Let me start with a borderline heretical confession:  I believe that the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” have done more harm than good in shaping the direction of teaching and learning in the 21st Century.

The way I see it, calling students “digital natives” and any adult over the age of 35 “digital immigrants” all-too-often leaves teachers convinced that they have no real place in helping students to figure out how to grow as capable and competent learners.

We’ve inadvertently handed over all ownership and discredited our expertise, y’all — assuming that spending our formative years with notepads instead of iPads means we’ve got nothing to add to conversations with our students about how technology empowers learners.

And worse yet, we hang our students out to dry every time that we make blanket assumptions about their ability to grow without us simply because they don’t need owner’s manuals to figure out how to use the new gadgets flooding the marketplace every year. 

Sure, today’s kids CAN play video games and surf YouTube videos and send text messages and check their Facebook profiles without any help.

And YES, they have Pinterest pages long before their parents figure out that Pinterest isn’t some clever marketing campaign for newfangled online savings accounts.

They ARE successfully liking and poking and friending their way through life without our help.

But is that REALLY something to celebrate?

Aren’t those entertainment-fueled behaviors nothing more than concrete evidence of a troubling disconnect between what kids CAN do and ARE doing with technology?

That’s a question that Brad Ovenell-Carter — a bright mind and even better digital friend who works with high schoolers in Vancouver — decided to ask his students.

Their responses were revealing.

He started the conversation by asking what his kids would do if they had two hours in a tech-loaded room and no assignments to tackle.   

While some of Brad’s kids planned to spend their time making videos for the greater good or creating digital art, most figured that Instagramming it, editing themselves into Justin Beiber’s videos or printing 3D images of Harry Styles to take home would be more fun.    

That’s when Brad asked

Hey #tokafe11: @plugusin contends that there is a gap between what you CAN and ARE doing.  Agree? Disagree?

Two of his students gave responses that every 21st Century teacher should tape squarely in the middle of their not-so Interactive Whiteboards:


Powerful stuff, huh?

The moral of the story is simple:  Today’s students — the same connected kids that we’ve always assumed became superstars as soon as we plugged them in — really DO still need our help.

It’s OUR job to help kids to realize how to leverage technology for something more than keeping themselves entertained.

It’s OUR job to show the Sophias in our classrooms what IS possible and to help the Heathers in our classrooms figure out how they CAN change the world with digital tools.

It’s NOT enough to stand aside after turning kids loose with new tools, simply HOPING that they’ll  figure out how to squeeze the intellectual juice out of the gadgets we’ve given them. 

Want to change the lives of kids?

Then start building a bridge between what THEY know about technology and what YOU know about efficient and effective learning.


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