CASE STUDY Digital Technologies

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In week one of the 'Sustainability' enquiry based learning project, I was introduced to the Web 2.0 presentation software, Prezi. The advantage of using this, over other technologies such as built-in presentation software is that, once finished, it can be viewed by anyone in the world (Bohlander & Vreeman, 2010). As Prensky (2001) proposed that I am a 'Digital Native' due to being born between 1980-1994, I should be adept at using many forms of technology, including to those I have not used before, including Prezi. The class was organised into groups of four and my group consisted of Abi Varley, Becca Smith and Nathalie Bailey. After a lot of discussion about a research topic, it was a collaborate decision to research, 'How a person can make their everyday lifestyle more sustainable'. We decided to split the workload by choosing four key research areas with each of us taking one of these. These were the definition of 'Sustainability' (my topic), technology, population and lifestyle. In order to communicate with each other outside of class, we created a Facebook group. The organisation of our project supports Tapscott (2008), who proposed that as we have grown up with digital technology, we chose to use this particular social networking website, as it is what we regularly use outside of a formal intuition. This is in contrast to choosing one of the unfamiliar Web 2.0 technologies blogs such as Ning, which we were introduced to in the early weeks of the module. In addition, this also supports Beetham and Sharpe (2007), who proposed that E-learning is expanding. Our idea of using Facebook, therefore, supports this as we chose a computer-based method of communication rather than arranging to meet up which would, in itself, be less convenient.

In week two of the project, we had the addition of an extra group member, George Morton. We also decided to change the research topic to something more relevant to our University course (Educational Studies). Therefore, we decided to research the topic 'Sustainability of Lifelong Learning'. We continued to use Facebook to record our conversations and post URLs to websites. Although our classroom was situated in the library, when researching my sub-topic of the project, I decided to instinctively use Google to find useful websites and E-books over physically searching the library for appropriate material. Although I used E-books, I preferred to print out some of the material rather than reading electronically which contradicts what makes a 'Digital Native' (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). However, our group were still reluctant to use other Web 2.0 technologies, suggested by the module leader throughout the course. Even when creating the Prezi structure and using Ref Works as compulsory elements of the project, I found it very difficult to use them. Therefore, I would consider myself, by Prensky's definition, a 'Digital Immigrant' as I am still 'stuck' in my old ways and reluctant to use new technology (Prensky, 2001). However, even though Nathalie was not in class in week two due to illness, we were all still able to communicate over Facebook as this is our primary source of social networking when were are not physically together which further supports Tapscott (2008).

In week three, we constructed our research into more concise points for the Prezi and found some YouTube videos to explain some points in greater detail which some researchers propose are more engaging than merely speech (Duffy, 2008). Although YouTube is a Web 2.0 technology, it was chosen as the video source as is recognised world-wide and used by the majority of our group members on a daily basis (Tapscott, 2008). As a compulsory element, we created a joint RefWorks folder and all were given the URL to the Prezi so it could be edited by a group member when needed. By the end of week three, the Prezi was finished and ready for presentation in the final week.

The enquiry based learning project taught me about the importance of learning through asking questions such as those in Bloom's Taxonomy (Krathwohl & Anderson, 2001) and applying these to situations such as the Sustainability project. At the start of the project, I only used surface learning to examine the topic of Sustainability in everyday life and found it to be broader than originally thought, hence for the reason for the change to Sustainability of Lifelong Learning. Once the group started to ask Bloom's Taxonomy questions about the new topic such as 'Who/How/Why/Where?' we used deeper learning which assisted the ease of finding concise and relevant research (Krathwohl & Anderson, 2001).

The use of Web 2.0 technologies throughout this project including Prezi and RefWorks along with others in previous weeks of the module has taught be that by Prensky's definition of my habits, I am in fact a 'Digital Immigrant' over being a 'Digital Native' which I should be due to being born in the digital age (Prensky, 2001). This is supported by my approach to the project and my initial resistance to using Web 2.0 technologies introduced in the module such as Prezi and RefWorks compared with my comfort in using Facebook to communicate over the Web 2.0 technologies introduced in the module to do the same task (Prensky, 2001; Tapscott, 2008). However, as I am now aware of these new technologies, I may be more inclined to use them if I feel it is the best option when approaching a task.


Beetham, H. & Sharpe, R. 2007. Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age; designing and delivering e-learning. London: Routledge.

Bohlander, L & Vreeman, M. (2010). Prezi presentation design tool. Available: Last accessed 17th Apr 2011.

Duffy, P. "Engaging the YouTube Google-Eyed Generation: Strategies for Using Web 2.0 in Teaching and Learning." The Electronic Journal of e-Learning Volume 6 Issue 2, pp 119 - 130, available online at

Krathwohl, D. R, Anderson, L. W. (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Last Accessed 17th April 2011. From's_Taxonomy.

Palfrey, J.G. & Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital: understanding the first generation of digital natives. New York: Basic Books.

Prensky, M (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the horizon. 9(5).

Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown up digital: How the net generation is changing your world. McGraw-Hill Professional.

Part 2: Describe and critically evaluate the concept of 'digital native/immigrant'

There has been a great amount of discussion about a new generation of students and the implications for formal educational institutions such as University. The generation, known as 'Digital Natives' are said to be very different in terms of their knowledge, familiarity and use of technology (Prensky, 2001). In addition, Prensky (1998) claimed that using technology during critical development periods might even alter their brain structure.

The current generation of University students are proposed to most belong to this 'Digital Natives' generation (Prensky, 2001). This is due to them being born into a time period of advanced technology (1980-1994), surrounded by all the "toys of the digital age" (Prensky, 2001). This digital age included the invention of the first home computers in the early 1980s, introduction of the internet and mobile phones in 1983, which are still amongst the most popular consumer products today (Bellis, 2004). They are also amongst the first to utilise the modern technologies of the 21st century including Web 2.0 technologies which is the popular term used for advanced Internet technology applications such as blogs and social networking websites (O'Reilly, 2005).

Many assumptions have been made about University students and their attitudes towards learning and their use of technology. For example, Philip (2007) proposed that students expect "technology to be an important part of their education" and that students often expect fast access to information with immediate answers and are adept to multi-tasking.

However, in contrast to the 'Digital Native' generation, Prensky (2001) proposed that those not born into the world of technology will always be known as 'Digital Immigrants' even though many try to adapt to aspects of the digital age. Prensky's explanation for this was that 'Digital Immigrants' might be reluctant to changing the way they perform tasks (without technology) as there wasn't such modern technology in their generation. For example, individuals may read a 1000 page encyclopaedia to research a topic rather than using an Internet search engine which would what a 'Digital Native' may instinctively do due to growing up with the Internet from childhood (Zur & Zur, 2011)

Prensky (1998) suggested that due to the greater repeated exposure of 'Digital Natives' to technology compared with 'Digital Immigrants', the overall brain structure might be different, including increased brain functioning. This supports Philip (2007) who proposed that 'Digital Native' University students are more adept to multi-tasking and have complex problem solving abilities in contrast to Digital Immigrants. This is said to be the greatest difference that exist between 'Digital Natives' and 'Digital Immigrants'.

Prensky (2001) further proposed that current students often have a shortened attention span than those from previous generations due to their expectation for fast access to information, provided by technology. In addition to this, a 2009 EDUCAUSE study (as cited in Arduini, 2010) found that across 38 UK Universities, over 88% of students owned a personal computer. Furthermore, Kluver (2011) found that the most popular websites accessed by students were Google and YouTube. Additionally, it has been suggested by Arrington (2005), that 88% of UK University students are a member of the social networking website Facebook. Therefore if Prensky's theory of attention span is true, in conjunction with the statistics highlighted above, it is of little wonder how University students can be expected to spend a number of hours a day in a lecture theatre with a 'Digital Immigrant' lecturer with little more than a pen and paper. This is in contrast to the majority of their time being spent on their personal computers.

From personal experience, even when some students use their personal computers in a formal educational setting to create typed notes, some 'Digital Immigrant' lecturers complain that students become distracted by other Web 2.0 technologies such as social networking sites. This idea supports Prensky (2001) idea that Digital Native students have a short attention span, potentially due to reasons such as expecting immediate access to information (Philip, 2007).

Prensky's proposal into the world of University students being 'Digital Natives', suggests important implications for formal education. Prensky (2001) suggests that as University lecturer's, who were born before the digital age, are 'Digital Immigrant's', they may be reluctant to modify their teaching methods to include the new technology of the modern age. This suggests that current teaching methods might be ineffective due to the points mentioned previously.

If the 'Digital Native' phenomena identifies those being born into technology who are now of University age, why can't this term be used to describe those who are currently of secondary school age? They also have been brought up a world of 21st century technology. Prensky (2001) proposes that a change in methodology of formal education does not mean altering the essential components of the curriculum nor does he suggest stop teaching critical thinking skills. Instead, Prensky proposes a change in the way these are taught, " does mean going faster, less step-by-step, more in parallel, with more random access, among other things" (Prensky, 2001, p. 4). In order to achieve this aim, Prensky suggested that computer games should be invented that teach aspects of a subject. For example, this could be trigonometry or mental arithmetic in Maths or grammar in English.

Prensky has provided a valid argument to suggest that teachers need to adapt their teaching methods to include the aspects associated with being a 'Digital Native'. However, Prensky (2001) does not say, in particular, what adaptations should be made. Zur and Zur (2011) on the other hand suggested that the "educational model should be more participatory and less passive". They highlighted the necessity to teach the curriculum through the utilising of technology, which supports Prensky (2001), but also went further into suggesting the inclusion of social networking and the teaching of computer skills such as using applications, writing formal emails and handling security breaches. These skills are said to be required for many jobs in the 21st century (Zur & Zur, 2011).

However, Prensky's 'Digital Native'/ 'Digital Immigrant' concept can be criticised for being too deterministic as it suggests that each individual belongs to only one category. Therefore, it implies that if an individual falls into one category, they cannot exhibit characteristics of the other category.

There is supporting evidence to suggest that Prensky's concept is a sweeping generalisation and not as definitive as suggested. Dalgarno et al. (2007) conducted a research study involving 2588 Australian undergraduate University students into forty-one applications of new technologies their study and personal lives. These technologies included tools such as the computer application Photoshop, the internet and creating/editing audio and video files. In addition, they also investigated the applications of mobile devices such as calling, texting, accessing the internet and sending/receiving emails. Lastly, they investigated the use of traditional Web 2.0 technologies such as podcasting, wikis, social networking sites, blogs and file sharing. The findings indicated that students are nowhere near as frequent users of new technologies as Prensky (2001) has previously suggested. In particular, when investigating the use of Web 2.0 technologies, it was found that 55% of students have never read a blog along with 73% never having created one. This study shows that caution must be taken when generalising the lifestyles or learning styles of the 'Digital Natives' generation based on assumptions about their preference for technology.

There is also counter-support research evidence to suggest that a 'Digital Native' does not have to be born in the 1980s-1994, which was proposed by Prensky (2001). Brown and Czerniewicz (2010) conducted a 3-phase longitudinal questionnaire study in three South African Universities. From over ten thousand students, 65% of those, considered by Prensky (2001) to be born into the digital age, they found that only 27% could actually be described as being a 'Digital Native'. An explanation for this (Brown & Czerniewicz, 2010), was that many of the students suffered social economic disadvantage due to being born in a poor social economic area were not given the opportunity to have access to ICT resources. Furthermore, it was found that more students from a low social economic background had less access to a computer both on and off campus than those from a high social economic background (57% and 18% respectively). This study, therefore, suggests that Prensky's (2001) 'Digital Native' concept can be applied differently in third world countries such as South Africa, where there is less of a digital democracy. A better characterisation of 'Digital Natives' would be those with wider access to opportunity to resources rather than their age. However, it also must be taken into consideration that in the 3-phase, it was found that a similar percentage of students from all social economic areas, used mobile phones for learning, regardless of their age. This suggests that a digital democracy exists more in the form of mobile phones than computers, as this is the most widely accessible form of technology, with a Wikipedia statistic suggesting that 82% of the South African population owns a mobile phone.

In conclusion, Prensky's 'Digital Native' concept may provide educators with an insight into student's use of technology outside of formal education. It also highlights the growing need to make technology an inclusive part of their learning to adapt to the changing generation of students. However research evidence (Dalgarno et al., 2007; Brown and Czerniewic, 2010) has challenged Prensky (2001), suggesting that the 'Digital Native' concept is not as 'determined' as Prensky (2001) proposed with not all students born in the digital age being familiar and adept to using Web 2.0 technology (Dalgarno et al., 2007). Furthermore, Brown and Czerniewicz (2010) also concluded that the divide is not as evident and is more often caused by lack of access to resources rather than age. Therefore, this concept should be used with caution as it labels an individual being either a 'Digital Native' or 'Digital Immigrant', purely based on when they were born. This, in itself, has implications as it raises social sensitivity issues due to an individual being born into something that determines them and which they have no control over.