Of Digital Immigrants, Power Browsing and Bouncing Out
Over at the U.K. Times online one will find Catherine O’Brien’s exemplary “How the Google generation thinks differently.” The article should be mandatory reading for every parent and educator – for that matter anyone who works with today’s internet generation.
A Digital Native’s Learning Style
The writer notes that she totally misjudged how her son was learning. In fact, her description of her elder son Oli, nearly 15 is a thing of beauty.
First, O’Brien acknowledges that Oli is “way beyond the stage where I might usefully help with his homework.” Still, what she witnessed as he was preparing for his end of the year exams caused her heartburn of major proportions.
Every time she managed to catch a glimpse of him as he was working she was generally appalled. She writes, “the scene was the same: textbooks remained firmly closed in his bag while the laptop was open on his desk.
On the screen was some history/ physics/English document, but also his Facebook and iTunes pages. In his ears were the iPod plugs, playing back a podcast. And sometimes, just to fracture his concentration even further, he might have had a half-played video running on YouTube as well.”
Witnessing the same behavior again and again simply proved to be too much. She notes, “We each have our breaking points and one night during that exam period I reached mine. How, I wanted to know, as I scooped up the laptop and announced that I was confiscating it until further notice, could he be absorbing the finer points of photosynthesis and his French vocab if he treated his mind like a pogo stick?”
Digital Natives versus Digital Immigrants
Having taken the radical step, O’Brien soon gets a lesson from a third party, a ‘geeky acquaintance’ named Ben. He explains to this troubled mom the descriptors of American futurist, Marc Prensky. Ben informs O’Brien that her son is a ‘digital native’ but that she, unfortunately, is a ‘digital immigrant’.
Once duly informed, the writer appears to have little trouble discerning the critical difference between herself, someone who has adapted to technology, and her son, someone who has grown up with technology. O’Brien indicates that she is in fact computer proficient, but that she still prints out documents to read them, calls people to check if they have received her e-mail, and the clincher, that she still has a dictionary by her desk. She also recalls her study habits, something akin to monk-like behavior, away from any form of distraction.
In turn, she notes her digital native son, multi-tasking, thriving on instant gratification and claiming to function best when he has the opportunity to be networked. Her son, like other digitally native children has a wonderfully flexible mind, absorbs information quickly, and adapts easily to changes.
But though understanding of the difference, O’Brien goes on to point out the shortcomings of a digital native and the new disease afflicting youngsters, ‘internet-induced attention deficit disorder’. She nails the issue, again using the latest terminology to describe how a digital native’s behavior contrasts with that of a digital immigrant.
O’Brien notes the work of researchers at University College London. Studying today’s ‘Google Generation’, the researchers routinely witnessed two forms of behavior. Those logging on to websites demonstrated a propensity for ‘skimming’, quickly surveying pages, and then ‘bouncing out,’ moving onto a new search after surveying no more than three pages.
O’Brien notes that this power browsing can best be described by horizontal searching, of providing breadth. This behavior lacks in vertical searching, methodology that would provide greater depth.
The issue for this mother is that her son, the digital native is developing only quick-twitch fibers. The all-powerful tools of technology are an enormous help to the writer, but as a digital immigrant she has already developed baseline skills in three distinct and critical aptitudes, the areas of concentration, contemplation and knowledge construction.
Lessons for Parents, Educators
The challenge for parents and educators is to develop those same baseline skills in the tech generation. Digital natives need these skills but taking away their laptops is simply not the answer. O’Brien soon realizes that, returning her son’s machine the following day.
Anyone who works with or cares for children knows that they have an amazing ability to assimilate learning quickly. Those who work with children also are aware that youngsters learn simultaneously from multiple sources.
Technology feeds directly into this innate ability. Digital natives simply have been exposed to a greater variety of sensory inputs. Because of that exposure, our tech-savvy youngsters have an even lower boredom threshold than was displayed by digital immigrants when they were still wet behind the ears.
Somehow, someway, those who work with children must find a way to incorporate technology into a lesson structure that helps students learn what technology cannot teach them. The technology genie is out of the bottle and cannot be returned.
Our web can help compile data and has helped create an information explosion. And our kids love what the web has to offer, whether it be YouTube, Google, social networking and electronic games.
O’Brien goes on to quote Rose Luckin, Professor of Learner-Centered Design at the London Knowledge Lab and a visiting professor at the University of Sussex. While technology provides a wealth of access to information, Luckin notes the juncture where parents and teachers come in.
“Technology cannot teach them to reflect upon and evaluate the information they are gathering online. For that, the role of teachers and parents remains fundamentally important.”
Yes, we, the generation of digital immigrants, have a responsibility to our digital native children. The critical question is whether or not we are up to the challenge.