Thing 4 – Immigrants and Natives are Obsolete

Files by T a k.Marc Prensky is undeniably more qualified and better versed than me when it comes to educational pedagogy. I respect that his work on Digital Immigrants v. Digital Natives (pdf) was groundbreaking. But that was published in 2001 – a veritable lifetime ago – and it is now, in my opinion, obsolete. Although using labels that can be construed as racist and/or xenophobic, its basic premise – that one segment of the population is inherently more comfortable with technology – is still true, but how that segment is parsed out of the whole isn’t quite as binary as Prensky describes.

Chris over at Betchablog does a great job of unraveling The Myth of the Digital Native:

The Natives vs Immigrants concept serves as a neat, tidy metaphor that is useful on a basic level to help understand some of the differences between Gen-Y and those who grew up in the primitive pre-Google world.  However, the problem with the metaphor is that while it’s neat and tidy, it is demonstrably wrong on so many levels.

Digital fluency and acquisition can be compared to language fluency and acquisition. You might recall the differences between BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitivie Academic Language Proficiency) put forth by Jim Cummins: BICS are the day-to-day language skills one needs to get by in social situations; CALP refers to the language skills necessary to succeed in an academic setting.

You see where I’m going here, right?

Prensky’s Digital Natives have the digital equivalent of BICS: they can text, chat, FaceBook, MySpace, and Google (simultaneously, most of the time!). Not every Native, though, posseses the analagous CALP. Can they search effectively? Do they know how to organize and search the massive amount of content they are accessing or creating? Do they collaborate effectively for learning purposes? The list of questions goes on.

In life, things are rarely ever black and white. There are infinite shades of grey that almost defy description. Digital fluency is no different. While I recognize how tempting it is offer categories in order to simplify the discussion, it is these categories that are sometimes the issue. With this concept of Digital Native, it is too easy for teachers to assume that all students of capable of anything technological and to not teach them the more academic skills. Even worse, it is too easy for teachers to assume that, because they are Digital Immigrants, they are not able to teach anything to their Native students.

We need a new nomenclature, one that helps to differentiate between BITS (Basic Interpersonal Technological Skills) and CATP (Cognitive Academic Technological Proficiency), one that promotes the idea that transiency between the categories is possible, and one that is not binary by nature. At first blush, I like the categories Digital Tourist, Digital Resident, and Digital Citizen but I know they are nowhere near sufficient. What categories would you suggest? (While were at it, can we improve upon the acronym CATP?)

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5 thoughts on “Thing 4 – Immigrants and Natives are Obsolete

  • June 1, 2009 at 1:55 pm
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    Am I the only one who’s a little tired of all the acronyms? Personally, I’d like to see a continuum of fluency, much like we regard other forms of literacy. Why do we need categories / labels? There is a continuum of language fluency in English, for example, even within the “range” of English native speaker. I see little difference between a language continuum and a digital literacy continuum.

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  • June 2, 2009 at 10:00 am
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    I agree, it gets a bit ‘alphabet soup’ with all these TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) and FLAs. But is language fluency one dimensional? Can we plot it on a linear continuum? Is it such a monolithic concept that it is clearly defined simply by its name? (Can you point me in the direction of a continuum of language fluency? I tried to find one but didn’t really know what I was looking for.)

    Certainly language acquisition has been argued to be multidimensional (BICS and CALP) and I would argue that digital fluency is also multidimensional. Neither of them can be described as a single component and thus require the different categories.

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  • June 4, 2009 at 5:02 pm
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    I like Digital Tourist, Digital Resident, and Digital Ninja.

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  • June 5, 2009 at 10:59 am
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    @Kate Ooohhh…. Digital Ninja! I like it. Maybe we can get somebody to whip up a Digital Ninja badge and we can start handing it out to those who represent the Digital Ninja Lifestyle!

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