Monday, April 4, 2011

You don't have to master everything!

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.

Works cited:
Prensky, M. (2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership. Dec. 2005/Jan. 2006, Vol.        63, No. 4Learning in the Digital Age Pages 8-13.


  1. Ben,
    I felt almost the same way when reading this article. I haven't quite formulated my response yet, but I was overwhelmed when reading and wondered what I should do. I don't have access to a lot of "techy" tools at school and initially I am not very inclined toward technology, but I know that it is becoming more and more important in education. I did feel that Prensky took on an "all or nothing" approach when discussing "immigrants" and "natives." He seemed to generalize all teachers of a certain (older) generation as those "immigrants" who are unfamiliar with and overwhelmed by technology, but I don't think that is true. You and I have similar feelings and abilities when it comes to technology, but I don't think that leave us in said "immigrant" category. We probably fall somewhere in between. I appreciate your willingness to learn, and think that that is a characteristic of a true teacher at heart.

  2. Your blog definitely aligns with the quote from the article that "teachers needn’t master all the new technologies.” If you consider yourself a "digital immigrant" imagine me! You hit the nail on the head. We should highlight our strengths and be willing to work with the areas we aren't as comfortable with. In this way, we are keeping a positive attitude while being realistic. And YES there is always something the students can learn from our ancient ways or as you point out in this blog, "non-digital" culture.

  3. Good Word, Ben!
    I appreciate how you expressed your confidence levels in approaching today's technologies. I am like you as I am not intimidated by the 21st Century nuances, but I will not be consumed with them either. The article made you want to take sides and I don't think that was his intentions.

    You made strong points regarding being relational with students and helping them collaborate in how they approach learning. I agree that it's not so much about the technology as it is about developing good relational students who can work together and share ideas.

    Quite honestly, I believe the day is coming where our society will need to go back and do things the simple way. If technology is interrupted due to world wars or solar flares (God forbid), our children will need to know what we know; how to live a quality life that may or may not totally embrace technology.

  4. "with the right teachable spirit and an attitude of humility and patience, I am confident that I can be a good teacher today!"

    BBrown, I am confident that you can be a good teacher too!
    Keep up the good work!

  5. For me, the use of technology was a bit of a credential. While I knew that it's more important for my students to feel cared for by me, I also wanted my students to think that I had some "game" too. The use of technology brought a level of professionalism that made my students take me more seriously. It shows that I could have worked somewhere else and held other jobs that they want to pursue someday. If I don't know how to do what they want to do or can do currently in terms of technology, how quick would they have been to dismiss me as irrelevant? I'm not saying that technology is anything in itself, but it can communicate the appearance of professionalism and competence.