I read Prensky’s article first and I felt sad that I was indeed a dinosaur. I was amazed by the impact that it had on me. I began to think about retirement, in order to give the the ‘net gen’ a fighting chance. It was only after reading Bennett et al that I returned to a more balanced point of view. I have taught in both the Post-Secondary and the Apprenticeship streams and I know that there is a marked difference between the two groups and even amongst the individuals in each group.

It is terribly unfair to say that today’s students are ‘disappointed, dissatisfied, and disengaged’ in their studies, especially at the post-secondary level. Students are usually enrolled in programs of their choosing and most will apply themselves to learning about their vocation. Some will even go above and beyond what is expected of them. There are also some that are disengaged, but they generally transfer out . I agree with Bennett et al that confident claims without supportive evidence can indeed spark a ‘moral panic’.

With the apprentices we a dealing with a narrow segment of society.  Most are young men, most from the country, and they have all been told that if you can’t do anything else then at least there are the Trades. They play video games, have Smart phones (mainly because of the lowered cost), but only some are ‘computer-literate’, or have access to the internet at home. When they come to the college and the internet doesn’t work well, they give up. When they get to a table saw and it doesn’t work, they trouble-shoot, identify the problem, and fix it. That’s their comfort zone.

Prensky bolsters his claims about ‘digital natives’ by making reference to the term ‘singularity’, but singularity refers to technological singularity, or simply  singularity,  a theoretical point in time when human technology (and, particularly, technological intelligence) will have so rapidly progressed that, ultimately, a greater-than-human intelligence will emerge, which will “radically change human civilization, and perhaps even human nature itself.”[1] [Wikipedia]. We are not there yet, and I think that we have a lot of ground to cover. Not all of today’s students fit into the mould that he has made for them. (And I dare say that not all of the pre-1980 folks are ‘digital immigrants’.). To make that sort of generalisation is akin to saying that all Canadian boys play hockey. There are many other factors to consider such as rural vs. urban vs. suburban, rich vs. poor vs. middle-class, parents with university/college education vs. high school grads vs. high school non-grads, etc.

It is undeniable that change has come and will come and as educators we must change with the times. We must be ‘all things to all people so that by all means we might save some’. (1 Cor. 9:22). To oppose Prensky does not mean that we say ‘NO’ to technology, but it does mean that we avoid panic and make prudent decisions.



2 Comments on Digital Natives?

  1. keith webster says:

    Hi Michael,

    I’m glad you didn’t decide to retire in the middle of the unit. I agree more with Bennett et al that the younger demographic comes in shades of grey. I also find that most post-secondary students are very motivated and, while they might grumble, they will muddle through even if we taught their courses using Morse code. That said there is opportunity for more effective and authentic use of technology.

    My father was an architect who never made the transfer to IT based drawing, paying a draftsman to convert drawings in the last few years. These days many trades are seeing IT make an appearance at the periphery or core of their occupations. My brother in law is a machinist and uses a computer every day to manage his machine. Most of his specifications are online as are details of the certifications he must make about aircraft parts he builds. While some may think the trades are a backup plan, my brother in law started working within a few years of finishing highschool and makes about the same salary as I do. He went to BCIT and did an apprenticeship while I went to university for 7 years.


    • Michael says:

      Hi Keith

      My eldest son did the same. After 18 years of PSE he finally started working last year. He is making a lot (half goes to taxes) but that’s 18 years of student debt, a mortgage. Had he stuck with the trades (we built houses every summer) he would be be running the show by now and well on his way to financial independence. It will take a long time to make up that ground. But, a man’s got to do what a man’s to do.

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