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"Alright, kiddo. Tell daddy again how to change the background color on his website."

"Sure, daddy."

"And after that, can you show me how to get a Paypal button on it?"

"Sure, daddy."


Digital native: (n) informal - a person who has been familiar with information technology since childhood (Collins English Dictionary).

People who have grown up with digital technology (e.g. the Internet, computer games, mobile phones, iPods, and Facebook) are called “digital natives”. They have been around this technology for virtually their entire lives and know how to use it. Many teachers have not as familiar with digital technology. Digital natives, while aware of and able to use digital technology, must be instructed on how to use it productively. They are entering a world where information is passed more quickly, business occurs 24 hours a day, and competition for market share is tight. Workers are expected to process information quickly and effectively. In order for high school graduates to be competitive with their international counterparts, they need to be versed in the practical uses of digital technology. Teachers and administrators face the challenge of balancing school policies that are designed to keep students safe and on-task with the rapid proliferation of digital technology that can be used for educational purposes.

Today, many districts restrict the use of mobile phones because they are deemed as a distraction and a potential means of cheating on tests and invading other students’ privacy. While those risks exist, there is the potential to use the technology to rapidly take in-class surveys, create multimedia presentations, and do research in the classroom environment without the use of school resources. Some schools are already taking risks in using tools such as mobile phones and Facebook for instructional purposes, with positive results.

In 1990, a high school student could be given an assignment to create a video presentation on a topic. In order to do this, she would have had to go to the library to check out one of very few video cameras, would have no real means of editing the film, and the production quality would have been very grainy. The presentation would be put on a VHS tape, and played on a VCR and a TV strapped to an A/V cart that had to be wheeled down the hall from the library. In 2012, a high school student can be given that same assignment, but it is done very differently. To complete this assignment the student could use her own iPod or mobile phone, shoot several clips of video, drop them into Microsoft Movie Maker, drop in her favorite song, narrate the film, upload it to Youtube, and email the link to her teacher so she can view and grade it at her desk. On top of this, the class can share their films with their peers from other schools (international and domestic), and the two schools can rate each others’ films and learn about each others’ cultures. Notice there is quite a difference between the ways the students would complete these projects. Teachers and administrators have an opportunity to capitalize on the convergence of student technological proficiency and the availability of the technology in order to create some innovative learning experiences.

Another way we can better prepare students with digital technology is to enable them to work with students in other geographic locations on projects. This does not even require a video teleconference. Students can collaborate on a free page like Wikispaces and prepare a report. In industry, this is done on a growing basis. If students are to have the tools required to enter the workplace of the future, they will need to learn how to collaborate and succeed as a team, even when they never meet the other members of their team.

To sum up, the opportunities are growing for digital native students to use digital technology in the classroom are growing. Teachers and administrators have the option to embrace the technology for practical educational uses while preserving student privacy and safety. The benefits to be gained are great, and the risks are great as well. However, ignoring the proliferation of digital technology in our daily lives and in the global workplace is not an option.

Digital Natives – Is this a Trend or an Issue?

The presence of digital natives is not an issue at all. They got here because people wanted things to make life easier and more enjoyable. To achieve this, people created the Internet, mobile communication technology, video conferencing technology, “Smartboard” technology and social media. Digital natives have never known a world without these things.

Technology grows at such a rapid pace that this year’s new technology is practically obsolete in four years. Incidentally, the technology we teach our high school freshmen is practically obsolete when they graduate. This is not true with all technology, but in many situations it is.

Historically, teachers have made their careers on creating engaging lessons and that enable students to learn. They have been rewarded for these lessons by their administrations and they plan their courses around these lessons.

Students are coming to teachers with technology proficiency beyond their own. This is when the issue surfaces. Digital natives are often more comfortable with technology than their teachers and administrators. Teachers without technology know-how can appear awkward or even backward in the eyes of their students, and they are ill-prepared to teach their students how to use today’s technology in the real world. Not only that, the technology the students will use in their future careers will likely be slightly more advanced than the technology they use today. In order to prepare them to be productive with the technology at their disposal, teachers should seize the opportunity to combine the technology with the academic rigor of their subject. Teaching students how to use their technology productively will take them closer to being productive in the workplace.

Digital natives are not much different than their predecessors, but they do show a greater desire to do exciting things (Wagner, 2012). As such, they need to be led in such a way they can see the exciting connections between what they do and the world around them.

Many teachers are learning the value of using social media in the classroom. One company, Edmodo, created a social network for teachers, students, and parents to interact using methods that have the same look and feel as Facebook (Boyd, 2011). As of May 2012 there were over 7.4 million teachers and students with profiles on the service. Through the use of this service, teachers are enhancing their communication and replacing what was once only done using in-class messages posted on the chalkboard during class. Students can now communicate with their classes from any internet-connected computer. One school even communicates with its students and teachers via its own mobile phone application (Drummond, 2012). In this way the school is closing the distance between digital learners and traditional education methods.

As one thought leader has observed, digital natives navigate effortlessly through the "sea of knowledge" (Gasser, 2010). This is a strength that is very useful in business. Teachers are already learning that they can set up learning situations where students research sources on the Internet to create reports or conduct analysis on actual data. Gasser also asserts that it is not the quality of the products they produce in the classroom, but the skills they gain in the process, that will enable digital natives to grow up to be well-informed adults in the future (Gasser, 2008).

If teachers fail to incorporate digital technology into their classrooms, the students will have a tough time making the connection between the technology and the opportunity to use it to do valuable work. We are at a unique point in history where most students have unique technical skills that teachers can use to accelerate learning and better prepare students for the road ahead.


Boyd, D. (2011, December 8). Linkedin's reid hoffman, former facebook vp back new social network designed to transform education. Fast Company, Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/1799759/can-silicon-valleys-social-network-experts-transform-education.

This article explains how Silicon Valley has taken an interest in how digital natives learn and interact with their teachers and peers. This source described how Edmodo, a social network for teachers and students, helps students and teachers interact outside of the classroom setting. It mimics much of what Facebook does.

digital native. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved May 23, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/digital native. This source provided a definition of a digital native, and also identified the antonym for this term as ‘digital immigrant’. The term ,'digital native,' is still a bit new and has not yet made it into the more mainline dictionaries.

Drummond, C. (2012, May 12). Welcome to hi-tech high. The Westerly Sun. Retrieved from http://www.thewesterlysun.com/news/welcome-to-hi-tech-high/article_302937d0-9bf2-11e1-a4a7-001a4bcf887a.html. This article shows one school’s use of technology in its infrastructure and in instruction. The author discusses not only some of the tangible elements of the technology and how it’s used, but also the practical aspect of the cost of implementation.

Englert, C., Manalo, M., & Zhao, Y. (2004). I can do it better on the computer: The effects of technology-enabled scaffolding on young writers composition. Journal of Special Education Technology, 19(1), 19-22. This is the findings of a study where 1st and 2nd graders were given an assignment using either pen/paper or a computer. Overall findings indicate that students wrote more, incorporated more genre specific characteristics, and demonstrated conventional writing skills on the supported writing assignment.

Gasser, U. (2010). Generation Internet. They’re young, they’re networked and they were born into a world of computers. What we can learn from Digital Natives. BMW Magazine, 1, 64-68. Gasser outlines and explains some of the behaviors of digital natives. This has implications on how teachers approach them and close the gap between their instruction methods and how their students relate to information.

Gasser, U. (2008). Fueling creativity, access to knowledge and the public domain: Looking at the case of Digital Native. OECD Ministerial Meeting, Stakeholder Forum, Seoul 2008. This was a presentation to a group of educators. Gasser asserts that there is a critical gap between students who know how to use digital technology effectively and those who do not. He states that educators must get students to work with digital technology in their school work to become proficient with it, and that the benefits will show well beyond simply being able to complete school work with technology.

Prensky, M. (2001, October 5). Digital natives, digital immigrants. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky - digital natives, digital immigrants - part1.pdf. The author starts from the premise that the largest problem between digital natives (those who grew up with digital technology) and digital immigrants (those who are in the process of adopting digital technology) is they speak different languages. Prensky proposes that educators must reconsider both methodology and content in order to take an active role in the education of young people. He asserts that digital natives will succeed in their academic pursuits, but that they will succeed sooner if school administrators support them as digital natives and not students who need to lay aside their digital tools in the classroom.

Wagner, T. (2012, May 30). To bring out the best in millennials, put on your coaching hat. Fast Company, Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/1838759/to-bring-out-the-best-in-millennials-put-on-your-coaching-hat. Wagner explains how digital natives approach their work. They generally want to make a difference and are far less interested in simply doing a good job day-to-day. Leaders of these workers need to sell the vision to their team, setting the conditions where the digital natives can make a difference. The carry-over for teachers is that teachers need to explain the relevance of their content and help the students understand the benefit of gaining the knowledge and skills they are teaching.

Proposal Addressing this Issue: