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Digital native? Be careful when you say that.

We’ve all been hearing the words “digital native” to describe today’s student. It’s especially referenced by administrators promoting school use (i.e.,  funding technology) and I think some of them think it implies more than it does.

Do kids have access to lots of technology? Yes, more than any generation ever because tech is ubiquitous with the advent of cheaper devices and especially with the smartphone that we are all anxious to put into our child’s hands. However, access doesn’t necessarily mean they can differentiate between good use and poor use.

Here’s what I’ve witnessed with young tech users: They have a lot more down time on their hands than adults and they don’t usually pay for the technology. Therefore, more time to explore with apps and programs, and if they crash the device, they aren’t really hit in the pocket. They may have to wait a while until it’s replaced, but most parents eventually replace the technology. Exploring in their free time means they can often find, apply, and understand similarities between programs and platforms. What appears to be intuitive to us adults is merely an experienced user of technology.

The term digital native becomes misused when we assume that all students are LEARNING with technology. Time after time, I’ve witnessed students that yes, are digital natives because they’ve had access since they were toddlers. But their “nativenesss” has been in using technology to entertain themselves. These students in particular have the most difficult time transitioning to technology use in the classroom when they’ve only used it for entertainment. It puts them far behind students who have used technology for learning and accessing great information available to them. They resist it, they tune out from it, they struggle, and can become quite anxious or negative when it doesn’t feel “intuitive.” Most of the time this is when they have to understand terminology and applications – the knowledge that truly becomes  intuitive understanding.

Don’t assume that a kid that’s always used technology can use it to learn and that it will be a snap for them when the school begins implementing it 1:1. We have to put it in their hands very early, but put in their hands to learn more than to entertain. This is what truly makes a kid a digital native – access to learning with technology at a young age.

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