Retiring the 'Digital Immigrants' Term

Bill Ferriter, experienced teacher and author (among other titles), recently shared an impassioned article regarding the misuse of the term 'Digital Immigrants'. With hashtags such as #signmeup and #ouch, Ferriter shares his unfiltered, but logical thoughts that the popular term is actually doing more harm than good in moving education into the digital age.

Originating from Marc Prensky's article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants back in 2001—yep, that's over a decade ago—the term 'Digital Immigrants' was used to describe individuals who didn't grow up surrounded by technology, but adopted it at a later point in life.

Instead of trying to describe the problem applying this term to today's educators, I'll quote Ferriter, who says it best:

Labels like "digital immigrants" and "digital natives" -- and the connotations that they carry -- do more harm than good in conversations about changing learning spaces.

On the simplest level, they create false assumptions about proficiency:  The olds can't POSSIBLY understand how digital tools can be used to create engaging classrooms, right?  They can't even figure out how to create a contact or set up the speed dial on their new iPhones.  Put 'em out to pasture and turn the classroom over to the kids and we can FINALLY revolutionize education!

They also place the focus of conversations about future classrooms on technology instead of on learning outcomes.  That's a distraction, y'all.  Proficiency with new digital tools and spaces ISN'T a goal worth celebrating even if it is easy to identify.  Leveraging those tools and spaces to create meaningful learning experiences -- learning experiences where kids master useful skills or tackle projects that change the world, or ask and answer powerful questions -- is what REALLY matters...

...calling teachers digital immigrants and students digital natives inadvertently lets teachers off the hook.  "I'm just not tech savvy," becomes a ready-made excuse for refusing to embrace practices that CAN make learning spaces more meaningful and efficient.  But it's an excuse that is reinforced every time that a futurist or visionary stands in front of audiences and argues that kids ALWAYS know more about technology and teachers are ALWAYS at a disadvantage in a digital world.

The truth is that no matter how savvy we think they are, today's kids rarely see the power in the digital tools that they've embraced.  Need proof?  Turn 'em loose in a room full of technology for an entire day and watch what they do with it.  Chances are their choices won't impress you.

Moving them forward takes the support and guidance of people who understand learning -- and who can find ways to use new tools to make learning more efficient and effective.

We call those people teachers where I'm from -- even if they WERE born into a world without data plans.

At Atomic Learning we understand exactly what Ferriter's point is—in fact we run into it with the schools and colleges we work with on a regular basis. Just because a student can simultaneously post to multiple social media sites doesn't mean that they can properly cite a source in a college paper, create an engaging presentation, or offer a meaningful contribution to an online discussion.

Kudos to Mr. Ferriter and all the other educators—regardless of when they were born—who strive every day to make sure students have the skills they need for lifelong success.

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