Digital natives are bombarded with vast volumes of information in today’s electronic society, which calls for an even greater emphasis on critical thinking and research skills …”
– Timothy Van Slyke
Today’s students are different than those who were in school at the beginning of the 21st century. Today’s students are “digital natives.” There are several characteristics that define this group differently than those who have come before them:
1. They are both familiar and comfortable with digital devices and digital information. They have grown up with computers and iPads, tablets and digital phones. “Android” certainly means something very different to them than it did to the “Danger, Will Robinson” generation.
2. They are accustomed to going online to find answers to their questions. Ask them something they do not know and they “Google-It” rather than refer to dictionaries, encyclopedias or textbooks. This makes good sense, since more information is available to this generation on line than has ever been available via other media at any time.
3. Through the evolution of gaming, they have learned to jump into an unfamiliar environment and try different solutions until one works. They see failure as a learning experience; as just another piece of knowledge gained. As my grandson says while playing Skylanders Giants, “Well, that didn’t work. Let’s try this!”
4. Gaming has also molded them in other ways. They are accustomed to solving problems, enjoy challenges and expect recognition for their successes. They receive instant rewards for completing tasks during a game. They gather jewels, objects, weapons, and special powers as they work their way through levels in a game. Most games provide positive reinforcement in the form of electronic hurrahs and applause combined with virtual fireworks and congratulations.
5. While it seems as if they are always working alone, they enjoy collaboration; another product of the digital world of Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and other social media sites. They are not alone, they are “connected” with others differently than we were at their age.
6. Today’s teenagers spend approximately eight hours per day directly engaged with technology. Because they “multi-task” using several technologies at once, they cram almost eleven hours of media time into their daily regimen.
Each student carries most of these characteristics into your classroom each day. Are you employing the kind of technologies in your pedagogy that tap into these skills and characteristics? Digital natives respond to digital information, digital presentations, and digital challenges. CD’s, DVD’s, and PowerPoints are from another world. They belong in the realm of the “Blackboard Jungle.” They are passive, dull and lack the challenges that stimulate digital natives. If you want to engage the digital natives in your classroom, you need to do so with the tools that match their interests and their skills.
Digital artifacts engage digital natives immediately. When a student can manipulate an artifact in a 360 degree plane, examine it through magnification, measure its length and width, he/she is directly engaged in his/her own study. They are using the skills they have developed outside the classroom, to learn inside the classroom.
What digital natives lack is the ability to sort and categorize the vast amounts of information that they encounter daily. Studying digital artifacts teaches analysis, synthesis, communication, collaboration, and decision-making. Employed correctly, digital artifacts teach students to base their conclusions on evidence and to evaluate others conclusions in the same fashion. In other words, digital artifacts teach the 21st century skills that today’s digital natives need in order to be successful throughout their lives.
Lead your students out of the “Blackboard Jungle” of ancient technologies and employ the 21st century technologies that teach 21st century skills. Employ digital artifacts because: