Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Marc Prensky - "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" – part 1 – Summary and Review

Marc Prensky opens his "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants"(2001)  by stating  that the problem with education today is  that " Our students have  changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system  was designed to teach".

Pensky suggests that the arrival of digital technology in the last decade of the 20th century can be marked as a "singularity" – a dramatic break in the flow of generational change.  Prensky therefore holds that "today’s students  think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors". He even suggests that these changes might be found in the very manner in which the new generation's brain functions. As far as thinking patterns are concerned, Prensky is confident that thinks have already drastically changed.

Prensky calls this new generation of high technology usage "Digital Natives", holding that "Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet". Consequently, all people born before the beginning of the digital era are termed by Prensky as "Digital Immigrants".

Digital immigrants learn to some extent to adapt to their new environment while retaining an "accent".  The problem that Prensky identifies regarding education is that "our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated  language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language", thus creating a cross-generational dissonance.

According to Prensky, digital natives are accustomed to receiving information really fast, parallel process and multi-task. Digital natives give precedence to graphics over text. They are networked and need fast and easy gratification.  All these is very foreign to digital immigrants.  These brings up some serious problems when we come to education.

Education today rests on the assumption that learners are the same as they ever were. This is according to Prensky no longer a valid assumption. Traditional education cannot meet the needs and inclinations of the new digital immigrants. Presnky thinks that what's done is done, and that the Digital Natives cannot and will not go back to traditional ways of thinking and learning.

According to Prensky, this gap has to be addressed by the traditional education system that needs to adapt itself to the new Digital Natives in both content and methodology.  Prensky distinguished two types of content: "legacy" content which includes things that were considered thus far as important such as reading, writing, math and logic, and "future" content which regards digital and technological matters.  The challenge is to combine the two together in a system suited for the needs of digital natives.
This warrants some rethinking of what and how we teach our children. Teachers that are, as Prensky terms it, "Digital Immigrants" have to cope with the fact that their pupils are of a different making. Things will not go back to the way they were up until now.

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