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The needle and the damage done

May 2nd, 2011 by Graham Attwell

timbuckteeth (aka Steve Wheeler) provoked another round of the Digital Natives debate on Twitter this morning. It does seem bizarre how prevalent the digital natives myth continues to be. Prensky counterposed young people growing up in the so called Digital Age to older people who he saw an Digital Immigrants and postulated different behavior by the groups. Digital natives, said Prensky “are used to receiving information really fast.  They like to parallel process and multi-task.  They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked.  They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards.  They prefer games to “serious” work.”

Yet there is no serious research to support Prensky’s ideas. indeed most research refutes such different behavior based on age. Instead we find people of all ages embracing digital technologies and people of all ages who are less confident in their use. Equally some people thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards, some do not. But once more this is not age related.

How has the Digital Natives myth become so prevalent. it may be because what Prensky offered was an instant soundbite for journalists eager to reflect on the impact of technology on society. It may be due to the slowness of sociologists in understanding the profound changes in our society as a result of what could be seen as a technological revolution. And it may be that in a period of rapid socio0-technical change people want a simple answer. In any case the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants is not the answer and is not helpful in debating much needed pedagogical and institutional change in our education systems.

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2 Responses to “The needle and the damage done”

  1. Hello,
    I think it has become somewhat fashionable to treat Prensky’s work in a dismissive way. True, there has been little if any academic research to support many of his claims but I would argue that he must be seen as a very important and influential person in relation to the discourse around the use of technologies and games in schools. He has been very influential and did get us talking about the mismatch between what children could do with tech and what they were getting at school. He was positing ideas about this way before many others were and way before the web 2.0 explosion.

    I met him in Qatar recently and interviewed him. I asked him directly if his Digital Native Thesis was discredited. Have a listen.

    I do think that much of his ideas are idealistic and maybe a little difficult to put in to practice but I was influenced by him back then in the early 2000s and I am thankful for his work. It helped me along the way in my own development and thinking about games and technologies in teaching and learning.


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