Part 4-“Digital Natives” and a New Awareness

Clinging to the Dragon’s Teeth



“Digital Natives” and a New Awareness

“Digital Natives” and a New Awareness

The Short Part

“Our disciplinary insistence on the printed page, if it persists unchecked, will slowly bring us out of step with our students, our institutions, and the broader culture of which we are a part.” -Colin Gifford Brooke

It’s probably not news to anyone reading this that most educational institutions are out of touch with the w

Our world has shifted modes of communication and we insist on the value of print over other mediums. It is no longer simply an issue for the technologically inclined but is a present reality for wannabe Luddites like me that imagine that “if only we could get our students off their phones” our instruction would magically change. Even if we seem to show acceptance of technology through the integration of powerpoint, accepting digital copies of papers instead of print ones, and maybe even a “discussion board” that nobody ever posts to, all of these changes are either mostly aesthetic or mostly useless.

To encounter, engage, and create for new media, our students need more instruction in the classroom to actually handle these new forms.

One of the most dangerous assumptions we can make is that this new generation is made up of “digital natives” and thus, probably understand technology better than we do. So, it’s better not to embarrass ourselves and let them figure it out. Teachers are frightened of new technology (and we should be) but fear should not paralyze instructors from dealing with it in their classrooms. This new technology is changing our society and our sense of self. While teachers are coaching students to create written works, craft arguments, and carry out thoughtful analysis of media, we should be willing to stretch out into new media.

No one is born a “digital native” and the phrase itself is more than a bit of a misnomer. You are not born disposed to “new” or “old” media. Also, to describe Gen Z or younger Millenials as “Digital Natives” generalizes an enormously diverse population whose knowledge of digital media may be, in fact, limited to that of a consumer, with little critical thought being lent to the messages they intake from their devices.

If composition teachers are serious about enabling students to engage with modern discourse, they must learn to engage with New Media. Theorists since McLuhan have been repeating that “change is coming” ad nauseum.

Change has already come. If we don’t catch up soon, higher education’s role in preparing students for the workforce and the world will be questioned and challenged with greater intensity than it already is.

Diana Rhoten, director of the Digital Media and Learning Project, says that a “21st century learner” must learn to use the tools available to him to create instead of simply consume (MacArthur Foundation, 1:44). This new generation needs students who are prepared to interact with the new world.

Additionally, as primary education research champions the value of differentiation of instruction, colleges should take note and understand that education is never “one-size-fits-all.” It is the job for a teacher, in the new environment of digital information, to give the students an opportunity to create, and by creating, engage thoughtfully with the world around them, as opposed to training them solely through mediums that are often alien to their everyday experience. For students who are themselves likely interacting with a diverse range of media (with enormous differences between the media habits of one individual to another), we can drive students to not only learn skills but situate them more appropriately in environments of learning where they can use them to engage with the media they interact with.

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