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Friday, September 9, 2011

Born Digital: Book Review

During the summer, I had a chance to read Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (Palfrey & Gasser). This book is highly reflective of some of the challenges and tribulations facing the education system today. How we manage the transition to an ever-changing and digitized society will play out first and foremost within school walls.

The influx of online and high-tech tools to purvey lasting and effective educational strategy are unfolding in front of our eyes; yet, there are many reasons why we are apprehensive towards these new possibilities. Palfrey & Gasser focus on “how to balance caution with encouragement,” as pivotal in our pathway to understanding and establishing a common point on which learning can take place without compromising aspects of security, individuality and privacy. This question is monumental when you frame the degree of trust needed in students building their own skills and discovering their technological talents as a tightrope walk between protection and proliferation. How do we allow students to form their own conclusions and insights in their online world without abandoning our policies concerning their safety and our current role as stakeholders in their learning?

While many people view online social networks as timewasting and unimportant in the context of learning; Born Digital tells us that these networks allow participants to learn what it means to be friends, to develop identities, to experiment with status, and to interpret social cues. The juxtaposition created by allowing adults (coming from a human and “social” world) to develop online and technology policies in education for students that have been born into this digital and “e-social” world is obvious. How can we make the leap to a place we hear but cannot yet listen to? It’s like staring into one of those pictures for a long period of time waiting to see the actual picture emerge – trying not to blink and allow anything to break your concentration – but all the while not sure what it is you’re expecting to see. We may need blind faith in our students (at times) and the courage to try (ourselves) – by not suppressing their creativity and needs because they don’t seem to match our traditional policies of academic progress.

Many students experiment and learn identity play, an important part of the development or therapeutic stage in overall identity development, through the use of online learning environments and social networks. Our students are learning what it means to act a certain way in certain situations. How they respond to people on Facebook is different than how they project themselves in our school hallways. Digital natives think of their identity as context-specific, and therefore, are building social skills around recognizing cues and behaving appropriately on an individual and needs-specific basis.

Palfrey & Gasser caution us that, “in the digital world, people trade convenience for control all the time.” We should not be willing to sell ourselves and our interests for commercial purposes just because we want an app for our phone or feel the need to belong to online forums or friend groups. Students indeed need to learn limitations and be cautioned about their online identities before they get away from them. One example given in Born Digital is that we should be teaching kids about asterisks in online forms and what “denotes required field” actually means. Controlling the amount and kind of information given to online sites and companies should be an explicitly taught topic; yet, many of us don’t realize the significance and weight of that digital skill.

The world today is raising different-minded people. The shift from CONSUMERS TO CREATORS has been made possible through the influx of UGC (user-generated content). Our students are immersed in a world that allows them to be an active participant in the media that surrounds them. We need to cultivate places of learning that beg for their input and depend on their direction. Our students will show us the picture from inside the picture.

“If Digital Natives engage more critically with the cultures in which they are growing up, they stand a chance to remake those cultures in unprecedented ways.”

Whether it’s through the use of web 2.0 technologies in your classroom practice or a shift towards e-learning opportunities for our students to better meet their individual needs and situations, we are making the right decisions in beginning this journey.

Our role should not be to provide the vision of tomorrow’s education – it should be to finally recognize that it is our students who simply need to share it. Once we recognize that learning is through the individual lens; we can begin to shift our focus to more individual means of delivering education. The road ahead is promising and exciting…

For more information about this book, check out:


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