[Re]thinking the “Digital Native”…again…

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Today’s college students seemingly navigate the complexities of the web as if it were like the air they breathe. Toting powerful mobile phones, they consume (and create) digital content in every major media format, (text, image, sound, video), communicate on multiple platforms, search for and access any conceivable resource…and entertain themselves. In an always on, always connected environment, they seem at home in digital culture. 

It is hard for me to believe that it has been over 20 years since Mark Prensky coined the term “digital native,” describing a generation of people who came of age with the advent of the Internet, and hailing profound changes for education. While the “native / immigrant” debate has played out, and the idea has shed any usefulness it may have had, it is still an interesting marker in time for thinking about what has changed…and what has not. Are today’s students coming to college prepared to use digital tools to support their learning? What tools and practices support the academic success of students? How might edtech skills gaps amplify the learner variability that already exists on college campuses? Not new questions to be sure, but they have persisted at least as long – if not longer – than the assumptions about “digital natives.”

Perhaps it is time to revisit these and other questions? A recent post from EdSurge does a nice job of surfacing additional ideas questions that are timely for today’s college campuses, particularly as we think more deeply about issues of equity. You can check out that post here: Teaching ‘Digital Native’ College Students Who Understand TikTok — But Not Microsoft Excel.

Jeff Nugent