Thursday, March 12, 2009

Digital Nagrant?

What is a Digital Nagrant?

I think by now we've all heard about the whole digital native, digital immigrant divide that Marc Prensky brought to light. Today, I'm going to review 2 of Prensky's writings and discuss why I believe there is no clear line that divides natives from immigrants. Rather, there is a big gray fuzzy area.

In Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Prensky identifies, correctly I believe, that students today "think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors". They are "'native speakers' of the digital language" leaving the rest of us immigrants to the new world. These immigrants, he defines as "those of us who were not born into the digital world but ... have become fascinated by and adopted [it]." Great. But at what age does this cut off happen? He never really defines it. Why? Because it's undefinable. It's different for everyone.

With that in mind, let's take a look at The Emerging Online Life of the Digital Native: What they do differently because of technology, and how they do it, where Prensky explains all the different ways of doing things as a native and why, even if we are doing them, we are still immigrants.

The difference in a nutshell - Snail mail to e-mail to synchronous forms of communication.
Tools - Email, Chat (IM, text messaging), Cell phones
The advantages - Expensive and slow to fast and "essentially free".
Key benefits - Stay in touch more easily with friends and family, keep in touch with online-only acquaintances, meet people who share your own interests
Me (Digital Native) - Prensky says that digital natives dubbed the term Snail Mail for post office usage. Well, I've been using that term since 1994 when I first started using email on a regular basis. I also used email (on a VAX) as early as 1990 to keep in touch with an old boyfriend who went to a different school. I've basically stopped writing letters of any kind and often text my friends just to say hi. I go through withdrawal if my cell phone battery dies or loses signal.

The difference in a nutshell - Secret diaries to online journals.
Tools - Blogging, Twitter, Webcams
The advantages - Interconnectedness
Key benefits - Know what's going on in your social group, better more effective networking
Me (Digital Native) - While I might not use a webcam to record my everyday life, I'm certainly not using it monitor anyone either. For me, it's a mechanism to record videos about specific topics. But, the real reason I'm a digital native here is that I maintain several blogs and I was addicted to twitter since day 1. I've also loved writing in a journal and now I can share my convictions, thoughts, questions with the world.

Buying and Selling
The difference in a nutshell - BestBest vs. eBay
Tools - Any online store or auction site
The advantages - Ease of use, reach, time savings, cost savings
Key benefits - Buy and sell anything you want
Me (Digital Native) - No, I'm not buying schoolwork online like some natives (teachers - keep an eye out for that!), I do lean more towards online purchasing than stores. First of all, it saves a tremendous amount of precious time and I can't usually find anything I want easier, and cheaper, than in a real store. I've also been known to sell my share of items on eBay.

The difference in a nutshell - Physical trading vs. Digital trading
Tools - Peer-to-peer (P2P) sites. Think Napster.
The advantages - Sharing
Key benefits - Trade digital items quickly. Items are often (not always) free of "ownership and cost".
Me (Both) - I was a big Napster fan back in the day, and still do a bit of "digital trading" now and then again, but it doesn't occupy my entire life. I'm split on this.

The difference in a nutshell - Creating and innovating easily
Tools - Web sites, Avatars, Mods
The advantages - The ability to express oneself using powerful tools
Key benefits - Freedom of expression
Me (Both) - I was teaching other people HTML before most even knew what it stood for. I've been creating websites for over 10 years in one form or another. I have Avatars on Second Life, Wii, etc... Modding? Machinima? I have no idea what these are. So, I have to go both on this one.

The difference in a nutshell - Face to Face vs. Online meeting and arranging
Tools - Chat rooms, Wikis, NetMeeting,
The advantages - Geographic location is not a limiting factor
Key benefits - Meet others with common interests easily and inexpensively
Me (Both) - Well, I don't spend hours in chatrooms meeting with perfect strangers and I do have tons of face-to-face meetings, conferences and the like for work. However, I'm a big fan of and a member of several of the Meetups. And, I've collaborated with others on quite a number of wikis.

The difference in a nutshell - Coins and stamps to Songs and videos
Tools - Peer-to-peer applications, iTunes
The advantages - free, easy access
Key benefits - exchanging music and other media is a way to express yourself
Me (Digital Immigrant) - I have an iPod and use iTunes to buy songs, but quite selectively. My collection is in the hundreds not the billions.

The difference in a nutshell - Impromptu coordination of group projects (largely in a gaming situation)
Tools - MMORPGs
The advantages - self-coordination
Key benefits - problem solving skills, involvement in helping others for the common good
Me (Digital Immigrant) - Sure, I coordinate various stakeholders at work and school to faciliate group projects, but not like this.

The difference in a nutshell - Trust based on research and gut feeling to Trust based on ratings and reputation
Tools - Rating systems, Online presence
The advantages - quantitative measurements for evaluating trust
Key benefits - the ability to enhance your own stature by doing the "right" things
Me (Both) - As an eBay user, I'm already quite familiar with ratings. The better your rating the more likely someone will buy from me, and quite honestly, the more likely I'll buy from you. As for reputation, I know that my blog postings and tweets are already working to create my online reputation. I've also Google'd myself and I know where my online presence is. The reason I'm listing this as both is because I don't have the same mentality of natives when it comes to rating others: they know that "their online compass depends on them and are often more eager to comply" by commenting on posts, giving feedback, etc... I don't do this as often as I should.

The difference in a nutshell - "Casual or mini-games" (like board games, word games, card games and old video games) to MMORPGs (Massive Multi-user Online Role Playing Games)
Tools - MMORPGS, Wii (interactively), Virtual Worlds
The advantages - deep complex experiences
Key benefits - simulations, working together, "intricate, adaptive experiences".
Me (Digital Immigrant) - Ok, I admit it, I still like board games. Sure, I was a DOOM addict and we had managed to play it networked with one or two other people, but that's nothing like this. And, I'm currently addicted to Wii but I don't play it with others across the Net.

The difference in a nutshell - Libraries vs. Google
Tools - Google, Wikipedia, Blogs, etc.
The advantages - Information is more accessible (though potentially inaccurate).
Key benefits - Learn what you want to learn about.
Me (Digital Native) - I actually had to use a Microfiche for a class last semester - I was appalled. I didn't even remember how to do it. Who goes to the library anymore? I do all my research online thanks to my school library collection online, Google scholar and more. Now, Prensky also says that the big differentiator is that Natives only learn and study what they are interested in and ignore the rest. As educators, we obviously want students to get a well-rounded education. But, for me personally, I do the same thing. Why would I spend my limited resources learning things I don't have an interest in.

The difference in a nutshell - Phone Calls & Letters for Research, Phone Books, Catalogs, Dictionaries vs. The Internet
Tools - Google, Wikipedia, Blogs, etc.
The advantages - Information is more accessible (though potentially inaccurate).
Key benefits - Everything is available online.
Me (Both) - There used to be a segment in Wired magazine called "Old Way or Net Way" which examined which way was faster for finding information. Invariably the Net usually won. I've become adept on finding everything I need online and it's where I think to go to first. I can't remember the last time I used a phone book. Should phone companies ask us if we want to get one or save the paper (planet!) for something else? But, Prensky also notes that Natives search for everything without filtering and don't have a feeling of "information overload" - I can't say the same thing.

The difference in a nutshell - Researchers vs. Group Problem Solvers
Tools - Distributed computing, Cloud computing
The advantages - Multi-tasking, shared resources
Key benefits - Contribute your skills to solve problems; be part of the network
Me (Digital Immigrant) - At Sun Microsystems, we have been using the same slogan for years: "The Network is the Computer". This takes it one step further: "The Network is the Cloud" or something like that. Natives are opening up their devices and computing resources for others to use and volunteering to help with analysis projects. I love the idea but I'm not doing it today.

The difference in a nutshell - Journalism to Self-publishing
Tools - Blogs, Websites, Wikis, Mobile Blogging, Video blogging, Facebook
The advantages - Sharing
Key benefits - Report on your own life
Me (Digital Native) - Case in point, this blog.

The difference in a nutshell - Hire Developers to Be your Own Developer
Tools - Personalization/customization features in devices, Flash, JavaFX, etc...
The advantages - Speed, Customization, Innovation
Key benefits - Don't wait for someone else to do it; Be creative
Me (Both) - I'm the first one to personalize my devices, add applications, and find creative tweaks, but I don't classify myself as a programmer. I've written code in C and Java, but a programmer that doesn't make me. I don't know Flash though I'd like to. I cross both sides on this one.


The difference in a nutshell - Face to Face contacts vs. Online Contacts
Tools - Facebook, MySpace, myYearBook,, jDate, LinkedIn
The advantages - Helps with time management, Helps widen horizons and broaden networks
Key benefits -
A more extensive way to meet, A faster way to catch up and stay in touch
Me (Digital Native) - Don't get me wrong, it's not like I don't go to parties and socialize in real life with friends and family. Of course I do and so do they. But, I'm just as immersed in the Facebook scene as they are. I dated using jDate, Match and eHarmony before they were popular and even did something called the Relationship Line which was like before the Internet.

The difference in a nutshell - Continuously creating new online behaviors
Tools - The Internet, Mobile Phones, what ever is next
The advantages - Technology moves fast so adapt to keep up
Key benefits - Invent new creative ways of doing the same old thing faster, better, cheaper

Me (Digital Immigrant) - I'm swimming like crazy just to keep my head afloat of all the new technologies and the rapid pace of technology change. I think they have it down better than us.

Growing Up
The difference in a nutshell - Offline vs. Online
Tools - The Internet, Mobile Phones
The advantages - One additional place to learn about the world
Key benefits - More choice, more information, more exploration

Me (Digital Immigrant) - Ok, so I can't say I grew up online since I was already in my 20's when I was introduced to the Internet and all it had to offer. But, I did grow up in a tech friendly environment which I why I believe that I'm more a Digital Nagrant than one or the other.

So, if you like are like me: a techie type born in the early 70's, or if you just don't fit cleanly down one column or the other (I have 12 on each side, with 6 overlapping categories), you may actually be a digital nagrant.

To conclude - why is this all relevant to ed tech?
1. Know who your students are. Are they Natives? Immigrants? Nagrants? Not all of today's students will claim they are natives based on these classifications.
2. Know how the Internet affects their lives.
3. Know how they learn best.

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