Many presentations at this week’s AATE conference referenced Marc Presnky’s research on Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. In a conference where many papers and worshops discussed multimodal texts and the changing (increasingly digital) nature of texts and classroom practices, this is unsurprising. What was a bit surprising was the backlash that I witnessed, paper after paper, from teachers who resented the label ‘Digital Immigrant’.
I can see where people are coming from on this – especially teachers who have invested a lot of time in learning about new technologies and increasing their technological proficiency. However, learning or knowing about the digital world just does not make one a digital native.
I have found it very helpful to think about the other aspect of Prensky’s argument – that Digital Immigrants can of course learn the Native language, but they will always “have an accent” (for a great explanation of this, see Mike Jones lecture on Blogs, Wikis and the New World Order for the ScreenSpeak series for NSW HSC English teachers.) In fact, I think that in a lot of ways the Digital Immigrant who ‘learns the language’ will often learn to use the language better than a Native speaker – just so it is when Japanese speakers learn English, or when the English learn Dutch!
I didn’t have my own computer until I was about 14, and even then it was a computer that my boyfriend set up for me and helped me to use. But before that I did own an electric typwriter. I have never really been interested in programming or electronics. I am still happy to buy CDs (although I will then put the tracks onto my iPod). At only 27 I am in fact a Digital Immigrant…but I am learning the language quickly and my accent is becoming less broad And in so many ways I have mastered the digital language far better than my Digital Native students; this makes me an ideal teacher for them. I also have a deep empathy with the students who, through economic or social disadvantage have not engaged in the same level of technology as their peers; these students are in fact Digital Immigrants themselves, despite their young age.