Digital Immigrants & Natives – the backlash


There are some that argue that Prensky’s work is merely speculation – I would certainly agree with Jamie McKenzie’s assertion that his research methods are hardly exemplary. He cites no evidence for his claims, and has no primary research to back them up (apart from one mis-quoted, mis-spelled scientist’s work in a very different field of neurology). Like many over 30s, I find his vaguely disparaging descriptions of the ‘immigrant’ class to be irritating after a while.

But even though his expressions are sometimes glib and his methodology almost non-existent, I’m not so sure Prensky is wrong. I currently work with a class of around 45 Commercial Music students, and they certainly exhibit the behaviour Prensky describes, individually and en masse. Even the most diligent and motivated of them send me Facebook messages asking questions that have been covered extensively during the previous week’s lecture. But whenever I post a link to an interesting subject-related article on Facebook, they always seem to be familiar with it by the next time I meet them.

Wall of MacsI do get irritated when I see a wall of Apple logos in a lecture, because I know (or at least delude myself) that while some of the students will be ‘taking notes’ most will be, at best, checking out the Wikipedia entry on the band/track I’m discussing, and at worst emailing/IMing a mate about pub plans.

But this has led me to question the idea of the lecture itself. Is this ‘one-to-many’ pedagogical model really so relevant any more? There is a facetious university toilet graffito that states “A lecture is the process whereby the notes of the teacher become the notes of the student without passing through the mind of either.” I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of this in our work – where the eager-to-please student regurgitates our own PPT slides in an essay without triangulating them with their own research. I do agree with Prensky that the linear single-presenter model of teaching is actually alien to many learners… perhaps in the same way that an RSS feed is alien to some lecturers.

So Prensky has not, I would argue, presented primary research of any validity. But what he has done is to ask an important question about tutor/learner interaction, namely – should we maintain pre-Internet pedagogical models in our teaching, bring in new models alongside them, or abandon them altogether?

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

William Butler Yeats

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