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Can We PLEASE Quit Calling Teachers Digital Immigrants?

Last night, my school district sponsored a REALLY cool community-wide conversation to kick off a strategic visioning session designed to imagine what our schools need to look like in order to prepare today's kids for tomorrow's world.  The keynote speaker was David Houle -- self-described futurist and author of Shift Ed: A Call to Action for Transforming K12 Education.

Many of Houle's thoughts resonated with me.

He argued that the ubiquitous screens we carry around are changing our expectations for physical spaces -- a case that I've made before here on the Radical.  He also rightfully nudged us to create more creative, collaborative schoolhouses; emphasized the need for a clear vision before we got neck deep in planning; and suggested that global challenges needed to play a larger role in the work our kids do in classrooms.

#signmeup

He lost me, though, when he pushed the notion of digital immigrants and digital natives on the audience.

His language was all too familiar:  Today's kids are savvy.  Today's teachers are not.  Fixing the problem depends on our willingness to put kids in charge of technology in our schools.  At one point, he even asked all of the teachers under 30 in the audience to raise their hands.  "There's your future," he said.

#ouch

Write this down:  Labels like "digital immigrants" and "digital natives" -- and the connotations that they carry -- do more harm than good in conversations about changing learning spaces.

On the simplest level, they create false assumptions about proficiency:  The olds can't POSSIBLY understand how digital tools can be used to create engaging classrooms, right?  They can't even figure out how to create a contact or set up the speed dial on their new iPhones.  Put 'em out to pasture and turn the classroom over to the kids and we can FINALLY revolutionize education!

They also place the focus of conversations about future classrooms on technology instead of on learning outcomes.  That's a distraction, y'all.  Proficiency with new digital tools and spaces ISN'T a goal worth celebrating even if it is easy to identify.  Leveraging those tools and spaces to create meaningful learning experiences -- learning experiences where kids master useful skills or tackle projects that change the world, or ask and answer powerful questions -- is what REALLY matters.

See this.  While you are at it, see this too.  And this.

Finally -- as my buddies Paul Canceilleri and Brett Clark pointed out -- calling teachers digital immigrants and students digital natives inadvertently lets teachers off the hook.  "I'm just not tech savvy," becomes a ready-made excuse for refusing to embrace practices that CAN make learning spaces more meaningful and efficient.  But it's an excuse that is reinforced every time that a futurist or visionary stands in front of audiences and argues that kids ALWAYS know more about technology and teachers are ALWAYS at a disadvantage in a digital world.

The truth is that no matter how savvy we think they are, today's kids rarely see the power in the digital tools that they've embraced.  Need proof?  Turn 'em loose in a room full of technology for an entire day and watch what they do with it.  Chances are their choices won't impress you.

Moving them forward takes the support and guidance of people who understand learning -- and who can find ways to use new tools to make learning more efficient and effective.

We call those people teachers where I'm from -- even if they WERE born into a world without data plans.

___________________________________

Related Radical Reads:

Digital Immigrants Unite!

Teachers, Chainsaws and the Dreaded IWB

The People Formerly Known as the Audience

 

20 Comments

Catherine Rudd commented on June 1, 2014 at 9:07am:

Digital immigrants

Thanks for the great read. I hear the "I am not tech savvy" regularly. I have even used it myself. It is an excuse to sit back and not learn how to use the tools available. I remember laughing when I found out my grandmother was afraid to use a microwave. If I don't invest my time and learn- I will look just as silly. My goal this summer is to learn, learn, learn, how to use technology more effectively and how to best incorporate it into my classroom. The challenge for me is not how to press the buttons and click in the right spaces, but more of what to use when, and how to enhance learning- while not just enhancing the wow factor.

Catherine Rudd commented on June 1, 2014 at 9:13am:

Digital immigrants

Thanks for the great read. I hear the "I am not tech savvy" regularly. I have even used it myself. It is an excuse to sit back and not learn how to use the tools available. I remember laughing when I found out my grandmother was afraid to use a microwave. If I don't invest my time and learn- I will look just as silly. My goal this summer is to learn, learn, learn, how to use technology more effectively and how to best incorporate it into my classroom. The challenge for me is not how to press the buttons and click in the right spaces, but more of what to use when, and how to enhance learning- while not just enhancing the wow factor.

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on June 2, 2014 at 6:15pm:

Catherine wrote:

Catherine wrote:

The challenge for me is not how to press the buttons and click in the right spaces, but more of what to use when, and how to enhance learning- while not just enhancing the wow factor.

---------------------

And this, Catherine, is what makes you a great teacher! 

Natives sometimes get sucked in by the wow factor. Us old folks look for things that actually support meaningful learning before jumping on the digital bandwagon.

#goodstuff

Bill

Catherine Rudd commented on June 1, 2014 at 9:18am:

Digital immigrants

Ha ha! I can't even figure out how to delete a repeated message!! It is going to be a long summer.

Renee Moore commented on June 1, 2014 at 6:30pm:

I AM A NATIVE!

Sorry about the shouting, but thank you, Bill for letting me get that said.  I have been using social media and digital tools in what are now considered "innovative" ways since before some of my current students were even born. More important, as I work with both teens and young adults here in the Delta, it is clear that I am much more comfortable and proficient in the digital world than most of them are---for many reasons. Immigrant? Native? I agree with you; these terms are not helpful.

My students have spoken passionately about how they rely on their teachers to guide them into more proficient and meaningful use of many forms of technology. We should listen to them.

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on June 2, 2014 at 6:18pm:

Renee wrote:

Renee wrote:

More important, as I work with both teens and young adults here in the Delta, it is clear that I am much more comfortable and proficient in the digital world than most of them are---for many reasons

---------------------------

This is such an important point, Renee -- college educator after college educator tell me that they see their students struggle with digital tools for learning.  According to the narrative, this shouldn't be true.  Those kids you see should be more and more proficient than you every year.

Why we buy into the narrative is beyond me!
Bill

John Wink commented on June 2, 2014 at 8:18am:

Right on

Right on, Bill. I'm not a tech person won't suffice anymore. We have to stop avoiding tech and embrace it because the kids are going to use it in the real world. The question will be if they will use it to better the world or to pacify themselves. We are the answer to that question.

Bill Ivey commented on June 2, 2014 at 4:03pm:

Love this piece.

You know, I was on USENET back in the early 90's and even maintained a FAQ on child care for the misc.kids group. I was on the web back when Lynx was the hot (text-based) browser. Later on, when Netscape 2.0 came out, I designed and maintained my school's first website - using TextEdit, the bottom-of-the-line Kodak digital camera from when they first brought them out, GraphicConverter, and Fetch. I had a personal website and was posting homework online before my current students were even born. Meanwhile, some of my students were raised in homes where tech existed but deliberately took a seat in the way back. They were initially flustered and intimidated by iPads and being asked to check email daily. Of course, even those kids did get comfortable with the technology, and yes, I was always on the lookout for chances for them to teach each other (for one example, kids did the "Notability" introduction and covered every point but one that I was hoping to see). But if anyone had looked at me and implied that, as a 54-year-old, I was worthless at tech and needed them to teach me, a steam whistle would have emerged from each ear and emitted an ear-splitting screech.

All that said, though, your focus on what is genuinely good educational practice and what creates genuinely meaningful educational experiences is where we all need to be. Each of us (teachers and students) have skills to bring to the table, tech included. The key for us teachers to figure out how to leverage the unique combinations of skills we get in our classroom each year (including our own evolving skillset) to maximum advantage.

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on June 2, 2014 at 6:21pm:

Bill wrote:

Bill wrote:

All that said, though, your focus on what is genuinely good educational practice and what creates genuinely meaningful educational experiences is where we all need to be. Each of us (teachers and students) have skills to bring to the table, tech included. The key for us teachers to figure out how to leverage the unique combinations of skills we get in our classroom each year (including our own evolving skillset) to maximum advantage.

--------------------------

This comment wins the Internets, Bill.

It's proof of why I dig you so much.  You articulate so well.

Thanks for the comment,

Bill

Catherine Rudd commented on June 2, 2014 at 6:21pm:

Meaningful Educational Experiences

Bill, Your point is well made. I have been introduced to a slew of new apps and websites and programs etc. My concern is how I use them and how do they benefit my students and increase learning? I want to finish up the summer with a flexible plan that implements new technology- not just because it is there and I learned how to use it- but because it enhances and improves instruction. I know I will make mistakes along the way but I am pretty sure I can still learn new tricks even though some would consider me an old dog.

 

If anyone has some tried and true they want to share I would welcome the input.

Barbara W. Madden commented on June 2, 2014 at 7:35pm:

I am "old" and LOVE technology

I am also weary of even the occasional assumption I do not appreciate technology based on my silver hair. My tech skillset is solid but will only remain so because I am determined to keep growing. Despite the popular meme to the contrary, I have had students say they haven't been taught how to use a particular app or software and, therefore, cannot do a project. Determination or the lack thereof, coudln't care less how old one is.

 

Scott Gaglione commented on June 2, 2014 at 10:21pm:

To me, Bill, it all comes

To me, Bill, it all comes down to the teacher's mindset.  I have worked with plenty of veteran teachers that, while lacking the tech knowledge, willingly jumped into the techno pool and started swimming.  I have also worked with those young whippersnappers that were more versed in the tech know-how of the day, but couldn't be bothered to try it out in their classroom.  It is more a reflection of a teacher's willingness to try new ideas in their classroom I have learned.  And, while I agree that these monikers can lead to unintended consequences, the focus needs to be on the learning.  Whether these names are appropriate or even have a place in education places the emphasis in the wrong area.  Instead of identifying teachers and students by their 'digital' levels, we need to turn our attention to the instruction and classroom environments that are in our schools today.  As has been said countless times, tech is only a tool- much like a pencil- and its ability to transform classrooms is limited by the quality of instruction.

Unfortunately, I have seen far too many classrooms brimming with technology that are still run in 20th Century ways.  We need to provide teachers with quality professional learning that shows them how to pair these tech tools with student-centered instructional methods.

Thanks, as always, for writing and getting my brain working this evening!

 

Scott Gaglione

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on June 5, 2014 at 6:51pm:

Scott wrote:

Scott wrote:

 I have also worked with those young whippersnappers that were more versed in the tech know-how of the day, but couldn't be bothered to try it out in their classroom.  It is more a reflection of a teacher's willingness to try new ideas in their classroom I have learned

------------------------

Such a brilliant point, Scott.  Whether or not a teacher is adept at technology is irrelevant.  What really matters is whether they are willing to experiment with digital tools in their practice and then reflect on the impact that those tools had on what they do with and for kids.

You win the Internets.

Bill

Vickie Kline commented on June 3, 2014 at 9:25am:

It could be worse...

"Digital" imigrant is starting to rankle, but I can live with it.   There is another "D" word that is far worse....  Dinosaur.    :)

Matt Granger commented on June 3, 2014 at 9:40am:

Amen, Brother!

Bill,
I've been saying this for years! It's good to see someone else saying it. I'm trying to change the way we talk at my district. When someone talks about "Digital Immigrant/Native" or "Techie/Non-Techie", I always have to ask them what they mean by the words. To me, they really mean "thinking and non-thinking" or "trier or quitter". It sounds harsh, but that is really what they mean. Here's my blog post about it.

People who uses the digital immigrant/non-techie label for themselves are saying that they refuse to think about it. They have already given themselves permission to give up. As Henry Ford said, "If you think you can, you're right. If you think you can't. you're right about that too." They set themselves up to fail.

I've been helping teachers troubleshoot a lot the last few years in my new role as the Instructional Technology Coach in my district. I've been thinking about this more as I look at the problems they need help with. Conservatively, 80% of troubleshooting issues do NOT require technical thinking, just logical thinking. Even the issues that turn out to be technical (i.e.. the projector IS dying, not just the bulb) can be figured out with logical thinking.

I always start my conversations with teachers talking about taking the next step. Wherever they are as a technology user, they can take the next step in their use of a technology tool. Isn't that the definition of learning? Go from where you are in your knowledge about something and move forward. Sometimes we look for huge strides and forget the power of small, consistent action or growth. If you grow in your knowledge by 0.1% a day (yes, it's hard to quantify, but just follow the logic), that is 1% growth every 10 days. In a year, that is 36.5% growth, which is a significant gain. Even 0.05% growth a day is 18.25% growth a year. If our students gained that much on their state tests a year, we would be ecstatic!

Christine Messina commented on June 3, 2014 at 3:24pm:

Technology Instruction

I have had the opportunity to learn from Matt and his thoughts have provided a new lens for me with the terminology of Digital Native/Immigrant. It is always good to reflect on our personal learning and reframe some of our ideas. Thanks for the commentary.

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on June 5, 2014 at 6:53pm:

Matt wrote:

Matt wrote:

I always start my conversations with teachers talking about taking the next step. Wherever they are as a technology user, they can take the next step in their use of a technology tool.

________________________

This, Matt.  Totally this.

Progress matters for every teacher -- regardless of who they are or where they are.

Thanks for the share.

Bill

Andrew T. Dolan commented on June 3, 2014 at 11:16am:

Labels

Kudos on a great exposition of an easily unrecognized issue!  I continue to hear and read about how my high school students are tech adepts.  While many of skilled with some devices and apps, their proficiency doesn't automatically transfer to other digitals tools.  A student who needs to make contact with his/her phone hourly isn't necessarily able to double-space a document without hitting [Enter] at the end of every line.

Significantly, along the lines of your piece, if teachers buy the rhetoric about the students' native competence, the many students who are scared about having to use unfamiliar tools (e.g., Google Docs) have a greater obstacle in not easily and comfortably meeting their teachers' misinformed/exaggerated expectations.

You've initiated an important discussion.  Thanks!

Bill Ferriter Bill Ferriter commented on June 5, 2014 at 6:55pm:

Andrew wrote:

Andrew wrote:

Significantly, along the lines of your piece, if teachers buy the rhetoric about the students' native competence, the many students who are scared about having to use unfamiliar tools (e.g., Google Docs) have a greater obstacle in not easily and comfortably meeting their teachers' misinformed/exaggerated expectations.

-----------------------

Such an important point, Andrew.  Might even blog about this!

We make assumptions about our students, too.  We think they know more than they do -- which changes the way that we instruct in class.

Well said.

Bill

Ms. Yingling commented on June 25, 2014 at 7:03pm:

It's all about effort

Many of our teachers are young enough to be my children... and I'm the tech person in the building. It does make me feel better when I can fix their computers (and I try not to gloat when the problem is a switched off power switch!), but there are still times when it takes me longer to do things because I am not used to them. I never use "digital immigrant" as an excuse, but it is a good explanation when it takes a couple of 12 year olds to help me set up my Instagram account. Lovely article and very good points.

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