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Firstly what does a digital native mean? A digital native is a person where digital technology is already around when they were born, which mean they have grown up with digital technology such as mobile phones, computers, game consoles, mp3 and all other digital technologies. The opposite to this a person who grew up without these digital technologies and learnt how to use them later on in life for example if the person was born before the introduction of mobile phone they adapted and learnt how to use this technology these people are placed with the name digital immigrants.
Now we have established the meaning of these terms we can now evaluate the debate, which surrounds this area. Marc Prensky (2001) is one of the leading experts in this field and is the one who coined the term Digital Native in his work ‘Digital Native’, Digital Immigrants published in 2001′. The main argument to support the concept of digital native is that children people born in the last two decades have always been surrounded and had contact with new technology. According to Prensky (2001), the reason for an increase of technology is due to the fact that there is a “hypothesized change in the brain structure that means young people process information and think in different ways compared to pervious generations”(Prensky, 2001a).
Prensky (2001) states, “Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards”. They prefer games to “serious” work (2001). Prensky (2001) defines this younger generation as the digital natives as they, are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.
Prensky refers to people who were born before this new digital era, which began around 1980, as Digital Immigrants. According to him digital immigrants may learn to use new technologies but will still be in some way always be in the past, unable to fully understand the way of the natives. According to Prensky (2001), characteristics of digital immigrants are that they do not use the Internet as their first point for finding information in, he also states that’s they print documents out instead of working of the computer. The supporters of this concept suggest that the comparisons between these two groups have great impacts on education. They argue that young people now have a range of different methods and tools for interpreting and using information and the current education system dose not meet the needs of these people. So he argues that the current educational system and the way digital native are taught needs to change to meet the requirements of this generation of youth. For example, Prensky suggests that educators now need to communicate in a way that the digital native find interesting and respond to “going faster, less step-by step, more in parallel, with more random access, among other things” Prensky (2001). A powerful teaching method, Prensky suggests, would be to use computer games to teach the digital natives as digital natives would resound to this as they find this fun and current.
As Prensky (2001) states today’s students are the first generation to grow up with this sort of technology. He continues to say that this generation has been surrounded by new technology like computers, videogames, mp3 players, video camera, mobiles and many other gadgets. Here are some of the facts and figures which Prensky (20010) includes are that today “college graduates have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games and 20,000 hours of watching TV”. He suggest this it due to the fact that computer games, email, the Internet, mobiles and social network sites are all part of every day lives.
Prensky (2001) report suggests that due to the amount of interaction with new technology student think and process information fundamentally differently from pervious generations. He then goes on to say that these differences are far greater than most educators suspect or realize in his report he quotes DR. Bruce D. Perry of Baylor College of Medicine “different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures”. This is one of the reasons why Prensky suggests, “our students brains have physically changed- and are very different from ours-as a result of how they grew up”.
Referring to (Bennet el al 2008) there is very little evidence that young people are radically different in the way they use and processes information.to justify his claims Prensky use the theory of neuroplasticity, which suggest that our brain are flexible and subject to change as a result of changes in society. Using this theory Prensky state this is why the youth of todays brains have developed differently to the adults, due to the fact that they have been brought up in a world full of new technology. However these is no answer in the way in which the brain structure has varied. Prensky (2001) admits, that the use of technology and the effects on the cognitive processes linked with learning is still being explored by neuroscientists (Prensky 2001)
There is a lot of academic research that has questioned the validity of digital native concept. People in support of this digital native tend to assign board terms for example a specific learning style, amount and type of technology used to a whole generation (Bennet et al 2008). Whist the majority of young people which use the internet and other technologies is higher than older generation (Dutton and Helsper 2007) is has to be said that there are many differences in how and why younger people use these new technologies and how effectively they use them (Hargittai and Hinnart, 2008). There have been many writers that have highlighted the diversity of the use of new technologies by young people however this is minimized to support the concept of digital narrative.
A important aspect of this debate is weather the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants can be explained by generational differences. Referring to Prensky work it seems that age is the most important factor. According to (Tapcott 1998) technology is the place in which younger people are better than older people he refers to this as “generation lap” it is about the exposer in which the person has with these technologies. However the extent in which a person is a digital narrative is a digital narrative by birth or exposer it is an important factor in policy and practice. If digital natives are defined by age then the older generation they are seen to be “digitally disconnected”. On the other hand if being digital native is due to exposer and experiences then it is possible for learning to take place in environment in which younger and older generations interact. However there has not been a lot of research in this area as majority of pervious studies focuses on the younger people using the new technologies and their parents for example (studies by Livingstone and Bober 2005). Additionally most of the research, which has been taken, place and the data produced are based on the American population. Kennedy, et al (2008) stated that educational policy maker in the UK could not make changes in the United Kingdom in response to these claims as we need more empirical evidence to inform the debate.
Social researcher (Howe and Strauss 200,2003), labeled this current generation as the “millenials”, referring to the technology knowledge as a distinctive characteristic that set them apart from pervious generations. They offer a positive a positive view on the new generation as optimistic, team-orientated achievers who are talented with technology, and claim they will be the next “great generation”.
Technology-rich culture is said to inspire the skills and interests of the digital natives in ways significant for education. It is said that digital natives are active experimental learner, excellent at multitasking, and dependent on communication technologies for accessing information and for interacting with other (Frand, 2000; Oblinger and Oblinger, 2005; Prensky 2001a b; Tapscott, 1999). It has been stated that these characteristics raise valid question about weather that the current education system is equipped to meet the needs of new student (digital natives). Tapscott (1998), described education in developing countries as already in crisis with more challenge to com: “There is growing appreciation that the old approach [of didactic teaching] is ill-suited to the intellectual, social, motivational, and emotional needs of the new generation’ (p. 131). This was echoed by Prensky’s (2001a) claim that: ‘Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach’ (p. 1).
The digital natives theory has found a number of supporters as well as the leading authors, who have had key influence on the theory, however there has been a lot of criticism of the theory itself and arguments. I will now probe this theory for its weaknesses; firstly none of the main people on the debate look at the negative side being a digital native can have on young people. Whilst digital natives are most often presented in a positive light, however many people are begging to relies that increate digital technology use may also lead to the disadvantages and empowerment of children and young people through ‘risk’ and ‘dangers’ of technology use. Many concerns have been raised amongst popular commentators and policy makers, for example the number of ‘inappropriate’ uses of the Internet, which could place a child at ultimate risk of harming them self and being harmed by other. Additionally aside from the physical, emotional and sexual risks associated with the Internet, concern has been raised that the capacity of young people to learn is now measured by the ability to gather information of the internet. Andrew Keen (2001,p.93) puts it that, the current generation of school children “is taking search-engine result as gospel. Which means they are just using the information of the internet to inform them selves”.
Furthermore Shulmeiter (2008) presents a list of critical views on the digital debate. Firstly Shulmeiter (2008) critics the lack of empirical evidence, he practically refers to Tapscott and Prensky stating that they show hardly any empirical evidence. Shulmeiter (2008) states, “Their reasoning is based on examples of a highly selective sample”. Despite this Prensky and Tabscott are widely cited and uncritized in further publications. Shulmeiter then begins to criticses the interpretation of empirical studies, Shulmeiter states scientific publication p nth subject make use of empirical studies on the media usage among young people. He then says that the absolution or relative data usage time is the interted to prove the existence of the digital natives. Shulmeiter (2008) criticized this process as he claims that the data is often handled as a whole, without further splitting, he also explains that insufficient comparisons are offered with the used of other media. The characteristics to describe digital natives have come from mainly unsupported empirical evidence (Bennett et al. 2008); Schumeiter, 2008) which make the data unreliable.
Another Criticism of Prensky work is when he uses the work of DR Bruce D, Perry, this is at criticism as he fails to report he work of DR Perry and that the evidence showed after googling the Doctors name it can be seen that the work Doctor Perry conducted was on Child Trauma it can be argued that this does not have any relevance to digital natives.
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