Despite being born into a generation of “digital natives,” I still think the term “digital immigrant” describes me well. Though I know more about technology than previous generations, I still feel behind the times when trying to relate to most 21st century students who use a plethora of digital tools and programs in almost every area of their lives. While I would consider myself to be fairly proficient at using a computer, cell phone, or television set, it is humbling to see elementary students who possess a greater mastery of these and other technologies than myself. Furthermore, while many people thoroughly enjoy experimenting with technology, I tend to become easily frustrated if something doesn’t work the way I it is supposed to. I feel like an unconfident immigrant trying to maneuver through a world of digital language and activities, and the thought of becoming a teacher in this foreign context is a bit scary. At the same time, while I joked with a family member just yesterday about how I would have made a great teacher 40 years ago, the truth is, with the right a teachable spirit and an attitude of humility and patience, I am confident that I can be a good teacher today!
In his article, “Listen to the Natives: Educational Leadership,” Marc Prensky provides helpful suggestions for anyone seeking to successfully integrate technology into their classrooms. He presents several practical ideas for incorporating technology into the classroom, but his primary emphasis was on the importance of actually listening to and collaborating with the students/digital natives who know the most about technology.
Prensky argues that as digital immigrants, we need to do several things in order to keep up with the digital natives. First, we need to be open to trying out radical new teaching methods (involving technology) that will engage student interests. However, he cautions that only teachers who are both experts in their content and empathetic and efficient student guides will be able to accomplish this. IN other words, knowing content is important, but if a teacher is not willing and able to work with their students’ interests, they will be ineffective teachers in the 21st century.
A second point by Prensky is that in order to keep up with their students, teachers need to be willing to listen to and collaborate with them. Students, he argues, have the most experience with technology and learning, and can become the teachers greatest resources for engaging , teaching, and evaluating students effectively.
Other suggestions by Presky included giving students opportunity to use cell phones in class and/or allowing them to choose their own groups for projects rather than “herding” them around. While these suggestions are somewhat unrelated, Presky’s point is that teachers need to learn to meet students where they are at, engage their interests, and guide them in learning rather than simply dictating to them the way things “used to be” as if that is the way things always “ought to be.”
As a whole, the Presky’s points are interesting and relevant, but they can also come across as overwhelming for teachers. Where does one start? How much must one learn to keep up with the digital natives? Fortunately, Presky included the idea that, “teachers needn’t master all the new technologies.” In other words, teachers will never be able to master everything new that comes their way, and they need not feel the pressure too. Instead, they need to have a teachable attitude, always looking for new ways to develop as an expert, yet willing to admit and laugh at their own shortcomings. That is the kind of teacher I want to be. Rather than criticize technology or allow it to overwhelm me, I want to constantly learn the most I can about anything that crosses my path so that I will be able to engage my students in the best ways possible. I will likely always be a digital immigrant and I know that I will never master everything new under the sun. But, I take heart knowing that while I may not master everything, I can learn to master some things, and I trust my students will be able to learn some new things from my own "non-digital" culture.
Prensky, M. (2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership. Dec. 2005/Jan. 2006, Vol. 63, No. 4Learning in the Digital Age Pages 8-13.