The Term Digital native has been broadly used to describe people who through continous immersion in technology are neurologically different to those who have not had the same degree of exposure. For a considerable amount of time this was theory and subject to much skeptacism, however the body of research into neuroscience has provided a huge amount of supporting evidence. (See the work of Dr Gary Small in his book iBrain, Nicholas Carr in the Shallows, Understanding the digital generation by Ian Jukes and Lee Crockett and so on). Their brains are wired differently to the generations who did not have the same degree of exposure.
Similarly, your brain will adapt and change throughout your life. Age is not a barrier to learning and experience cause the brain to adapt.
In general the charactoristics we see for this digital generation are that they are:
- Highly visual and have a preference for multi media
- information, technology and media savvy
- multitasking (rapid task switching) and often lack patience, wanting immediate access, feedback and rewards
- communicators and collaborators
- producers, remixers and creators
- value transparency and fairness
- adaptive and like customising their environment to suit themselves
In the classroom, many people expect that the students walking into their learning environment are able, almost by instinct and dint of being a digital native, to use software and technology instantly with a degree of competence. They are suprized by the lack of skills that these “Digital natives” possess.
So its probably worth expanding the “technology savvy” component of the charactoristics of the 21st century learners.
They are technology savvy, but technology is not just computers and software, computers and software are elements of technology. Technology surrounds us and them, its the television, media recorders, players, games consoles, gps, cell phones, remote controls, robots and so much more that surround us. Our digital natives can manipulate and use these technologies, they are adept at using technology and can quickly pick up the underlying concepts and processes within these.
BUT…. it is dependent on what they are exposed to.. The general exposure to and immersion in technologies has led to the neurological changes we see in the digital generation, but their competence or lack of it competence in a particular tool is dependent on their experiences with it.
So when our brand new students walk into the classroom at the start of the year, we must put aside the expectation/assumption that they come with a skill set on how to use computers and software. Rather, we should consider them as sponges that will quickly absorb the skills to a basic level but need direction, support and critique to reach their potential.