In order to become the best teachers for their students, educators need to know their students. However, students in the 21st century are different than their predecessors. The digital age has changed the way students discover and process information in five key ways (Bittman, Rutherford, Brown, & Unsworth, 2011) . Understanding the characteristics of students today and designing educational environments and lessons around that understanding will improve instruction and educational experiences to meet the needs of all students. The first central characteristic of students in the 21st century is that they may be digital natives.
When trying to understand the nature of a 21st century student, one concept continues to pervade the literature, the idea of a digital native. A digital native can be defined in many different ways. Some define a digital native by the era of their birth, any time after the advent of the personal computer in the late 1980’s (Shah, 2011). If a student used a Commodore regularly as a child, does that make them a digital native?
Others define them as being “born into a ubiquitous digital media environment” which would only include those born more recently (Bittman et al, 2011, p. 161). However, the general consensus is that a digital native is a child that has grown up with available digital technology tools for use in everyday life.
Therefore, being a digital native does not necessarily depends less upon age and more upon experience with technology, which can depend on socio-economic status, family attitudes, or many other factors (Brown & Czerniewicz, 2010). In fact, schools can themselves create digital natives if they embrace technology and educate students about its use.
Before the advent of digital natives to the classroom, students had little direct knowledge of the wider world. The world expanded for them through the knowledge and experiences that school offered (Prensky, 2008). Reading, writing and basic math were the skills they needed to become productive workers and citizens. Digital natives, however, are no longer satisfied with this definition of education. They have the seen the world, either in person or through access to the Internet, as they have grown up. Digital natives need more than just content knowledge to be digital citizens. This means that it is the job of teachers today to rediscover the meaning of education through the eyes of these digital natives so that they will have the knowledge and skills to have a positive impact on the new digital age. However, the idea of the characteristics of a digital native are in some ways helpful to teachers as they reexamine their educational role and in some ways misleading.
In addition to being possible digital natives, many students today are also well acquainted with technology, hardware, software, and applications. However, in terms of education, this idea can be misleading. While 21st century students may spend more time using certain technologies, like mobile devices, they also may not use them for all possible functions. In short, their knowledge may be wide, but in most cases, it is not deep.
One example of this is texting. 69% of middle school students own a cell phone(Downes & Bishop, 2012). Studentsusethem these mobile devices to stay in constant communication with peers, usually through texting. Although students are communicating, texting does not necessarily improve their communication skills. For example, they may develop poor spelling habits by shortening words while texting frequently. In addition, just because students have the capability to text, that does not mean that they know how to communicate responsibly in a digital environment. In fact, sometimes technology makes it easier to use words against each other as cyberbullying exemplifies. Students need to be taught how to learn using technology and how to use that technology responsibly.
21st century students are used to skimming through information and determining their interest in applications quickly. If educators want to use web tools in the classroom, they should capture the initial attention of the student, daring them to penetrate the surface issues involved. Teachers can guide students to more deeply use technology tools.
Even in an educational environment, students still need technology to be modeled for them for it to make a difference in their learning. Technology does not automatically mean learning. Students need guidance to create patterns of responsible use in order for technology to be appropriate for learning (Bittman et al., 2011)
21st century students do not go to school expecting teachers to impart information to them. They know that they can look up the information on the Internet. “When faced with questions, students today find answers within seconds using Google or other search engines. When they want to acquire a new skill or construct something digitally, they watch a YouTube video to learn it. When requiring further consultation, they tap into an electronic forum or social network that provides them access to myriad others who share their interests” (Downes & Bishop, 2012, p. 7). With information so readily available, students need to learn how to find the best information and practice using the right sources to create a valuable product.
Although technology inspires student creativity at home, the current school system does not allow for the same construction of knowledge at school. This illustrated version of the now famous speech by Sir Ken Robinson illustrates the issues surrounding the lack of creativity at school and what is needed to change this.
21st century students prefer hands on, active learning. They want to create something from their own experience and thereby construct a new understanding of the world. Knowledge is built through making new experiences for 21st century learners, especially when technology is involved.
21st century students learn in community. They share their lives digitally, through technology like texting or social networking, sometimes hourly. They have learned that working together brings about better results than learning something alone.
21st century students do not just find or create knowledge alone; they construct socially. In working together their ideas become valuable not only to the individual but also to the group. Students enjoy trying new skills with other novices, learning from their mistakes and triumphs as a unit. Collaboration is both in the digital world, through technology like chat sessions and shared documents, and in the classroom face to face. These skills are necessary in the new digital age.
In a digital world of blogs, discussion boards, wikis, and YouTube, it is no wonder that students gain the best feedback by sharing work through technology.
21st century students who learn with technology to create a product in collaboration with their peers are highly motivated students. When content or concepts become difficult, they continue to grapple with the material for the sake of the project, seeking assistance from collaborators. In this way, learning is active. Technology, when integrated properly, engages students so that school need not be boring (Prensky, 2008).
Research has shown that engaged students are “attracted to their work, persisting despite challenges and obstacles, and taking visible delight in accomplishing that work” (Downes & Bishop, 2012, p. 7). They are participating in work they find meaningful themselves, not because of external factors, such as a test or a teacher. If students create a product intended for sharing with others, they can find that meaning even if the subject matter is difficult or the process does not happen smoothly.
21st century students are use to the instant feedback that technology supplies. They are motivated by feedback not only from teachers but also from peers. They are also open to self-assessments, reflecting on their own work for personal feedback.
21st century students do not think like their parents did. They do not work in the same way that their parents did. They do not communicate like them. They do not construct knowledge like they did. We should not teach 21st century students like we did their parents. Effective use of technology can change the way we teach the digital natives of the new digital age.
21st Century Students
21 st Century Students Jennifer FargoAmerican InterContinental University Online
21st Century Students Digital Natives Tech Savvy
Texting: Using ≠ Learning Technology in school means: • Learning better skills • Learning responsible use
Use or UselessStudents are web surfersnot digital divers.Technology must:• Be easy to use• Be well organized• Provide quickly understood ideas• Show relevance Photo 3
Technology Is No Substitute for a Teacher Teachers Provide: • Modeling • Guidance • Scaffolding and Timing • Another collaborator
21st Century Students Digital Natives Tech Savvy Creative Constructors
Creativity: Engaged v. Bored“Do SchoolsKill Creativity?” (Abbasi, 2011)The schoolsystem rightnow is notnecessarilybuilt to inspirecreativity. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1KHjKgh3j0
Creative Construction Means… • Using knowledge • Active learning • Making something of value • Sensory learning
21st Century Students Digital Natives Collaborative Tech Learners Savvy Creative Constructors
Collaboration“Working together—through collaborativeproblem solving andsharing ideas—was animportant element ofengagement andlearning” so individualideas gain value andmisconceptions can becorrected.(Downes & Bishop, 2012, p. 10)
• Blogs • Discussion BoardsSharing • Wikis • File Sharing • YouTube • Vimeo • Online role playing games • Facebook • Twitter
21st Century Students Motivated Digital Natives Learners Collaborative Tech Learners Savvy Creative Constructors
Engaged Students• Understand the relevance• Not distracted• Persistent• Enjoyment• Pride in finished product(Downes & Bishop, 2012)
Motivated by Feedback • Rubrics • From teacher • Peer to peer • Self-assessment
Our Responsibility“ ‘Whenever I go to school,’ says onestudent I know, ‘I have to power down.’Hes not just talking about his devices—hes talking about his brain.”(Prensky, 2008, p. 42)
Photo Attributions1. Ian Usher, “Commodore PET” February 15, 2013 via Flicker, Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike2. theirhistory, “We had our races on Wednesday at the field” February 15, 2013 via Flicker, Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike3. CollegeDegrees360, “Confused” February 16, 2013 via Flicker, Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike
ReferencesAbbasi, W. (2011, October 29). How do schools kill creativity [Online video]. RSAnimate. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watchv=A1KHjKgh3j0Bittman, M., Rutherford, L., Brown, J., & Unsworth, L. (2011). Digital natives? New and old media and childrens outcomes. Australian Journal Of Education (ACER Press), 55(2), 161-175.Brown, C. C., & Czerniewicz, L. L. (2010). Debunking the digital native’: beyond digital apartheid, towards digital democracy. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5), 357-369. doi:10.1111/j. 1365-2729.2010.00369.xDownes, J. M., & Bishop, P. (2012). Educators engage digital natives and learn from their experiences with technology. Middle School Journal, 43(5), 6-15.Prensky, M. (2008). Turning on the lights. Educational Leadership, 65(6), 40.Shah, N. (2011, October 24). In search of the other: Decoding digital natives [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://dmlcentral.net/blog/nishant- shah/search- other-decoding-digital-natives