Friday, September 12, 2008

Article Assessment #1

Digital Natives is an interesting article by Marc Prensky in which he addresses what he sees as the divide between pre-digital education and digital savvy students. In Prensky's view, 21st century students are "digital natives", people who have grown up in the digital environment and to whom technology and its use is second nature. We, the teachers, are with rare exception "digital immigrants" who, though we may be reasonably proficient with technology, are still far from fluent. Prensky argues that our schools are failing our students because they don't adequately incorporate technology and are thus unable to effectively engage the students. In order to rectify this situation, Prensky suggests that we as teachers should:

  • incorporate aspects of digital world "gameplay" into classroom instruction
  • update our subject matter so that students are exposed to 21st century material (nanotechnology, genetic medicine, neuroscience, etc)
  • increase student access to digital technology in the classroom
  • increase the number of courses teaching digital skills like programming
  • involve students in developing instruction
  • focus on engagement rather than content when planning lessons
From a teaching perspective, I both see the truth of much of what Prensky says and yet still find myself reluctant to give myself over to his solutions. It's certainly true that today's students are well acquainted with and engaged by digital technology. Gameplay undoubtedly has appeal and I know that educational games (e.g. Carmen Sandiego) exist and can be both fun and educational. Programming and other digital skills are in huge demand and I completely agree that schools should offer courses in those areas where feasible.

Clearly technology has enormous educational potential both engaging students and enhancing lessons. However, I have misgivings about technology as panacaea. The average American child already spends huge amounts of time in front of the television or playing video games. Obesity is one of our country's biggest health problems correlates rather neatly with the amount of time spent in front of computers and TVs. There is some evidence as well that social skills and attention spans have declined as kids become more and more immersed in digital worlds. Given this reality, I think that technology use in the classroom, especially in the form of digital games, should be carefully balanced with more traditional instruction.

Obviously technology and technological innovation are here to stay, and the digital world is a growing part of our reality as well. Given the increased prevalence of technology in our everyday lives, schools do have a responsibility to teach students appropriate technology and to incorporate its use where it can truly help students to learn more effectively. For me, technology has a place in the classroom supplementing traditional instruction and peer interaction.

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