Revisit Our Assumptions About “Digital Natives?”

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on May 8, 2014

I am not an avid subscriber to YouTube channels, but I do have a favorite—TheFineBros.  I love their series Kids React.  Created in 2010, it features Fine brothers Benny and Rafi off camera showing kids, ages 5 to 14, videos or introducing topics for discussion. New clips are released weekly.

Black rotary dial telephone with red indicator light
The rotary telephone – a spiffy model with red indicator light.

In the last month, two clips made me laugh and feel old! The content of the first video dealt with how kids reacted to rotary phones. The second looked at their response to a Walkman. In the discussion of phones, kids were presented a rotary phone. The question was, “Where have you seen this?” Answers ranged from in the movies to reading about it in a history lesson. Most admitted they had no idea how to work the phone and did not know how to dial. It was quickly agreed they would not want to use it because it would take too long. When asked what a “busy signal” meant, one boy suggested it meant something was “loading.” All agreed they wanted to keep their iPhones.

A fan of the classics

As the Fine brothers debriefed, some kids reflected on how technology has advanced. They wanted to know if you could text with a rotary phone, and they felt using one would make it harder to call each other because both parties had to be home. However, one boy did say he liked rotary phones and stated, “I’m a fan of classics!”

Watching the clip, I realized most children have had no exposure to the phone I grew up using. They see the symbol of a handset on their iPhone but do not make the connection of where that icon originated. Yet It was only about 20 years ago that land lines were the standard, because cell phones were too expensive and impractical. DSL or cable Internet was something only the rich families had, so most computers connected to the internet using the same phone line that you needed in order to make calls.

Sony Walkman cassette player with earphones
The Sony Walkman was introduced in 1979.

The Walkman clip was just as funny—and just as depressing! When presented with a Walkman, initial comments included, “What is this, a walkie-talkie?” and, “What do I do?” One girl knew it was a cassette player but needed help to find the on button. They were told they needed a cassette tape but they did not know what that was. When given a cassette, they asked how to put it in. A few of the children stated they were not going to give up but felt it was “so hard.”

You have to do stuff!

After pressing play they were frustrated because they couldn’t hear any sound. They tried to solve the problem by turning up volume but were told they had to have headphones. When given headphones, one girl stated that her grandpa had them. When they finally got the player going, one girl said she felt “so accomplished” but another said it took forever and was too complicated. One of the more telling statements was when a girl said she felt “lazy” saying so, “but you have to do stuff.” One boy remarked that he “could not imagine living in your day.” Others said they “felt bad” for people living in the 90s.

After watching these videos, I thought about the generalizations adults, especially educators, make about “digital natives.” We assume all technology is easy for students to learn since they were born into a technology-focused society. Yet, if we assume students know everything about technology, aren’t we limiting their opportunities to learn and ask questions?

Experience not age?

Maybe it’s time we look at basing the terms digital native and digital immigrant on experience rather than age. Some users over 30 are very technology savvy while we have students that lack tech skills due to lack of exposure in their educational settings or lack of access at home. Educators need to remember everyone has their own skill set and comfort level with technology. We need to be able to meet the learning needs of all. Don’t be afraid to teach technology skills when needed or pair students up for peer tutoring. Perhaps most important of all, make your professional growth goal to become a digital native yourself to better enable you to convert those immigrants in your classroom! While you’re at it, check out Kids React and the other series on TheFineBros.


What we don’t know will hurt us.

Posted by Jack Jarvis on January 3, 2011

hhos    i wasn’t rofl

Next time you read a 6th grader’s written assignment, don’t be surprised if you see unfamiliar acronyms popping up and a lack of proper grammar and basic punctuation.  The student may simply be stuck in “texting mode.”  Examples: hhos (Ha Ha only serious, as in “funny with an element of truth”) and rofl (rolling on the floor laughing).

We recently observed this incursion of text messaging shorthand into Standard English when students in our advanced computer group switched to the web-based version of their Holt Social Studies textbooks.  In reviewing  online assignments completed by these  students, I was shocked to see what appeared to be bone-headed errors in their written responses to social studies questions: first words of sentences lacking capitalization, ends of sentences missing periods, proper nouns without capitals.  Yet, these kids were proficient or above on last year’s CST.  What was going on?

The answer? These students are avid texters. They live to text. They don’t talk on the phone; they text. They don’t email; they text.  And the practice is now permeating their school writing—brb, culatr, omg, lol.  Not a capital to be found.  Abbreviations abound.  It would be safe to bet that time they spend texting and reading text messages surpasses the time they read and write in school.

We may be unwittingly aggravating the situation.  For awhile now, I’ve noticed teachers inadvertently limiting their students’ reading time by doing most of it for them.  At my site, we recently argued about how much reading a 6th grade teacher should do for the students.  In order to settle the argument, we asked those same proficient students what they thought. Their response? Yes, they can read the text themselves. Yes, the teacher “does it a lot,” said one student,  “and it takes a lot of time. ” “They should let us do it,” her classmate added.

We discovered another interesting fact in working with this bright group. When the students created PowerPoint presentations to summarize what they’d read in their online textbook, the same errors did not exist.  I asked a group of four students to explain.  Their reply? “We may have to present this to other kids and they’ll think we’re dumb.” Aha! A ray of hope.

The staff and I  certainly learned some useful lessons:

  • These kids actually want to read more on their own.
  • They text more than they read or write in school.
  • They sometimes slip into texting habits, but they’ll use better English when they know their work may be seen by a wider audience.

But perhaps the most important lesson we learned was the value of talking to them about their own learning more frequently.   As educators, what we don’t know about our students will hurt us!


What’s in Your Digital Dossier?

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on November 20, 2008


“…access to the technologies is not enough. Young people need to learn digital literacy—the skills to navigate the complicated, hybrid world that their peers are growing up in. This type of inequity must be overcome. The costs of leaving the participation gap unaddressed over time will be higher than we should be willing to bear.” (John Palfrey and Urs Gasser,Born Digital, p.15)

An article that appeared in the Houston Chronicle on Nov. 10 underscores the importance of teaching digital literacy starting at a very early age and then on an ongoing basis. The story isn’t new—just the latest in an ongoing saga of students (even school officials) who do not understand that things posted online are public! In this case, a University of Texas football player was expelled from the team after using his Facebook page to post a racial slur about President-elect Obama.

Kids and some adults today have a new take on privacy. Many don’t realize that, even when posted in ‘private’ areas, anything they put online can be accessed if someone wants to badly enough. And we all have plenty of private data posted. Palfrey and Gasser call this collection of data we reveal about ourselves a digital dossier. They argue that although giving up control of this data makes life easier in the short run, we may later regret having been quite so open with this information. They also are concerned that adults are giving their children too much latitude with giving up control of this information because we choose to look the other way rather than teach them how to manage their digital dossiers. Click here to view a short video clip that explains this concept. (Of course, because the clip is posted on YouTube, your school’s filtering software may block it, in which case you may need to wait and watch the clip at home!)

Here are some questions to ponder: What are your thoughts about digital dossiers? How much information can we safely post online and what should we try to protect? What is our responsibility when it comes to teaching children how to protect themselves?