EdTech 537: Blog Response

This post is in response to Examining Generational Differences which was posted by Michael Barbour, EdTech 537,  here.


digital native

Examining Generational Differences

The theory of generational differences exists and is a valid theory, there is no research at present that indicates instructional designers should modify instruction or instructional strategies to accommodate today’s generation of students

Marc Prenskey defines the differences between digital natives and digital immigrants. Prenskey asserts, and somewhat oversimplifies, that many, if not most, teachers are digital immigrants and the majority of students are digital natives. Obviously, this is a generalization.  The assumption is that “digital natives” learn differently than immigrants.  If you are “native” to any type of culture, you assimilate it into your every day life more easily.  When you are an immigrant, you are learning something new all the time.  It made me think of language and how I “think”.  I studied Latin for 5 years.  I could speak it and I could pray in Latin but I never “thought” in Latin.  I would think of what I wanted to say (in English) then I would translate it into Latin before speaking.  As you can imagine, this would cause a definite delay in a conversation.

Technology is the same.  A digital native student responds intuitively.  This makes them more adapt at multitasking and able to process information much more quickly.  Yet, teachers often need time to “translate” what they want to be accomplished into words, instructions, and processes so that that “natives” can easily understand.

Prensky also asserts that the best way to connect with the “natives” is through games.  Yet Jamie McKenzie disagrees, rather strongly; he criticizes Prensky’s lack of substantial or  any research to back up his findings:

His [Prensky] proposition is simple-minded. He paints digital experience as wonderful and old ways as worthless. He lumps people together by nothing more than age and exposure, spending little time on differentiating or understanding. He offers learning with video games as a digital Nirvana that should replace forms of learning that he claims are now outmoded.

McKenzie thinks that Prensky has overstated the technological competency level of the “natives” and undervalued the tech skills of the “immigrants”.  The majority of this article is a “bashing” of one person’s perspective.  Quite honestly, the tone was so incredibly negative that many of the critical points were lost on me:

Real fifteen year old humans are quite different from each other, a fact that Prensky did not take the time to study or notice. Some love things digital. Some are more interested in a horse or a dog or a walk along the shore. If you took the time to study a million teens, you would find dozens of different patterns and passions. Prensky lumps them together as one cohesive digital phalanx.

The original Pied Piper, it should be remembered, stole the town’s children away when the Mayor failed to pay him for leading the rats out of town.

Of course if you looked at a million teens you would find many different traits, skills, and interests!  If you look at a million anything you will find variation.  I’m not saying Prensky had a good study, I don’t know.   However, he did make some good points that would be important to at least consider.  There is no perfect way to teach everyone, but if incorporating games into a classroom now and then impacted even one student, who perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have been engaged, doesn’t that matter?!

Thomas Reeves article was so filled with so many generalizations about the “Boomer”,  “X” and “Net Gen” in particular.  On page 3 he does acknowledge,

However, it is important to acknowledge that there is a great deal of variance among the distinguishing characteristics within any given generation, and thus it is unjustified to assume that if a person was born in 1985, he/she would have most of the characteristics of Gen Y, or that someone born in 1960, and thus a late Boomer, would be not as technologically sophisticated as a person born into Gen X or Gen Y.

Yet the article and charts are an overwhelming series of “sweeping generalizations” and “stereotypes”.  The article felt like a hunt to prove the author’s point of view.  I don’t believe that teaching styles should be geared towards any generalizations specifically.  But a variety of methods will most likely help a variety of students.  Teachers need to be aware of what is current and incorporate the new with the old.  Twenty-two years ago I did my student teaching.  We had several mentor teachers to chose from.  All of my collegues wanted to go with the “young and cool” mentor teachers; I chose the seasoned veteran.  She told me “just watch, education is like a giant pendulum,it will swing wildly back and forth between the “newest” methods and then “back to the basics” … the Best teachers are the ones who try to find a balance!  Always be willing to try something new and never forget to do what you know works”.  For the past two decades I have lived by those words and I have always been grateful I did.


McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2). Retrieved from http://fno.org/nov07/nativism.html

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6). Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Reeves, T.C. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum from January 22-25, 2008 at http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/Paper104/ReevesITForumJan08.pdf

Russell Street School Website (2014). eLearning. Retrieved July 16, 2014 from http://russellst.school.nz/?page_id=352

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