Yes, you are in fact a digital immigrant

Many presentations at this week’s AATE conference referenced Marc Presnky’s research on Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.  In a conference where many papers and worshops discussed multimodal texts and the changing (increasingly digital) nature of texts and classroom practices, this is unsurprising.  What was a bit surprising was the backlash that I witnessed, paper after paper, from teachers who resented the label ‘Digital Immigrant’.

I can see where people are coming from on this – especially teachers who have invested a lot of time in learning about new technologies and increasing their technological proficiency.  However, learning or knowing about the digital world just does not make one a digital native.

I have found it very helpful to think about the other aspect of Prensky’s argument – that Digital Immigrants can of course learn the Native language, but they will always “have an accent” (for a great explanation of this, see Mike Jones lecture on Blogs, Wikis and the New World Order for the ScreenSpeak series for NSW HSC English teachers.)  In fact, I think that in a lot of ways the Digital Immigrant who ‘learns the language’ will often learn to use the language better than a Native speaker – just so it is when Japanese speakers learn English, or when the English learn Dutch!

I didn’t have my own computer until I was about 14, and even then it was a computer that my boyfriend set up for me and helped me to use.  But before that I did own an electric typwriter.  I have never really been interested in programming or electronics.  I am still happy to buy CDs (although I will then put the tracks onto my iPod).  At only 27 I am in fact a Digital Immigrant…but I am learning the language quickly and my accent is becoming less broad 🙂  And in so many ways I have mastered the digital language far better than my Digital Native students; this makes me an ideal teacher for them.  I also have a deep empathy with the students who, through economic or social disadvantage have not engaged in the same level of technology as their peers; these students are in fact Digital Immigrants themselves, despite their young age.


  1. #1 by darcymoore on July 15, 2008 - 6:50 pm

    Yes, at 39, I am definitely an immigrant too. My first computer came in adulthood and I guess for me the internet was the catalyst. Being online was just so much more interesting than have a pre-W95 ‘pute. I am still more interested in being online and wEB 2.0 than operating a software program.

  2. #2 by Julie Bain on July 15, 2008 - 9:17 pm

    Digital technologies have a much longer history than the 1990s. So I would argue against the notion that is laid down in Prenskys, 2001 article.

    His suggestion that ‘…today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors’ assumes a sameness in how individuals think which (considering work done on different intelligences) seems a little simplistic. In the 1960s, when I was a school student, (bloody hell I’m old) I was often chastised for thinking different from my peers. I think it is a fundamental flaw in his discussion that he so simply constructs boundaries between groups according to age. Just some fuel for thought.

  3. #3 by kellimcgraw on July 16, 2008 - 5:04 pm

    I see what you mean Julie, and would agree that Prensky’s notion should not be considered in isolation as the only factor contributing to different learning styles – there is much research on frameworks such as multiple intelligences to explain other factors that contribute to each of our unique approaches to thinking and processing information.

    But I would also argue that with each BIG change in technology (e.g. printing press, camera, telephone) there has been a dramatic shift in the way people operate in the world and conceive of the connections that are made in their world.

    Perhaps the issue that causes problems for people learning about Prensky’s theory of Digital Immigrants/Natives is that there is too little recognition that this phenomena has occurred before, with other technologies?

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