Of digital natives and their ‘immigrant’ teachers

It is one thing to bring technology into the classroom just for the fun of it, and quite another to bring it because it is the best tool to facilitate achievement of specific educational goals. Prominent researchers and authors who advocate use of new media technology have consistently warned educators of the former. Having taught English as a second language I have experienced moments of despair when my students just stared at me and said nothing, not even ask a question. Well once I had spent enough time in the profession I got to admit that such moments, though very rare, are a permanent aspect of teacher-student interaction (ironic that there is absolutely no interaction to speak of). You can imagine how fascinated I was when I discovered that certain digital technologies could spark engagement and participation among learners. Of course my first reaction was ‘that sounds like magic tools’. The  concepts of collective intelligence, interactivity and participation have become buzz words and digital technology is at the center of them all.

I have explored the topic of interactivity and participation in my thesis. In fact, one of the approaches that my research in Media and Communications proposes is the rigorous use of digital technology by teachers to foster engagement with educational content anytime, anywhere.

But this post is not about that. It’s On Why I am a bit scared. If I should be scared at all!

I nearly had a fit one day in 2014, during a conversation with my 20 year old house mate-come-bestie. I will call her Ms T. She was studying Bachelor of Finance and Economics at The University of Melbourne. Ms T. thrived on online content…from text, videos, music to social media and surveillance. She told me about sparknotes.com and how it used to be her student companion during her years at high school. This site contains all the books (well maybe not all) but I saw all the prescribed texts for literature in English at high school. The texts are beautifully annotated and I bet if any of my students knew about this site at the time, they would not have to bother reading the text. Be frank and tell me if this would not send chills down your spine. The reality is that such students would pass with flying colors beating other students who would have put all their effort in trying to read and understand the text following the conventional route.

I have to disclose that my friend here went to one of the highly ranked private schools in Gaborone. As such it could be argued that she came from an affluent family which could afford not just the device but internet connection as well. Perhaps our students in public schools do not pose any threat since very few of them might have access to the internet at home. But how do we maintain checks and balances towards quality assurance on these few? What about the exposure from access that the majority of students get at school? Who knows how much they can achieve even in the shortest 30 minutes they have online?

considering the level of multitasking they are reported to master (provided we forget bout the arguments against multitasking for  while) digital natives pose a real challenge in as far as maintaining quality standards in education is concerned.

Can you match this? I can’t.

Image source blogs.forrester.com

The amount of time our students spend online should tell us they are likely to stumble upon material they were not looking for (thanks to Google suggestions). Our learners are not called digital natives for nothing. Learners who use online content in various ways to improve their performance do so because they have found digital platforms to be very useful not only in learning, but also in other aspects of their lives including entertainment and social interactions. There is sufficient evidence to support views that digital media empowers learners. We teachers may not grasp the level of significance because these platforms are not as native to us as they are to our learners.

Should we leave anything to chance?

My take on this one is that teachers need to use digital technology to stay ahead of their learners. This in no way suggests a competition. I would lose dismally. The teacher in the  scenario described above knew about sparknotes.com, so her students were aware they could not get away with mischief.

While there is no one to blame for the generational gap between digital natives and their teachers, someone has to do something about it. Academic institutions need to incorporate originality check software such as Turnitin as an integral component of academic tools, in addition to promoting use of digital platforms for teaching, collaboration and extended engagement. The recent scandal in which students from top universities in New South Wales were expelled for breaching academic protocol  by engaging an online essay writer for their assignments is a sign that I am not paranoid.

1 Comment

  1. I agree that digital literacies have become the buzz in this era we are in. My worry is the digital divide to say the least particularly between government schools and private schools. We start with the educators and the phobia in connection with bringing technological gadgets into the classroom. How best can this be tackled in our government schools? Surely providing computers alone has proved to be somehow a losing battle…


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