A new challenge is on the horizon. The digital natives are growing up and crossing over to the teaching profession—and their way of handling issues is very different from ours.
This is a new complication for our industrial era schools, the ones some of us enjoy and are comfortable with just as is. We find ourselves living on the edge, being pushed to engage students in new ways, possibly having to leave behind our old, tried and true methods.
What will become of us? Can computers, social networking, and video games take the place of teachers? Do cell phones, podcasts, or video games have educational purposes? Is it possible that a blend of our institutional wisdom and the knowledge and enthusiasm of the new recruits might be the ultimate synergy?
We’re starting to find answers to some of those questions at Morrilton Junior High School in the South Conway County (Arkansas) School District where the digital natives among our new teachers have made us rethink what is possible. No longer is a rainy winter time for students to meet the physical activity requirements by walking around the gym. We have Wii tournaments! No longer does a letter in the mail suffice for communicating with parents and the community. We stream video messages from the Web. No connectivity at home? No problem. The same videos loop on monitors in the office at high traffic times.
There seems to be no question these new teachers cannot answer. Indeed, the quiet, steady beat of the digital natives’ drums are a constant reminder that we must look for new ways to engage our students. No longer is it “traditional tribal customs” but “digital native innovations.”
“…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?