Are We Ready to Stop Labeling Ourselves Digital Immigrants?

The story: I had to see a new orthopedist this past week for an old knee injury. He pulled up my records from the referring physician and looked at them with me on his very large computer screen. Then, I was sent to imaging since he wanted to take a look inside my knee. Before I arrived back in his office, he had the images on the screen looking at them. We looked at them together and he pointed out and circled using touch technology some torn cartilage and a narrowing channel of bone. He asked where I’d had a prior MRI and within seconds was looking at seven-year old images from another hospital outside of his network. Then, he pulled up prescriptions from my pharmacy to make sure he wasn’t prescribing anything for me that might create a pharmaceutical issue. The medical resident was making notes on his tablet and I had my phone in hand doing the same in EverNote.

Learning Space in the UVA Medical School

 We talked about the new learning studio in the UVA medical school that’s been featured recently in the social media world. My doctor described the impoetus for a change in 100 years of established medical education practice as what we need to do because of the changes made possible by technology in how we can teach medical students. On the way out the door, I was handed some literature on the new MyChart patient portal system that provides access to my medical records online, something I’ve wanted for awhile.

This is the world we live in. It’s the workforce our young people are entering.  It’s not the way most of their K-12 schools work, unless in the luck of the draw they land a tech-savvy teacher with robust tool accessibility who understands when and how to use learning technologies in powerful ways.

I’ve stopped buying the argument of digital natives versus digital immigrants as a rationale for why we boomers can’t learn to use new technologies. I have, as many baby boomers do, one of those millennial children who can walk through the door and solve a tech glitch in minutes that I’ve been struggling to address. However, eventually, I also. as can a number of boomer peers, use a combination of skills to figure those problems out, too.

Scott McCleod, Iowa State professor and co-creator of the Did You Know video series, wrote a succinct post on this topic in the last year. We educators are not known always for being the best role models of the lifelong learning we tout as critical to the children we teach. In fact, we can be darn resistant to new learning despite research that the plasticity of the brain allows us to continue to learn new skills, integrate new knowledge, and shift dispositions over a lifetime.

I  interact with baby boomer friends and colleagues all the time who’ve learned to buy anything they want via the web, Skype with grandchildren, find old college friends and connect via FB, make online reservations for restaurants, plan and make purchases  to take vacations all over the world, text at ball games, create and send e-cards, run small businesses on eBay, do their own medical research via Google searches, and find and send the most goofy of You Tube vids via email. Some of them simultaneously claim they can’t do all kinds of things with new learning technologies in school because it’s just too difficult to learn how to use – document cameras, IWBs, laptops, i-anything, LCD projectors, social learning media, etc.

The great history teacher from ’95 who used primary source documents, engaged kids in Paideia seminars, assessed hand-written responses beyond multiple choice tests , brought in local historians as speakers, and took kids on field trips to local history sites is an average teacher in ’11 if s/he isn’t using learning technologies in powerful ways to create extended learning accessibility and possibilities for contemporary learners. The very same skills we boomers have learned to use in our personal lives need to be integrated into our professional lives.

Yes, it might take longer to learn, to practice, to study, to apply a new skill, but that’s reality for all kinds of learning differences between younger and older generations. I didn’t describe myself as a music immigrant when I decided to learn to play a new instrument a few years back. I don’t describe myself as a digital immigrant, either.

The excuse that as digital immigrants we can’t learn how to do this work is a smokescreen for other critical issues- some of which we own and some that must be addressed financially and structurally. I’d like to spend time on real issues that block the multiple generations of educators in our schools from helping young people acquire information and digital literacy and fluency skills- our own capability as digital learners should not be an excuse.

So, in my opinion, the biggest issues we face are figuring out how to:

  • take down the barriers of time to learn new technologies,
  • find funding for the 1:1 access resources we need for our students,
  • move beyond high-stakes tests that represent 20th c accountability 1.0,
  • address skinny availability of robust infrastructure to use mobile and wireless technologies in our schools, and,
  • build capacity of our communities to understand why the chalkboard teaching wall is obsolete.

Creating learning vitality in our classrooms today means we all must not just be willing to learn new skills but also to make the effort to practice and apply new skills. I’ve never believed that a piece of technology can replace a good teacher. Today, powerful learning technologies used by good teachers can create extraordinary learning experiences for children, unlike any we’ve ever been able to offer. The National Ed Tech Plan’s actually a pretty decent blueprint for getting there.

The barriers we must overcome for those experiences to be available are not limitations create by the “aging” of the educational workforce, the differences among generations inside schools, or the capabilities of educators to learn how to use new technologies. It’s past time to move beyond the digital immigrant vs. native conversation and begin to address the real limits to our work – time, funding, infrastructure, 20th c scientific management, and community capacity to understand the impact of the Communications Age on why, how, and what young people need to learn differently in our ever-advancing technological world.   

Mobile Learning Spaces in the Natural World: 3rd Graders create a Nature Trail Guide on the iPod


5 thoughts on “Are We Ready to Stop Labeling Ourselves Digital Immigrants?

  1. Pingback: The Daily Find: March 28, 2011 | NAIS Annual Conference 2011 Community

  2. You hit it right on the nail, Pam. I agree that we often create labels or categories just to enable our excuses for not moving forward or engaging in new professional learning. I like what Ronald Wolk (Wasting Minds, ASCD 2011) has to say in Chapter 5, Wanted: Great Teachers, about the teaching profession and obstacles to professional learning:

    “Part of the reason is that teachers (and principals) lead their work lives in real time, constantly engaged in the moment. They may not actually be busier than a lawyer or an accountant, but they feel they are because they have almost no control over their time. Their days are strictly scheduled; they are prisoners of an inflexible curriculum; they have little interaction with fellow workers; they have no time for reflection or anticipation; they have almost no say in how their schools are organized or run.”

    The entire chapter ought to be read in concert with your blog. It helps explain in greater depth why our profession seems averse to being “willing to learn new skills but also to make the effort to practice and apply new skills.”

  3. Pingback: Pediatricians, Parents, and Digital Kids, Part II « Media! Tech! Parenting!

    • Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your perspective on both educators and parents needing to step up to the plate and take responsible for teaching children responsible use of technology. Our children are growing up with access to a virtual playground that has little to no adult supervision. We would never allow our children to play in a playground without some level of supervision to learn how to safely use the slides, swings, and monkey bars to avoid getting hurt or hurting others. Yet, we’ve abdicated the virtual playground to the children and they are growing up with limited coaching or modeling by adults- at home or in school. They need to learn safe behaviors for their own sake and the sake of others in the community. As a friend once said, “…the social media horse is out of the barn when it comes to our children. The question is whether we’re going to teach them to ride or let the horse run away with them.”

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