In recent discussions of 21st Century Technology, a controversial issue has been whether or not the children of today are “digitally native”. On the one hand, some argue that although children may be born into this new age of technology, they might not necessarily know how to effectively use it. From this perspective, children do grow up surrounded by a lot of technology, but they do not always know how to synthesize all of the information that they are looking at, or how to pick apart information that is not correct. As well as this, many young people may know what Facebook, Twitter, or things like that are, but a lot of them do not actually know exactly how to program something, or what the actual difference between a web browser and the internet is. On top of that, a lot of this “knowledge” depends on how much access or exposure a child has to a computer or technology in general. Not all children are going to have smartphones with certain apps or the internet on it. Also, even though they may have smartphones, some rarely use the internet because it is seen as slower or more frustrating to look at. So, the only time that they actually access a computer or the internet is at school where what they want to look up on the computer is limited and monitored. This fact needs to be kept in mind also because this might be the case for some children who do not have enough money to even have a computer or a phone. Children need to be guided in their learning with technology as well, because they are not always going to be “automatically informed”.
On the other hand, however, others argue that the children of today are actually “digitally native”, meaning that they have an adequate knowledge of the technology around them. According to this view, students have changed enormously from the students of the past, and not just in the clothes they wear, or what type of music they listen to. Today, they are accustomed to having all sorts of different technological devices around them, ranging from smartphones, to Ipads, to Mac-book computers. So, when they actually come into the classroom, they have seen technology before; it is not foreign to them at all. Now, the teachers–who are all normally older than this new “digitally native” generation– are seen as “digital immigrants” because they do not quite learn the same way as those children. They speak the old “language” of writing emails or learning from overhead projectors. So, in a way, the teachers need to learn this new “language” so that they can teach their students in a more engaging, interesting way, rather than teaching them the old learning styles. In sum then, the issue is whether kids these day are actually “digitally native” or if a lot of them are just exposed to technology but do not know how to use it effectively.
My own view is that although many children are exposed to technology, they are not necessarily “digitally native”. They might not know how to use technology effectively, and may need to be guided in that perspective. Also, I understand that a lot of children may not have access to a computer or the internet through a smartphone on a regular basis. As well as that, I know that as a teacher I will not be a “digital immigrant”. Though I do concede that many children might know how to do some things that I do not know how to do in technology. I still maintain that children need help with learning how to look for information properly, and how to synthesize it into what they are actually looking for. For example, they might just use something they see on the internet as evidence, but it is important to think of whether some information is biased and things like that. Although some may object that you can’t always monitor or guide what children do on the internet, I would reply that I can do whatever I can teach them how to be critical thinkers, and know what is right to do on the internet and what is not. This issue is important because as many teachers start hearing that they need to incorporate technology into their classrooms, they need to know the backgrounds of their students and not assume that the kids know everything there is about technology.