Age of the digital native…….

In my job as a Teacher-librarian, I often have encounters with parents who are confused, concerned or challenged by the way their child’s life seems to be surrounded by technology. It is this digital connectivity that alarms parents, as it is so different from when they were children. Marsh (2005) coined the phrase ‘children of the digital age’ when describing such youth who, from as long as they can recall, have been surrounded by ever-evolving digital technologies and practices that impact on their daily existence (Dowdall, 2009).

From an educational perspective, such applications of computer technologies can offer new ways of learning, allowing for significant interests that can lead to learner’s improvement and development (Thunhikorn, 2008). Unlike the television generation, the digital natives of the net generation are inquisitive and self-directed in learning, as the Internet has allowed for the production of new styles of playful learning (Tapscott, 1998). So, it’s not a matter of going back in time to when school resembled sitting silently at individual desks in rows and having your worth measured in terms of your last report card. McWilliam & Taylor (2012) argue that the way of the future needs to see schools provide high levels of appropriate learning support, and increase our expectations of students as they embark on risk-taking and innovative learning journeys while incorporating technology.

Many learning theories support the notion that learning never stops happening, and that learning can occur at any moment. McWilliam and Taylor (2012) support the notion that ‘educational wellbeing is a judicious mix of academic success and self-selected learning’, and so the development of digital literacies can have a positive outcome on the children of today. It is no wonder then that we are starting to observe a shift towards learning through different mediums such as mobile devices, digital cameras, DVD players, computers, and the Internet (Trirat, Soodsang, Phirasant & Suwannawajdr, 2014), as most youth spend their time learning through these current technologies.

In case you have forgotten just how far we have come in the world of digital technology, and are wondering what the big deal is about digital literacies, watch the past 30 years unfold on the office desktop below and then ponder what the next 30 years of innovative technology will look like.

 

Photographer: Doug Thomsen      Engineering by Anton Georgiev

Another significant element observed is that these new technologies also allow children unprecedented power and authority as publishers of multimodal text (Dowdall, 2009). They have become creators and producers of digital text, comments, reviews and videos, as they develop their own online presence through social networking sites. Just as the tools and technology embedded in these sites change, the use of the sites continue to grow (Pew Internet, 2010). It is here that we see the development of digital literacies, as youth take up the position of micro-bloggers with their status updates and online habits viewed through their application of choice. How different this learning concept must seem to parents, as they recall rote learning their timetables, and repetitively writing out their spelling words.

 

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Mind the Generational Gap

It is interesting as a parent and challenging at times, to navigate the use and exposure of technology with 2 teenage daughters. With a plethora of online sharing tools available, I am often learning as much from my daughters about the world of social media, as I am from my own informal investigation and formal study. It is quite amazing to think that many youth of today can not remember, or have never experienced, life without touchscreen devices and unlimited Wi-Fi access. It is this way of life that sets children in a different technological mindset to their parents, and an even larger difference between themselves and their grandparents. As much as technology and social media can open up opportunities to connect with people all over the world, the flip-side of this is the risk that if you don’t get on the technology train of thought, you will be left behind.

I would like to share a personal story that showcases this notion. A 70 year old woman has 4 grandchildren. When they were babies, the families lived close enough to visit on a regular basis, but now they are all teenagers and the families have spread apart. Over the past 5 years all of the grandchildren acquired mobile devices and computers that allowed them access to a magnitude of online sharing and connecting tools. They all have their favourites, creating online accounts and profiles to stay up-to-date with their friends. As a parent of 2 of these children, I have had the privilege and opportunity to ask them to teach me more about their online behaviours and likes. Their grandmother did not, and felt an increasing sense of being ‘left out’ when conversations arose within technology, devices and social media. She wanted to be up-to-date with their lives and interests, and desperately wanted to connect with them more often.

Image Source: http://www.mcrfb.com/?attachment_id=32420
Image Source: Motor City Radio Flashbacks

Then.…..along came an iPad.

This technology cautious grandmother threw herself into a digital storm, purchased an iPad and asked anyone who used one to teach her more. She soon had her contacts, emails and favourites set-up, and was able to start emailing her grandchildren. I was also lucky enough to become her tech support lifeline. This grandmother was motivated by the want and need to be closer to her family members and stay connected, and in this scenario she was able to do something about it. She may have been hesitant to get on the technology train at first, but was fortunate to have a support system around her to bridge the digital generational gap, which is very real for many people today. Buckingham & Willett (2006) also acknowledge this generational gap through Tapscott’s (1998) writings about children using technology as naturally as breathing, as they seem to possess intuitive, spontaneous relationships with digital technology. My concern is that for older generations who have never created such a relationship with new technological information, devices, and a patience support team, they may be left behind in isolation.

A possible solution to this is demonstrated in the following video, which shares how some generations struggle to keep up with the constant change in technology. New Brunswick Libraries have programs in place to help everyone keep up to speed. We need to see more libraries in our communities, both public and school based, take on this challenge also. I know I will be more mindful of this issue as I plan new adventures and services provided by our school library in the future.

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