Digital Natives?

In an early post, I mentioned that I would be reading S. Craig Watkins The Young and the Digital. I’ve also commented here on how the idea of digital natives has begun to influence pedagogy and teaching methods. As tends to happen in academia once an idea is floated out there counter-ideas or critiques will soon follow. So today I sat down and read a recent article from the journal Sociological Inquiry by Eszter Hargittai, Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the “Net Generation”. Ms. Hargittai presents her findings from a survey of 1,060 college freshmen. By surveying this group she has controlled for age (almost all of these students are young 18 or 19 year olds) and education- two factors that much of the literature attributes to the digital divide.

Eszter finds that differences remain in the areas of Web know-how and online information seeking. Her research suggests that the young and the educated are not as fluent with the Web as we like to think. That factors such as socioeconomic status, sex, ethnicity, and amount of Internet use contribute to one’s Web skills.

This research is helpful as a starting point for reminded teachers and librarians that not all of our students understand how to navigate the Internet. On one level it does undermine the idea of Digital Natives, but only on the task or skill side. It fails to look at the social or developmental aspects inherent in the concept of a Digital Native.

Sure, not all young people are equally equipped to find information online, but what about the shared expectation they have that all information can (and should) be found online? Or their shared desire to socialize online at all times even when physically present in a community? Surely these traits are affecting the way students approach learning, researching, and creating.

I’ll be keeping my open for more articles that try to debunk the concept of the Digital Native.


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