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Why I think Prensky is wrong

March 3rd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Ok – it is proobaly a bit late to be commenting on this. But Marc Prensky’s Digital Natives thesis is so widely cited it does warrant a quick re-examination.

Prensky says:

“Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. Today’s students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past, nor simply changed their slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles, as has happened between generations previously. A really big discontinuity has taken place. One might even call it a ‘singularity’ – an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back. This so-called ‘singularity’ is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century.”

Why do I think he is wrong? I do not think learners have changed. They still have experiences, opportunities, expectations, hopes, fears, ways of socialising .

Of course many learners do have access to powerful new technologies which help shape their experiences and expectation but was it not always so.. The technology which changed my life as a young person was central heating. Whilst previously the whole family would live in one or two rooms in winter because of the cold, now we were able to have our own spaces. Is that so different to what is happening now?

What is changing very fast is the environment and society in which young people learn and exchange ideas and knowledge. I am not sure if I would call that a ‘singularity’ – I think more it is a feature of the deep and prolonged industrial revolution we are living through.. Our education systems reflect different forms of social organisation of capital. The ‘industrial’ schooling system evolved to meet the needs of societies after the first industrial revolution which developed around the factory system. It is not that “Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” but more that the education system no longer reflects the forms of society and the environment in which we live.

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