Sunday, September 21, 2008

Good Perspectives on Digital Natives

Siva Vaidhyanathan and Mark Bauerlein are engaged in a very thoughtful conversation about digital natives and educational issues. Although they have been set up on opposite sides, they are more in agreement on many issues than not.

Despite all the talk about young people being savvy about technology, this has never been the case. In a brief article in the Chronicle for Higher Education, Siva Vaidhyanathan provides important information about what young people often know and what they do not know. Bauerlein is more concerned about the ways in which the web contributes to a "skimming" type of reading style that limits students' ability to do big picture thinking (and reading of longer and more complicated texts).

Vaidhyanathan reminds us that there are a wide range of digital skills among young people and that much of the time young people spend doing things "digitally" is often limited to a very narrow range of entertainment activities-- watch YouTube videos, trading pictures and comments with friends and listening to music. Although it is possible for some of these skills to translate into using this technology for learning, this is not necessarily the case. Vaidhyanathan cautions the creation of online teaching strategies that are built on an incomplete understanding of the skills and interests of students. Likewise, Bauerlein reminds us that that there is still a place in learning for pencils, blackboards and books which "still play a critical role in the formation of intelligence, as countermeasures to information-age mores."

A third article in this issue of the Review is by Thomas Workman in which he provides a brief summary of how young people view the Internet. His number one finding is that young people view the Internet as a source of "play." This is an important insight because it means that young people in general are not necessarily approaching the Internet as a source of learning which may be how their teachers are using the web or the way their teachers want them to use the web. Likewise, when learning on the web is just has hard as learning in the classroom and not as entertaining as YouTube, then you can can begin to see where we will have difficulties using the web as a teaching platform.

These three articles provide a good overall summary of the important issues and challenges we face in using the web for education with young people.

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