Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thornburg and Davidson weigh on on Digital Natives/Immigrants

On April 11-12 I attended the Leadership 3.0 Symposium in Millbrae, CA, put on by ACSA, CUE, and TICAL. I have worked in the classroom for over ten years, and this is the first year I have worked out of the district office. I felt privileged to attend a conference where many of the attendees and presenters were administrators instead of teachers. I almost felt like a "fly on the wall" as I sat in on presentations such as Visalia's discussion of how their district moved from grade-based assessments to standards-based assessments (i.e. sstandards-based report cards vs. letter-grade report cards).

I felt especially gratified to hear a spirited discussion between David Thornburg and Hal Davidson regarding their views on the Digital Immigrants/Digital Natives "debate." Thornburg posted an "apology" in his Oct. 20, 2007 Thornburg Center blog regarding his use of the term digital immigrants. He now believes that "the designation of 'digital natives' and 'digital immigrants' suggests a difference that is, at best, largely inaccurate and, at worst, demeaning to educators," and vows to no longer use this term.

Davidson argued that he never thought of this term as an insult. He argued that the designation was useful in several ways. Most importantly, he pointed out, it helps us realize that a significant change has happened due to the affordances of technology. He cited evidence that shows how changing one's environment results in significant changes for individuals. Since many of those who are 35 years of age and under have spent a great deal of their lives in the digital environment, compared to those of us 35 years of age and older, it seems to be a no-brainer that the younger generation will be more impacted.

Thornburg tried to defend his position by pointing out that this "label" suggests that it is the immigrants who need to change. Rather, he insists , it is the SYSTEM of education that needs to change. He believes that calling educators and parents "immigrants" demeans them and gets the focus off the need for systemic change.

As anyone knows who has suffered from the symptoms of an unknown disease for any period of time, only to eventually find out the name of their disease, being able to give a prescriptive name to something provides a valuable service. For one, it validates the person's experience. Second, it gives the experience a "handle" and a starting point from which changes and adjustments can then be made. Labeling students' ability to quickly adapt to technology vs. adults' need to take a little longer to adapt, points out that students' immersion in their digital environment has actually changed the way they think and learn. Yes, the educational system needs to change, but systems also change as individuals change! As argued in my dissertation, students have developed a new social-connectedness and a new cognitive-connectedness due to their immersion in the digital world. Educators need to develop instructional designs that take into account students' new schemata. Yes, the system needs to change, but so do the digital immigrants.