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Young people who have grown up in an e-dominated society are technologically literate

This statement is often supported by anecdotes and observations. Do we have any evidence for it yet...

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28 April 2010

This statement is often supported by anecdotes and observations. Do we have any evidence for it yet - or perhaps - some contradictory evidence?

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Rhona Sharpe
10:01am 29 April 2010

Chris Jones, speaking at ELESIG says that the net gen (Prensky & Tapscott) models aren't making claims just about age, they are proposing there is a sharp break between one generation and another. (The notion of singularity.) What Chris's survey data shows is that although there are age related features, for younger people, there are changes within the net generation - and there are gender differences. 

Greg Benfield
12:45pm 29 April 2010

One observation about the title of this cloud is the specificity of its socio-political-economic-cultural context. For example, there are so many countries for which this assertion (growing up in an e-dominated society) is absurd for the vast majority of the citizens. Similarly, within even advanced industrial countries there are extremes of levels of access to digital technologies.

The statement also ignores the highly personal relationship individuals have with technology. For example, the Educause ECAR survey of 2008 reports significant numbers of undergraduate students in the USA who avoid technology and do not like to use it.

Chris Jones
12:50pm 29 April 2010

I agree Greg and the work by Laura Czerniewicz in the Virtual Mobius project confirms this kind of observation in a South African context that has huge divergences in wealth, technology access etc.


1:00pm 29 April 2010 (Edited 1:05pm 29 April 2010)

Reflect on the following I transcripted from an LSE podcast:

Partial transcript of David Buckingham’s contribution to the Silverstone Panel on the Digital Native: A Lost Tribe, LSE November 2009.

“If you look at Mark Prensky’s latest book “Don’t bother me mum, I’m learning” … Mark Prensky is a games designer, basically, and what you get in this book is a vindication of computer games as a learning medium. What that entails is on the one hand undermining of the arguments of all the harmful effects of games while at the same time buying into arguments about the positive consequences of gaming. So games are seen to have … well all this stuff about violence and whatever is nonsense, on the other hand games are seen to have all sorts of positive educational benefits; they develop cognitive skill, kids learn all sorts of areas of content. From the point of view of games studies what you get a certain justification of games in terms of what Brian Sutton Smith in his work on play calls a “rhetoric of play as progress”. The play is justified in terms of its educational value. All the dangerously antisocial aspects of play…  is all swept to one side. What we have is a certain kind of vindication of game play which is I think very partial … a developmental rhetoric about play. Also in this there’s an assumption that learning transfers, so what we learn from computer games somehow transfers to what goes on in real life. We learn hand-eye co-ordination, we learning problem solving; and somehow this makes us better problem solvers in real life; I think a very dubious argument. Also in this a sense of learning as somehow spontaneous and that goes along with the rhetoric in this argument; a dismissal of schooling; a dismissal of formal education; a valorising of informal learning. The distinction between informal and formal often very loosely and vaguely defined here. The dismissal of formal learning in schools and so this argument again that Sonia cited, you know Digital Natives want to learn in different ways they want interactive, game-like discovery-based multitasking forms of learning and not all that boring stuff they get in school. So I think it is important to say where this argument is coming from and I would say again that the research evidence would be that … is there are generational difference here, and is that difference produced by technology? I would say the evidence for that is very very limited. So if it’s all rubbish why are people making this argument? What function does this discourse, this rhetoric serve in terms of debating, particularly round areas of educational policy? I would say it is partly driven by a kind of sales pitch. It’s driven by commercial companies selling technology into schools and also government policy looking for a technological quick fix to what it perceives to the problems of education. And if you track this discourse like I have through things like the National Grid for Learning and the kind of stuff that comes from BECTA, the Harnessing Technology Strategy; most recently the Rose Review what you actually find is partly the Digital Native … it’s actually more ambivalent than that … What you have is this rhetoric of young people as spontaneously technologically competent on the one hand but on the other hand we mustn’t forget that they lack fundamental skills … this is very much a skills agenda, a set of competencies young people are seen to need. And that is then all tied up in a policy mush … The digital native goes in, personalisation, informal learning, learning styles, multiple intelligences, etc. A series of concepts that, once you start to look and probe them a little bit, are really very ill-defined and quite problematic.   For companies this is a valuable means of generating profit. For government it offers the promise of a technological fix … if young people are disaffected with school then that’s something we can fix by putting a lot of computers and whiteboards into classrooms because these things are automatically assumed to motivate young people. And I think this is characteristic of a wider tendency to take a cultural or social problem and present it as a technical one and offer a technical or technological solution … I think for some people advocating technology in schools comes to be tied up with what I can only call a wishful thinking about how technology will bring about a fundamental transformation of power in the classroom, move us towards a more democratic form of education, undermine the power of the teacher and create a more student centred classroom. Again I would say the evidence for those kinds of assertions is very limited and certainly there is quite a lot of evidence to the contrary. If you look at the research that has been done about whiteboards for example. Having attempted to chuck it all out what value might it have … ? “

See also primary article referencing this in "TEL in 2015?"

Derek Morrison

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