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I’ve just come across Mark Prensky’s incredibly thought provoking article – Digital natives, Digital Immigrants.  Thanks to Keith Grant for the link.  In the article, Prensky discusses the differences between those people who have developed with digital technology (digital natives) and digital immigrants by which he means those (typically older) recent immigrants to the digital world.

“(Digital natives) have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Today’s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives.”(Prensky,2001)

He goes on to state.

“…These differences go far further and deeper than most educators suspect or realize. “Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures, “ says Dr. Bruce D. Berry of Baylor College of Medicine. As we shall see in the next installment, it is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed – and are different from ours – as a result of how they grew up…we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed. ” (Prensky,2001)

Prensky then turns his eye to how this varying level of digital connectivity relates to education as shown in these selected quotes

“let me highlight some of the issues. Digital Natives 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. (Does any of this sound familiar?)”(Prensky,2001)

“Digital Immigrant teachers assume that learners are the same as they have always been, and that the same methods that worked for the teachers when they were students will work for their students now. But that assumption is no longer valid. Today’s learners are different. “” said a kindergarten student recently at lunchtime. “Every time I go to school I have to power down,” complains a high-school student.” “(Prensky,2001)

“Today’s teachers have to learn to communicate in the language and style of their students. This doesn’t mean changing the meaning of what is important,
or of good thinking skills. But it does mean going faster, less step-by step, more in parallel, with more random access, among other things. “

 “So we have to invent, but not necessarily from scratch. Adapting materials to the language of Digital Natives has already been done successfully. My own preference for teaching Digital Natives is to invent computer games to do the job, even for the most serious content. After all, it’s an idiom with which most of them are totally familiar.”(Prensky,2001)

Interesting stuff.  I can see I’m going to have to read some more Prensky.