Our digital natives are immigrating

By Karl Ochsner, Ed.D.
August 18th, 2011

As technology changes, so do digital languages.

Marc Prensky eloquently coined the metaphor of the “digital immigrant” to define an adult who has “immigrated” into the use of technology. This is opposed to a “digital native” who has grown up with and surrounded by technology from their conception.  According to Prensky, these digital natives are more fluent and more accepting of technology than older generations who, from old habits, use technology less frequently and less eloquently than our younger successors.

When I first heard Prensky speak about the digital immigrants and digital natives, it hit home as an easy framework for my mind to wrap around. Back then, my five-year-old daughter could play Freddy Fish on the computer and read and listen along on an Arthur CD-ROM disk, while I, as a digital immigrant, carried a “digital accent” from my first technology language, such as looking up answers to questions in books rather than searching online for the answers. Worse yet, I might call a person I just eMailed to make sure they got my eMail.  We all have those little stories on how our digital accents permeate technology use today.

Prensky warned us that it is not “cute” or “a joke” that our digital natives speak a technology-based language that is immersed in their learning, while teachers and society speak a different language.  In the 10 years since Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants was published, educators have struggled to interpret and translate this digital language into an effective curriculum using a potpourri of hardware, software, and Web 2.0 tools.

Through the years, I have aimed to integrate the latest technology into my classroom to accommodate the digital native. From my experiences teaching students about integrating technology in the K-12 classroom, and raising my high school daughters, I have slowly seen a paradigm shift among these digital natives. These natives, who once laughed at my own digital accent, now speak with digital accents reminiscent of a digital immigrant. Accents include questions such as, “Can you tape this television show?” when on a DVR, no physical tape exists; renting a DVD when it is a Blue-Ray disk; or calling internet searches “Googling” when actually using Bing.