Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf (Prensky, M., 2001) [EDUC 4150]

I find this article to be too strident and absolutist in its assertions. For example, the two statements [1] “today‟s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors” (para. 4) and [2] “it is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed –and are different from ours – as a result of how they grew up” (para. 4) are hard to take without some compelling evidence.

An insult to seasoned technologists

As a seasoned technology professional, I find it insulting to be labelled a “Digital Immigrant” with the implication that my overall tech knowledge is somehow inferior to that of my children. I started working with digital technology and computers in the late 1970’s, giving me over 40 years of experience with such technology. I learned how to build such devices from the bottom up, creating logic diagrams, implementing that logic in hardware and ‘flashing’ that logic onto EEPROM chips, and them wiring up working devices. I refuse to believe that young people who know nothing of the fundamentals of technology, are superior in any significant way just because they can enter information into modern interfaces faster than I and my tech-savvy peers.

Thinking patterns

I can agree with some things, such as the idea that “thinking patterns” (para. 4) have changed between generations, since different generations have dealt with different inputs during their formative years. But that doesn’t mean that these new thinking patterns are in any way better than older patterns. They are just different.

Natives vs immigrants

In addition to making a distinction between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants Prensky goes on to discuss the ineptness of Digital Immigrants in dealing with the modern world. Yet at least one of the behaviours he mocks “needing to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it” makes good sense since there is much evidence that reading comprehension is better when one sees written material on paper rather than on a screen (see Kotte, I., 2014, https://springfieldprinting.com/is-there-a-difference-in-reading-comprehension/Is there a difference in reading comprehension? and Saaris, N., 2016, Is reading a screen bad for comprehension? and Keim, B., 2014, Why the smart reading device of the future may be … paper). I note that Saaris does indicate that “subjects who are comfortable with technology and prefer screens to paper show little to no difference in comprehension when switching from paper to a digital platform” indicating that digital natives may have some advantages when reading on screen, but I don’t think this substantially boosts Prensky’s views. Indeed one link in Keim, points to four academic papers that support the idea that “kids these days consistently prefer their textbooks in print“.

No Appreciation?

Things appear to have changed since Prensky’s article was published. Whereas Pensky states that “Digital Immigrants typically have very little appreciation for these new skills” (p.2, para. 6), I see such people being well compensated for their knowledge. The skills that truly tech-literate young people bring to market are highly appreciated, and well compensated (Luo, J. 2018. I know the salaries of thousands of tech employees). As for the grousing from educators about the characteristics of modern students that Pensky describes, I see very little of that from educators. I see more of a mad scramble to move educational materials into the modern era.

Multitasking?

I feel that the idea that Digital Natives can multitask effectively is nonsense. Human brains have not evolved significantly in a single generation, and there is a great deal of evidence that humans can only concentrate on one task at time effectively. As Chris Adams states in Can people really multitask? (2019), “The short answer to whether people can really multitask is no. Multitasking is a myth”.

No fun learning?

The idea that Digital Immigrants don’t think learning can be fun is not supported in any way. I’ve had plenty of fun learning over the years, and I was taught exclusively by Digital Immigrants, or people from even earlier generations. Just look at some of the lectures of MIT Physics professor Walter Lewin to see for yourself if Digital Immigrants all think learning can’t be fun.

MTV, logic, lectures

A reference to MTV in this article (p.3, para. 2) seems laughably quaint and helps to show how totally out of date this article is. In the same paragraph we’re told “they have little patience for lectures, step-by-step logic, and ‘tell-test’ instruction”. This sentence can be countered by reference to highly-popular lectures on YouTube such as those at 60 YouTube channels that will make you smarter , those at the Khan Academy, and those Ted Talks. It appears to me that many Digital Natives are quite willing to sit through lectures of many types if they are well done and presented in a convenient format.

Gamification

The gamification of CAD software training described by Prensky is a good example of a way to hold the interest of Digital Natives and to teach them effectively. The successes discussed speak for themselves. However, gamification of learning doesn’t work only for Digital Natives. I can remember spending a great deal of time in high school programming games into my calculator. The interface was crude and the programming language cryptic, but it worked well to teach me programming concepts, and some physics too. I really don’t think students today are much different than students of the 1970s.

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