At first blush, the idea seems somewhat reasonable. Born in the 21st century, you rock on that iPod / Facebook / 3-D gaming world. You get to think differently, little dude, because all that technology mumbo-jumbo forces you to think like no one’s business — faster, quicker, more efficient. Born before 2002, though, born without a clue. (NOTE: I selected 2002 because it rhymed with clue, not because it is some special date worthy of note. Except for the release of Star Wars: Episode 2, which wasn’t really that worthy of note, except maybe for the fight scene with Yoda, but I digress.)
So as the idea of digital immigrants marinated in the juices of my neurons and dendrites, the metaphor began to crumble. Take, for example, many of the English-speaking natives in our classrooms. Native, yes. Do they speak fluently — for the most part, yes. But get down to brass tacks and they’ve got a long way to go before they master grammar, punctuation, spelling, and all the other nuts n’ bolts that a native speaker doth make. In fact, many never do, and subsequently massacre the language to which they are native to, both in the spoken and written language. Just look at all that IM lingo.
At the opposite end of the spectrum lies the immigrant who comes from another country. Do they think differently simply because the country they come from is not the same as the ones they live in now? I don’t know, maybe they do. They know two languages which, of course, changes the physical makeup and workings of the brain and gives a serious advantage when speaking in those countries. But I’m not sure that translates into making them better problems solvers or multi-taskers per se. People have different skills, both learned and innate, and how they use them largely determines their success in the world.
The bottom line is that it just plain ol’ doesn’t make sense to pit immigrants of any sort against their native counterparts. It’s hogwash, plain and simple. Immigrants can and do learn to function in a world that is not native to them, and natives often fail to be successful in the world they are native to. It is not a matter of where (or in the case of digital natives, when) you are born but what you do with the skills you have.
If educational technologist hope to make strides and a lasting impact in schools and in learning, I doubt creating a ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ scenario is the way to success. It’s nice for bolstering egos and smugly patting us technology lovers on the back for being so darn savvy and so downright awesome for the Internet power we wield. But it seems that such a dichotomy would simply push teachers and administrators to do the one thing that keeps much of our educational system focused on the past (to borrow more of Prensky’s words).
When push comes to shove, educators tend to shun what they don’t know or understand. Wikipedia is being banned in schools. So are wikis, google docs, and many other collaboration tools. People fear them because they don’t know enough about them. In the long run, I doubt that pointing out the fact that they are immigrants in a strange world where technology ‘explodes exponentially’ with no hope of understandin’ the new-fangled, high-falutin’ digital world like these young whipper-snappers does won’t really end up helping anyone, least of all the students.