I gave in Oslo a couple of weeks ago, where I argued that “the idea of ìdigital nativesî is dangerous – it lets us as teachers and parents off the hook.” As a physical immigrant myself (my family moved to Norway from Australia when I was eight) I particularly appreciated Jenkins’ note on the jingoism implied in the term “digital immigrants”, where an immigrant is seen as always inferior, always going to be struggling with the language, the accent and the culture. In Norway the rhetoric is still largely about immigrants “integrating” successfully, but in the US and Australia, the “melting pot” metaphor has largely been supplanted (thankfully) by the “jambalaya” of multiculturalism, where diversity can be celebrated and seen to be to everyone’s advantage. Jenkins writes:
Surely, we should recognize what digital immigrants bring with them from the old world which is still valuable in the new, rather than simply focus on their lacks and inadequacies.
At one time, the digital immigrant metaphor might have been helpful if it forced at least some adults to acknowledge their uncertainties, step out of their comfort zone, and adjust their thinking to respond to a generation growing up in a very different context than the realm of their own childhood. As Prensky concludes, “if Digital Immigrant educators really want to reach Digital Natives – i.e. all their students – they will have to change.” Yet, I worry that the metaphor may be having the opposite effect now — implying that young people are better off without us and thus justifying decisions not to adjust educational practices to create a space where young and old might be able to learn from each other.
As I argued in Oslo, the skills “digital natives” bring to universities are immensely valuable, but also very different to the ones that we as educators define as “digital literacy”. Teens use the internet differently to adults, and the ways they use it do not completely transfer to the skills needed in a world based on knowledge and information.