Back on Track: Digital Natives


I apologize for not having posted in nearly two months. I’ve been trying to get my love for education, literature, and gaming to harmonize nicely. I tried using several layouts, separating them into different blogs, and tried other blogging services. In the end it was this theme that made it ideal for me to keep everything here. This is great as Johanistan already has a reader base (thank you to everyone who drops in to check it out). Sometime during the week I will be importing videogame commentaries on linearity and medical capitalism as well as reviews of The World Ends with You and FF XIII, among others. From there on I’ll be back to updating regularly once or twice a week on various topics. Now then, without further interruptions, on with today’s education related topic: Digital Natives and Education.



There are two videos floating around on Youtube that (to my knowledge) have not yet gone viral, but have the potential of doing so. In both of these videos there are kids bragging  about how they are digital natives who love “interactive tuss screens” to see “what goes on on the ninternet”.  Take a look at them for a second and then we’ll have a conversation.

In both of these videos we have children, 3 – 5 years of age, essentially saying “we are digital natives and you, old people, better get with it or you will be rendered irrelevant”. This is similar to the argument made by popular Vloger Dan Brown a month or so back. These videos certainly raise some issues.

I wholeheartedly agree that the world is changing and technology is more and more becoming an integral part of it. I think that educators should “get with the times” and start integrating technology into their classes. Furthermore, I agree with one of my colleagues that the use of e-mail is no longer enough. Currently, there are several platforms like Blackboard, social networking sites like Facebook, and education-oriented software (I use the term lightly) like Moodle that can easily be integrated into any class; and when all else fails, teachers can always rely on digital versions of texts, online assessment, and even scholarly CD-Roms like the one that earned Jannet Murray of Georgia Tech the scorn of a co worker who she describes in her masterful work ‘Hamlet on the Holodeck’ as a kind old lady who threatened to throw her out the window if she dared to speak against the book format. Certainly, I agree that technology is a good thing that should be married to education. This, to me, is a non-issue.

However, something else is.

If you look at my publishing record, you will see that I am in favor of the use of technology in the classroom. I have successfully used new software, commercial videogames, and Web 2.0 technologies in my teaching, which makes it obvious that I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that teachers should evolve.

Furthermore, the fact that I was born in 1980 should be another hint that I am a “digital native”, since the term “digital native” refers to people who were born after the 1970s and grew u p with digital technologies, not to people who are particularly proficient with the new technologies. Growing up in the 80s I had the pleasure of going to school and taking computer class in a Macintosh Classic II. I had the lovely experiences of installing CD-Man and NAGS using floppy disks in a DOS powered computer. I had the joy of using Windows 3.11 before I learned to install Windows 95 using the 15 floppy disks it came in. Like many of my generation, I grew up with technology. I actively participated in offering feedback to software companies. Furthermore, like most of my generation, I grew up as videogames grew up. These children saying they are digital natives are just children – the real digital natives are the ones who lost precious data while attempting to compile a homemade virus in COBOL so that they could get back at the guy who hacked their computer. The real digital natives are those who have seen all the multiple levels of the internet and who really know what is going on there.

So far this might seem like a “you young whippersnappers when I was young I used to limp to school with my stump now you have cars” kind of talk, but bare with me, this is going somewhere.

On many a joyous moment have I answered my digital native 15 year old nephew’s call to “fix his computer” (format) because “something happened and it froze” (he opened a file called something like sexywoman.exe) and he had “no idea how it happened”. This digital native is digitally illiterate. Like him, I have seen many. I have seen “digital natives” call IT Help on their phone lines to ask why the modem, that communicates through the phone line they are using, does not work. I have seen “digital natives” very much like the two in these videos break their computers’ “cup holders” (DVD / Blu-Ray Drives). I have seen many digitally illiterate acts be committed by people who claim that they are “digital natives”, and it is on this spirit that I would like to tackle the issues raised in these videos.

As I previously mentioned, new technology + education = win. However, these videos do not seem to advocate the integration of new technology in the classroom. They simply argue that classroom instruction should be replaced with new technology. Furthermore, what they are demanding, it seems to me, is not the technology or the training to use the technology, but just information. If you paid attention to the video of the three year old “bliblal nedi” girl (digital native) holding a book while she talks about iPads wants everything to be quick and easy. She wants to share “stuff” from her iPhone. Certainly, sharing original content from an iPad, laptop, or wherever it is created is a wonderful benefit of the information revolution (if it were not, then why would I be writing this?); however, the ‘quick and easy’ thing gets on my nerves. Having access to information at any time is a reality right now. With iPads and netbooks we can access any information on anything from anywhere. That’s easy enough. However, the “what to do with the information” part is not easy. What do you do when you go to Wikipedia and see biased articles? Good, reliable information is hard to come by, and as long as the internet is an open place of sharing ideas it will always be hard to come by, as three year olds will be manipulated into saying that they like things they can’t pronounce, like semantic tagging, real time information, augmented reality, and geospatial tagging, by adults for propaganda purposes.

This leads us to the second video. You can’t be my teacher.

Indeed, knowing how,where, and how to access information is important. However, this is not the job of the math teacher. This is not the job of the English teacher, or the social studies teacher, or the science teacher. This is the job of the computer teacher. Indeed, I think every school should, since pre-K, have a technology class. However, I do think it should be in schools, so yes, I will teach you in schools. Furthermore, while I agree that digital literature can do wonders for the English class and that videogames and other new media can do wonders for language acquisition, I would very much like to see digital natives “do math” on a computer. They won’t. They’ll just take the quick and easy way out and screw adding and subtracting. Computers do that anyway.

As for the digital native’s other questions, I’m sure that internet safety is not a topic to be covered in science. Furthermore, I fail to see many useful applications of facebook in education (although the ones it does have are great), and absolutely none for twitter. I could go on commenting, but I’ll flash forward my thoughts to this:

Children think that because they know about facebook, twitter, myspace, MeBo, mvuu, and a number of other first level internet cultures, that they are “computer wizards”, and that because they are ‘computer wizards’ their teachers, who they see as bestower of knowledge already in google, their teachers cannot teach them anything. Yet they can.

Education has come a long way. It is (in most schools and universities I’ve seen) no longer a lecture hall. The classroom has become more like a lab. I have seen almost endless English classes turn into active debates, language classes turn into role plays, social studies classes turn into field research, math classes turn into theoretical conversations regarding the nature of numbers and their applications in the real world, and science classes turn into demonstrations, and eventually participatory experimentation, of how to design new elements on paper, on the anatomy of the human body, or on the nature of bacteria.

And this is just in seventh grade classrooms in public schools.

Yes, the curriculum is limited. Yes, there should be a technology component. However, if we want kids to become productive we must shape them into critical thinkers, researchers, and analysts. We don’t do this by giving them quick and easy mashed up content. We do this by exposing tem to different disciplines and having them interact with and analyze the content.

If it were up to me, I would add the technology component to the traditional curriculum, but I would also add a professional aspect to it starting in seventh grade. in here kids could take classes on what happens in professional fields like law, medicine, engineering, and so on. That way they can make an informed decision when choosing a profession. Remember, teachers aren’t just teachers, they are teachers of a discipline. Some need the internet and technology to teach, others use it out of choice, others don’t. Now, honestly, I can’t critizice the 12th grade English teacher for not using the internet, even though I can think of thousands of ways of using it.

But it’s not up to me. It’s up to either the digital illiterates who sit back and not care, or the near-sighted people who chant “technology technology” and forget that life, specially academic life, is more than just about tweeting out the answers to a test. And therein lies my largest concern.

Education needs a reform. However, reform will eithert cue in too large a wave or none at all. Let’s hope some people pay attention and do things the way they should be done.

Now if you’ll all excuse me, I don’t know what I’m writing anymore (sleep has overcome me about 6 paragraphs ago) so I will catch you later.

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About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on June 3, 2010, in Education Commentary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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