Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Digital Natives May Not Know the Language

In the ongoing debate over whether taking the Internet mobile is the greatest technological arfhebung since the breakup of Pangaea, I still find myself in the skeptic’s camp.

Yes, I have caves in some areas. I now confess to seeing the utility of tablet computers, for example, and bow to Stanly Kubrick’s wisdom of planting them on the Discovery in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

(Samsung, by the way, is using this clip as evidence that Apple cannot patent the tablet computer form as it is trying to do in a strong-armed way in Europe by barring the sale of any more Samsung products that resemble the iPad in form. I tend to agree with Samsung.)

But when it comes to insisting that this ubiquitous mobility and ease of having “all this information” at our fingertips is making for better human beings who need new learning styles to conform to the arfhebung of the digital age, I have to say no, no, and no.

Annie Murphy Hall, writing at, says the following in an article entitle “Who’s Afraid of Digital Natives?” quoting arfhebung-touter Cathy Davidson’s view of digital natives:
As a result of their lifelong immersion in electronic media, young people's brains are "wired differently," and they require different schools, different workplaces, and different social arrangements from the ones we have. They are described, with more than a little envy, as "digital natives," effortlessly at home in an electronic universe, while we adults are "digital immigrants," benighted arrivals from the Old World doomed to stutter in a foreign tongue.
It seems, however, that digital natives are also doing some stuttering of their own. A recent Illinois study says while digital natives turn exclusively to the Internet for research and homework help, they’re not as adept at using the technology in which they’re immersed as those who love technology as much as Kip Dynamite says they do:
Duke and Asher said they were surprised by “the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies, Asher told Inside Higher Ed in an interview.

In other words: Today’s college students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.

“I think it really exploded this myth of the ‘digital native,’ ” Asher said. “Just because you’ve grown up searching things in Google doesn’t mean you know how to use Google as a good research tool.”
I’ve seen this phenomenon among the students I teach at BYU-Idaho. That’s going to inspire me to work harder to introduce them to better research techniques and to become a better researcher myself as I work on my own pursuits. (That’s a criticism brought up in the study as well; teachers themselves, the study says, aren’t much better at online searches than their students.)

One of the commenters on the Slate article says this:
I would argue that the internet stands alone as far as technological innovations. While the telegraph certainly gave humanity the sense of instant communication (and all that entails) and television began the thinking of a world community amongst the populace at large, the internet, unlike the telegraph or television, carries the seeds of its own growth. The internet is constantly changing and evolving, be it through ISP's, browsers, websites, social networks, email clients, smart phone apps, or whatever else may come. In just ten years, we've moved from news online being a novelty to the internet crushing newspapers. We've gone from most people being confused by "SMS messaging" to Skype. The internet has left the bedroom and the library and is moving, constantly with us. How long did it take for WiFi to emerge in nearly every office building? How many places in America can you wander around and not see at least some WiFi networks? Why can I check Facebook while driving a Chevy Cruze? These changes seem small, but the speed at which they're being adopted and then instantly made obsolete makes the internet special apart from other, similar technological waves.
He and many others just don’t know their history. Radio and television, in their own ways, also carried the seed of their own growth, as did newspapers, the telegraph, and books before them. Mass printing of books brought both the written word to more people than ever before, but also opened up the world of publishing to more people who never before had much of a chance of seeing their thoughts in print and distributed in bulk form. Radio followed us from the massive hunks of vacuum tubes and wood in our living rooms to the far more compact models that were at first novelties in our cars and then became ubiquitous standard equipment. The popular phenomenon that was the Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show brought movie theaters to make their screens go blank and pump the show in via the radio so their customers wouldn’t leave when the show came on. Before we praise the ubiquity of wi-fi networks, we ought to remember the ubiquity of the newsstand, the jukebox, the radio and television signal. Television inspired the TV dinner, for heaven’s sake. Each of those technologies were heralded as world-changers in their day and they were world changers in a way, but the world has this crazy method of subsuming change and making it change the way it wants until the next arfhebung comes along and the novelty of Internet mobility is as expected and as standardized as television.

Plus ca change, says another commenter on the article, plus c’est la meme chose. I have to agree with that: The more things change, the more things stay the same.

No comments: