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Will Digital Natives Revolutionize Teaching?


It is widely assumed among education technology enthusiasts that as younger teachers enter the classroom ed tech will gain more of a footing in improving learning. Younger teachers, common wisdom dictates, are more comfortable with technology and have broad experience using it in their everyday lives.

Even so, it may take longer than we think for the teacher corps to be savvy and effective users of electronic and online instructional tools, according to an interesting study I came across on digital natives in teacher preparation programs.

In an article in the Spring 2009 issue of the Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, Jing Lei, a researcher at Syracuse University, paints a somewhat less optimistic picture of digital natives' contributions to ed tech innovation.

While nearly all of the preservice teachers in her study have used computers and other technology since their pre-teen years and feel comfortable with gadgets and devices that are now becoming standard teaching tools, they may not have the skill to integrate them effectively into their instruction.

"Being able to use technology does not necessarily mean being able to use technology critically, wisely, or meaningfully," the article says. "The digital generation often falls short in demonstrating the fundamental understanding of digital media."

Students tend to use technology superficially, Lei adds, and in ways that may not enhance their inquiry skills. And while many of the preservice teachers in the study had confidence in the power of technology to improve learning, more than half were not as confident in their own skill in using tech tools.

"Although the digital-native preservice teachers reported strong positive beliefs about the potential of technology to help them teach and to help their students learn," the article states, "they had some reservations about using technology in classrooms."

They also believed that technology should be used in moderation and acknowledged there are challenges to integrating such tools into the curriculum.

The paper draws conclusions about the kind of preparation these aspiring teachers need to become effective users of technology in their classrooms.

Of course, the pool of inservice teachers in this study may not have been immersed in technology as early or as intensely as, say, students now in middle and high school. So maybe another study in a few years will have different results.


I think part of the reservation among 'digital natives' about using tech in the classroom is that rarely have they ever had it modeled for them in a real day-to-day classroom environment. They know how to use it, but they don't know how to use it to teach.

It's kinda like: You can't expect that just because someone knows how to drive, they'd be a great drivers' ed teacher.

This is a huge issue in educational technology these days. Integrating technology appropriately into education seems to be difficult for some while for others it's as easy as 1, 2, 3. Being one of the "younger" teachers entering the classroom (I graduate in 1 year), I know it will be easy for me to integrate technology into my lessons and use it effectively because it is almost second nature to me.

As for students using technology superficially I think it is a result of how the teacher integrates technology into the lesson. This generation knows how to use technology, and if not I think the only appropriate way for a student to learn is by being taught by somebody who is certified (or creditable).

As a future educator and taking a technology in education course, I want to say this issue is something that is constantly being researched and studied and from year to year, I'm sure the results change. Compared to 10 years ago, technology in the classroom has changed significantly and many studies show how important it is to include technology into lessons. The NETS are proof to show just how important technology in education is.

I am a college student currently in the Elementary Education program. I definitely agree that younger teachers will be able to use technology much more in educational settings. I am actually writing this comment right now for an education class I am taking which is based entirely on educational technology. We have learned so many great new ways to integrate technology into classrooms and how to help enhance our students learning by the use of technology. I do feel like I may be more comfortable using technology than someone older because I grew up in the technology age and this course has only improved my knowledge of technology. I also agree that being able to use technology does not mean that you know and understand how to implement it in the classroom. There are so many excellent new tools and technologies that teachers should take advantage of. It’s very important that future teachers learn how to adequately use technology and how to teach students to use it as well. Media, computer, and technology teachers should be updated with new information and training as much as possible. Now days there are some students who know more about computers than even the computer teacher does. I also think it should be mandatory that every education program should have a course related specifically to educational technology. It is such a large part of our society and technology is in our every days lives. Technology needs to be successfully integrated into the curriculum so it can have an impact on students. Administrators and teachers need to support educational technology and help implement it in our schools. We as teachers need to help expand our students knowledge and learning through technology.

We currently have the situation where teachers are 'digital migrants' and need to think about how to use technology, what to do with it and how students use it. Digital native teachers will not be in this position, they will already know how to use technology, what it's strengths are, how to leverage it and when not to use it. Such teachers will naturally use new technology when appropriate, the same way digital migrant teachers use white boards, projectors or any of the other tools they are familiar with when appropriate.

@shiv Naturally, teacher who are DN would more easily be able to integrate technology in their classroom than DIs. This does not mean they would all integrate it in meaningful ways. I have to agree with Shelly that holding a drivers license does not qualify to giving drivers' ed lessons, just as being able to write doesn't qualify (well, in most cases, anyway) to work as a teacher.

As a DI who has been involved with education technology since the late 70's it was encouraging to read the DN's belief that they are better prepared to integrate technology. Unfortunately my experience is not as positive. As a faculty member in a masters program, I do see some DN that are making creative connections between research-based teaching practices & technology. But I also observe that new teachers often find themselves in environments where their goal to intergrate technology is countered by the daily realities of learning the ropes. My hope is that new teachers find the support to have the time & resources to integrate based on how it can increase learning for a diverse population and do not get discouraged from trying to make a difference.

Yes, I am going to have to agree.

There are countless ways to utilize learning technologies in the classroom already...and people are using things like Facebook, Twitter, Ning, etc. in the classroom as we speak. So the integration piece is only a small piece of the issue, the bigger issue though is integrating technology in ways that makes learning more beneficial. In what subject areas is Second Life impacting students' learning? Can Facebook be used to incentivize students? Is teaching Twitter in English class detrimental to reading skills? And the questions flow on.

This is why research in these areas is so exigent.

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