Back in 2001, educational writer, thinker, and consultant Marc Prensky coined a phrase describing children born at the time as “digital natives.” Prensky explained that those born with technology all around them naturally and intuitively know and understand how to use technology. Adults, only introduced to technology later in life, can be described as “digital immigrants.” He wrote that we need to rethink what children are learning in school because much of the learning of the past is no longer applicable, useful, or needed for the futures of the children of today.
Over a decade later Prensky, in “Our Brains Extended,” writes that,
“technology has become foundational to both education and life. Educators should think of technology in the same way they’ve long viewed reading—as a key to thinking about and knowing about the world. In fact, in the 21st century, technology is the key to thinking about and knowing about the world. Reading continues to be important—no one argues against teaching or learning it—but today, reading is no longer the number one skill students need to take from school to succeed. Technology is.“
Technology has fundamentally changed how we learn and find information. It’s incredible how it is ingrained in children, who have the solid understanding that when they want to find information, all they need is a computing device. They know that just a click away, they have access to anything they want to learn about.
So this morning, while getting ready for the day, I heard a man’s voice coming from the living room where I had just left my children making rubber-band bracelets on their “Rainbow Looms” (the latest craze/fad/activity today among school-age children.) When I went to check it out, I learned that the voice belonged to “Brad” of JustinsToys, who was featured in a YouTube video providing instructions on how to make a “hexafish.” The kids wanted the information, so they jumped onto the Apple TV and in about 10 seconds found a video demonstrating the technique. That’s all it took. And they know they can do that with anything. (Now I am not going into the lessons that need to accompany their use of the Internet, such as carefully evaluating websites, appropriate behavior, and not providing personal information online.) But the fact remains that they know they can find information they need anytime – whether it’s researching a famous historical figure, finding the latest baseball stats, or learning new dance moves. And they can find that information anywhere — even standing in line at the grocery store (“Mom, can I borrow your phone?”) Think about when you were a child and you needed information. What did it take? How did you go about learning? For our children, the game has completely, fundamentally changed.
David Pogue in “Things That Were Once Amazing,” describes a conversation he overheard in which one teacher explained to others his amazement how during a PowerPoint presentation, an 8th grade student in about 2 minutes, solved a technical problem the teacher encountered. Pogue writes:
“I was amazed, too. Not that an eighth grader proved to be more technically proficient than his teacher — but that anybody would find this story noteworthy. I mean, is anybody even surprised anymore when a child is more comfortable with some technology than his parents? That old chestnut, ‘Oh, I’ll just have my kid explain it to me,’ isn’t that 30 years old by now? Maybe I’m just jaded because I spend my time in tech circles, but isn’t that joke so worn out, it’s just not that hilarious anymore?”
My wishful thinking is that I hope there aren’t many educators and parents who think in that way. The problem, however, is that technology, and learning about it and how to use it, is not a priority in many, many school systems. The people in charge consider it an add-on or a luxury and things like collecting data will be more beneficial to children and learning vs. engaging children, so they are excited about learning. Listen to the following presentation by Jeff Utecht, entitled “Community Trumps Content,” in which he describes how quickly students learn, how important technology is in our society, and how physical space does not matter as much anymore.
“We are trying so hard to cut kids off from what is natural to them, that I think we are doing kids a disservice. And we are not preparing them for the connected world that they are going to go into — the connected world that waits for them after school.“
Our brains are extended with technology. Just love those hexafish.