Digital Novices vs Digital Natives

“For today’s young people, using technology is as fundamental as reading was for their parents and grandparents. It underlies and supports everything they do.”



Marc Prensky tweeted that comment the same day I thought I’d pull every last gray hair out of my already aching head.

Fundamental? Oh, Marc, you do not teach my students. Getting them to use technology is laborious, tiresome, and one I’m-sorry-no-I-cannot-remember-your-password-either kind of torture.

Do I do it? YES. Every year I spend days teaching students how to create email addresses and use them appropriately. We create blogs and links to each other’s blogs, and we post various types of writing to them all year. We register for Twitter, and we use it for class discussions and for sharing information. This year my students will also be generating infographics and digital stories. And more. See? We use a lot of technology.

But it is not fundamental to my students. What I teach them is fundamental. All they know how to do is text their friends and watch YouTube videos. They have hundreds of dollars worth of smart phones in their teenage hands, but they don’t have a clue about how to use these devices for learning or anything close to productively–you know, like they might in a job or even in college.

Let’s talk about the digital divide. We already know that students in poverty have lower literacy rates as a result of the lack of books and reading in their early years. Vocabulary acquisition is tens of thousands of words behind their affluent peers. Now, we add the lack of access to and training with technology, and the gap grows gigantic. Digital literacy in our ever changing digital world is a have to.

I have to teach my students how to use technology. Heck, we transform our learning through our use of technology. But, please, can we stop making it sound like all teenagers will pick it up in a snap and a wink and be good to go?

It’s hard work to get them comfortable. Hard work that takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. Yeah, yeah, I know, the pay-off’s worth it, and I’ll keep at it. Every year I just have to remind myself to take it slow, provide lots of structure, and take good notes because I will have this conversation many times:

Me:  “Yes, I have your username right here. Could you pull out your phone and put it in your notes?”

Them:  “I have notes on my phone?”

Me (muttering maniacally):  “Yes, dear, and so much more.”

These things keep me awake at night.

So, I’m wondering. How do you deal with students who are supposed to be digital natives but are more like digital novices? And what more can we do so the digital divide doesn’t damage our already struggling populations?

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2 thoughts on “Digital Novices vs Digital Natives

  1. […] I’ve had students use Edublogs as their blog platform in the past, and I know some teachers have their students use Kidblogs. I decided to go with WordPress this year. I thought using the “real world” blog platform would be a good idea. You know, just in case some students loved the idea and kept writing long after they leave my classroom. Finally, eight weeks into the school year, I am glad I went this route, but the set-up, especially with my 9th graders took a lot longer than I’ve had to spend in the past. (Most of my students are not as tech savvy as many technology advocates would like to believe. For more on that read this post:  Digital Novices vs Digital Natives.) […]


  2. […] Digital Novices vs Digital Natives ( […]


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