Railing against ‘digital natives’ (again)

All plugged in…

On a discussion forum for my M.Ed, another teacher just asked me why I hate the term ‘digital natives’. Here is my response:

Where to begin?

  1. It was coined by Prensky at the turn of the century (2001)! While an interesting and helpful construct 13 years ago, it is now outdated. Why?
  2. It is binary. Really? Just ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’? Those are my only options?
  3. I won’t go into the baggage behind the terms…
  4. It’s usually used in the same breath (or at least the same paragraph) as “21st century learning” (or, as we call it in the 21st century, um, learning) and/or the phrase “we’re preparing them for their future not our past.” I generally like the sentiment surrounding that second one but it has become part of the set of cliches thrown willy-nilly into conversation to show that the speaker is down with the #edtech movement.
  5. Did I mention it’s binary? Where’s the nuance? Where are the shades of grey? Yes, students in our schools have never lived a day in their lives without Google and all the joys that it brings. But many/most of those students have never actually been taught how to find the joy that Google brings.
  6. Mostly, I think the term “digital natives” is used as a cop-out by some teachers to not do anything. The number of times I’ve worked with teachers – both as a math teacher and as a tech coach – who just magically think students are able to make a good movie about the rise and fall of Mesopotamia because they are in middle school, or with teachers who complain about students using Wikipedia for research but who don’t take the time to actually teach students who to search effectively (or to do academic research), because they are “digital natives” astounds me.

“Kids these days” are really good at staying connected with each other through facebook, or reblogging content through tumblr, or watching cat videos on youtube, or finding the latest meme on 9gag. That doesn’t mean they understand how to repurpose those skills in an academic setting or how to use those skills ethically and responsibly. That is our job as teachers and parents. Yet, the term “digital native” is now used with flippancy (not by all, but by a lot in my experience) to absolve teachers and parents of their responsibilities to teach or parent.

Uncle Ben (or Voltaire, if you prefer) once said “With great power comes great responsibility.

Punya Mishra once said, “Go to Google for information; come to me for wisdom.

I think the term “digital natives” now undermines both of these thoughts…

What do you think? Too harsh?

Image Credit: Photo by me, licensed under Creative Commons

The difference between Education, school, and learning

For my Masters course on Leveraging Technology, I had to write a paper that addressed the following prompt. I thought, instead of just sharing it with my professor, I’d also share it with you. It’s based on a blog post that has been sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder since after Learning 2.010! I’m still not entirely happy with it, but it’s a start. At least it’s out of my ‘drafts’ folder now…

As an expert on the use of technology in education, you have been called upon by a United Nations committee to ‘testify’ on the impact and efficacy of technology in education. Prior to the session, you are provided with the four questions the panel will ask so you can adequately prepare your answers. Please do so.

A. Based on your experience and passion, what is your personal vision of education?

B. Please explain how technology currently informs that vision.

C. What emerging technology trends will impact your vision of education in the next three years?

D. If you were appointed as the global technology czar, what would be your first order of business? How would you know if you were successful?

I believe that Education, school and learning are three disparate concepts that are often conflated. As has been noted by speakers such as Ken Robinson, the industrial age of Education has used schools as the factories by which the “learning” has been the output. All learning took place in schools and all schools existed within the sphere of Education. If we were to diagram it, it might have looked something like this:

With the rise in opportunities afforded through the continued integration of technology, I believe that that diagram is shifting. There still exists overlapping areas between the three concepts, but I think it is a mistake to assume school implies learning, or that learning implies organized Education. In fact, I believe that the state of Education, school and learning currently looks more like this:

There are a myriad of opportunities for learning to take place outside of the formal institution of Education and outside of the formal setting of schools. This has always been the case, but increased access to technology has made these opportunities more abundant and more obvious. In fact, as we continue along this path, I believe that we will see an increased shift towards the center, where the overlapping areas of these three concepts increases:

Technology has had two major effects on knowledge. First, it has significantly decreased the half-life of facts. According to Samuel Arbessman, “we must admit to ourselves that a large fraction of what we learn is going to be obsolete within a few years” and that “we need to constantly reeducate ourselves, avoid memorization, and start looking up facts to make sure that we have the most updated knowledge.”

Secondly, technology has made the effective value of knowledge zero. It used to be that people would pay huge sums of money to attend prestigious universities so that they could learn from the professors there. Now, top-tier universities like MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Stanford are making their content available for free online through services like iTunes U or through MOOC providers like Udacity.

Individuals have access to all of that ever-changing content because of advances in technology. The increasing hyper-connectedness of our world means that we have quicker access to more information than ever before and there are no signs that these trends will not slow down.

Over the next three years, I think the continued refinement of Massively Open Onlie Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER) will have a huge impact on learning, schools and Education. While there are currently many who believe that this free content will not live up to its hype, I believe that these disruptive innovations will continue to be refined and that they will reach a ‘tipping point’ within Education.

In conjunction with this, I believe that the Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges Initiative will play a huge part in ‘legitimizing’ the learning that is taking place outside of the traditional institutions of Education and brick-and-mortar schools. These badges will be used by experts to endorse others for the skills that they possess and the learning that they have shown. Open Badges will be recognized by schools, institutions and even employers to meet requirements for entry, graduation or hiring.

As Global Technology Czar, there are two areas of immediate focus for all students and teachers. The first is the need for an extensive information literacy and search curriculum to be developed and implemented. In this age, it is important for learners of all ages to be able to find appropriate information and to critically evaluate the its veracity, context and applicability. As Clay Shirkey famously remarked, “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” As more and more information becomes accessible every day, it is important that we teach how to sift through it all in order to find what they need.

Some rights reserved by Clint Hamada

The second is develop and embed the concept of connectivism within our schools, as developed by George Siemens. According to Siemens, “Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing (emphasis added).” All learners should be shown how to develop their own personal learning network, de-emphasizing the role of the school and of the classroom teacher as the sole source of knowledge and empowering learners to seek outside experts and opinions – on a local and global scale – in order to satisfy their own passions for learning.

Success for either of these initiatives cannot be measured by test scores. They will not result in higher standardized test scores or result in a change in PISA rankings. I believe that success can only be measured through an extensive audit of school curricula and learner behavior. Both areas of focus will require an overhaul of ‘traditional’ school curricula to put further emphasis on critical thinking skills and less emphasis on content. In short, a school’s curriculum must become ‘Google-proof.’ This audit should also reveal a greater emphasis being put on creating and maintaining global connections, first facilitated by the school and then maintained by the learner as they mature. These connections can take many forms, including classroom connections, collaborative projects, and peer review and assessment. It will require the learners to leverage technologies such as social media and self-publishing in an authentic and open manner and will, in turn, require schools to actively teach and promote digital citizenship as a core value of the learning environment.


A Template for APA Style

So I’ve just started my third class towards an M.Ed. in International Education Administration through Endicott College. (I’m currently knocking out a course per week thanks to the extremely accelerated summer program in hot and sunny Madrid.) This third class is entitled Research Methods and is one part statistics, one part searching, one part analysis, and two parts pedantry. A major course aim is to teach us – or at least familiarize us – with the ins and outs of how to cite, reference, and format in proper APA style.

Since every assignment for this course needs be completed with a cover page and reference page as per APA guidelines, I decided to save myself some time and whip up a document to use as a template (link to .docx file below). I saved it as a personal template (see a video tutorial here) and now anytime I need to write a paper that needs to be formatted as per APA guidelines, I only need to create a new document from the template.


  • 1″ margins
  • 12 pt Times New Roman Font
  • Double spaced
  • Running header on cover page
  • Header on subsequent pages
  • Page numbers throughout
  • Hanging indent on References page (If you are copying your citation from another source, use “Paste and Match Formatting” and it should keep the double spacing and hanging indent.)

I hope you find it useful!

DownloadAPA Template

A Summer in Madrid – It’s Not What You Think

As my time at UNIS Hanoi comes to a close, I’m already looking ahead to my summer plans. I will be spending the month of July in Madrid while the rest of the family goes back to Australia. I can hear you wondering, “How did you manage THAT?!?”

Four weeks living the bachelor lifestyle in Madrid sounds fabulous… but that’s not going to be me! It won’t be all tapas and cava…

I’m embarking on a 13 month MEd. in International Education Administration from Endicott College. This summer will consist of four courses in four weeks, then four online courses over the course of the school year, and then four more weeks and four more courses in Madrid in July 2014 (this time with the family)!

For the next five weeks or so this blog stands the chance of seeing an inordinate number of posts focused on what I’m reading, thinking, discussing or presenting as it relates to my classes. And so it begins…

In “A Diploma Worth Having” Grant Wiggins argues that the current (American) high school diploma doesn’t actually prepare students for adult life.

We are on the verge of requiring every student in the United States to learn two years of algebra that they will likely never use, but no one is required to learn wellness or parenting.

And later:

In sum, it seems to me that we still do not have a clue about how to make education modern: forward-­looking, client-­centered, and flexible; adapted to an era where the future, not the past, determines the curriculum.

Since I’ll be back in the math classroom next year (only teaching one class), I’m really interested in this critique of the draft Common Core Standards by the Partnership for 21c. Skills (my emphasis):

the standards should include more emphasis on practical mathematical application (for example, analyzing financial data); include statistics and probability in the elementary grades and emphasize these areas more in the secondary grades; and focus less on factual content mastery in favor of better integrating higher-order thinking skills throughout the curriculum

I’ve come to believe this more in the four years that I’ve been out of the math game. I mean, who needs to memorize the Pythagorean Theorem these days? I used to teach a whole unit on this! Surely it’s better to focus on finding and investigating authentic problems that requires students to think like mathematicians rather than regurgitate a formula.

Wiggins also introduces me to the Quantitative Literacy Manifesto (2001) (retrieved here) which calls for developing in students:

a predisposition to look at the world through mathematical eyes, to see the benefits (and risks) of thinking quantitatively about commonplace issues, and to approach complex problems with confidence in the value of careful reasoning. (p. 22)

I think I’m going to need to find the time to read this more fully…