Teaching Students Technology: Avoiding the Myth of the Digital Native

Please enjoy this guest post from Neven Jurkovic:

Neven Jurkovic’s interest in teaching mathematics with technology developed while pursuing a Master of Science degree at Southwest Texas State University. Apart from publishing a number of papers on the application of artificial intelligence in elementary mathematics problem solving, Neven is the creator of Algebrator, a widely used math tutoring software. Currently, he lives in San Antonio, TX and is the CEO of Softmath: http://softmath.com/

In 2001, Marc Prensky wrote a highly influential, memorable article entitled, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” In it, he asserted that “today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.” He goes on to assert that as a result of the new and widely expanded uses of technology to which the students have been exposed, today’s students are “digital natives” who intuitively understand and have an affinity for all things technological.

This line of thinking held sway for most of a decade, but in recent years, numerous studies have shown that today’s young students are not inherently better with technology than older adults. One study involving over 4,000 participants concluded that “there’s no evidence of a clear-cut digital divide [based on age]” and that “there is evidence that a good attitude [toward] technology, at any age” is what really matters in terms of whether or not a person will be successful in using technology powerfully. The New York Times, citing a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, recently published a piece declaring that there is a “new digital divide” between students who use technology
primarily for entertainment purposes and students who use it more effectively and consistently for educational purposes.

The lesson in all of this is clear: The notion that young people are inherently proficient with technology is a myth; using technology well, especially for educational purposes, is a skill that must be learned. Although secondary students will typically come to school already proficient at things like texting, using Facebook, and watching YouTube videos, educators must not assume that students come to school knowing how to use technology effectively to enhance their learning.

Elementary and secondary schools alike must teach students how to harness the power of technology to conduct research, communicate and collaborate with a global audience, and create educational content (in a wide variety of forms, such as blog posts, videos, podcasts, presentations, and so on). Not only should technology be used as a tool to enhance learning in various content areas, but the proper use of technology as an educational resource must also be taught and seen as an important outcome in its own right. Educators should also teach students about the importance of their digital
footprint and help students to become more thoughtful in deciding what types of information they choose to post online.

As long as the myth of the digital native persists, students will fail to receive the critical instruction they need to ensure that they become technology proficient.