Monday, June 29, 2015

Digital Natives

With this post I'm responding to the prompt: What do you make of the (divergent) positions of Boyd, Prensky and Wesch?  Where do you stand on the “digital native” terminology?

Wesch strikes me as the most insightful as he takes into consideration the "Crisis of Significance" regarding the immediate accessibility of so much knowledge for classrooms of today.   These classrooms are in touch with the whole world in  a very real sense.      Wesch rejoices in this immediate accessibility but bemoans the crisis of significance students face today of having no deep underlying meaning to their education.   I ask, how is this news?   Viktor Frankl identified the existential vacuum to be a state in which meaning and hope was lost from many an individual's consciousness in light of his reflection upon his own and others profound hardships, material and social deprivation in Auschwitz.   Decades later psychologist Paul Wachtel wrote so as to complete in a symmetrical manner an understanding of life's challenges with material excess in the book The Poverty of Affluence.    Helping anyone navigate the waters of our culture today makes Thomas Merton's wisdom timeless when he said "modern man (sic) has an impossible predicament: everything is within reach but not everything is worth having".   A student may click through pictures of a thousand artifacts but be unmoved by them as she or he is the assignment that they thought initiated the process (or set of hoops to jump through).   

That being said, Wesch addresses  the student teacher relationship after this discussion of the crisis of significance and the necessity of relationships of trust.    I wonder how his work would have flowed had he discussed this first.  As such the teacher-student relationship is set around vocational question and not one that needs to take on specific religious connotations.  The broad scope of vocation that is cross cultural is to be truly human.  The consumer-narcissism that forms the framework of most students lives whether they are, according to  Ivan Illich, "prisoners of addiction or prisoners of envy" must be addressed by a caring coach adult of a teacher who must in some way have the strength of character and spirit to see something beyond a student's culturally bound ego.

As for Boyd, he does a very good job identifying valid distinctions between the products (Google vs Wikipedia) and the process by which a learning community must respond to them with a holistic, realistic and manageable plan.    His anecdotes about students saying their teachers lay down the line "don't go here but rather go here..." are enlightening and are really an invitation for professionals to examine what assumptions do we bring to our classroom practice and what doors do we prematurely shut because of fear or expediency or avoidance of hassles, etc.   

They both do some justice to helping understand the terms digital natives and digital immigrants.    Upon reflection I am disappointed that there is no third category that bridges the gap.   Digital natives could be "less than" in that instant gratification and shortcuts may be one of their most likely modus operandi.   Digital immigrants could be "less than" in that they will only be seen as those who might have to learn everything the hard way and rely on unquestionably archaic methods.    Why can't we all be digital adapters.  No one then is greater than or less than.   As evolution does not happen in a single organism neither does the evolution from analogue? to digital happen in one person but in a collective consciousness. 


I'm in my forties and I'm not a digital native but a semi-proficient digital immigrant and subversive resister. I use TED talks that help students explore the depth of their own dignity and humanity and that of others. Let me illustrate my self understanding with some of the resources I use. As I want my students to have this reflection on dignity I use digital media such as these talks by Abbot Martin Werlen and Gary Wilson to wrestle with difficult topics in communication and relationships.


 I also enjoy really stretching my students by showing them, without introduction, the Radi-Aid "commercial" and then discussing and debriefing it.  This usually helps them realize their digital native status but also their media illiteracy.

I believe my students are best served by asking questions about whatever media or message they encounter so I have them read the "Questions and Power" portion of Andrea Batista Schlesinger's book The Death of Why. I believe gaining new "answers" can be an addictive process that reinforces an ego need to be right/and or justified and that a life with good and deepening questions are the constitutive element of a liberating recovery from that dead ended pursuit of information addiction. This site  After my students read this portion of the book I invite them to write out the most challenging question they can pose to our dominant American culture.

 As much as I am into both the video dimension and the interrogative dimension of media literacy and use digital resources to access greater knowledge I use simpler images that make subversive points like the work of Komar and Melamid This site In my work department I am the median age in my department and I like to take risks so I see myself less apt to do somethings younger colleagues will do but generally a bit more than my older colleagues.

Introducing Dan...

My name is Dan and I'm married with three sons.  I teach theology at an all boys Catholic school in the Greater Boston Area.    I'm a lifelong Massachusetts resident currently staking a media literacy course at Rhode Island College.    I have a long summer break and I have hit my stride working on small house projects, reading things I have trouble getting to during the school year (Steinbeck, Iris Murdoch, Chinua Achebe, etc.) and enjoying time with my wonderful wife and three fun boys.