Stretching and i²Flex-ing with the Digital Native

by: Labrini Rontogiannis, Middle School Faculty, ACS Athens

Ethos Magazine, Winter 2013, Vol 8, Issue 1

Abstract: The Digital Native is experiencing education during a very unique time. Learning with the help of technology and the Internet, becoming Independent and flexible learners, will only build on the skills they need to face a rapidly changing world and truly become architects of their own learning.

Facebook, Twitter, Ning, LinkedIn, Evernote and Google. No, these are not the latest boy bands in pop music, but a new language: the language of the digital native. The digital native, as coined by educational technology and gaming expert Marc Prensky, was born in a world of cell phones, iPods, the Internet and laptops as thin as paper. Smartphones and tablets, social networking sites and other Web 2.0 (3.0) tools are the remote controls and videocassettes of the next generation. So what role does this play in education?

It is sometimes hard to understand why children need technology to learn “better”. After all, we, the Digital Immigrants, the BGs (Before Google) successfully completed our entire education without Internet, or Google or tablet apps. What is so different with today’s student? Digital natives were born in a digital world acquiring digital skills at a young age. According to a research report by Common Sense Media, 72% of children aged 0-8 have been exposed to some sort of mobile device. Think about the first time you held a mobile phone in your hand. Is it not therefore only natural that they will also learn more effectively using technology? Cognitively, digital natives require a different form of stimulation than is provided by traditional teaching methods. Today’s students need to be stimulated using the very thing that makes them different from learners of previous generations: technology. This is what they have been exposed to and this is their language of communication. And, whether we like it or not, the world is transforming itself based on the abilities and needs of these digital learners. Do we, the digital immigrants, like it? Maybe not. Do we have to get use to it? Definitely yes!

Having a Facebook account is not nearly enough to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology. Technology in the 21st century classroom is no longer an option, but a necessity, and it can take many forms. Every educator in their discipline can use a variety of different tools to cater to the students and the content needs, creating unique and rewarding experiences. Video lessons can be created and used to present material. Discussion boards and online asynchronous mediums can be used to open extensive discussions giving all students the opportunity to participate. Videos, virtual simulations and virtual labs can expose students to activities that may not have otherwise been possible. Digital Storytelling can enhance the presentation of information, but also be used by students to build their own knowledge visually. Virtual 3D platforms such as Quest Atlantis can motivate students into independently searching and building on the answers to real life problems. Cloud applications can be used to create collaborative environments between students in and out of school. The use of technology can also free up class time where teachers can then be moderators and tutors within the classroom, helping students master and use their new knowledge to analyze, evaluate and create.

As a parent and teacher, your instinct is to frown upon the very thing that often causes you frustration. Long hours spent in front of a screen can seem time consuming, pointless and detrimental to children. We cannot eliminate the use of technology especially for this generation, but learn to use it positively in our lives. Technology provides endless opportunities and unique experiences, bridging gaps, removing time and space barriers that exist, bringing educators, students and institutions together from all around the world. Parents, teachers and administrators must embrace technology, cultivate it and use it to mold students into life long learners who will carry with them the skills needed for the 21st century; skills that will prepare them for an unknown future where the jobs they will acquire, do not yet exist! Learning with the help of technology and the Internet, becoming independent and flexible learners, will only build on the skills they need to face this uncertainty and truly become architects of their own learning.