Last semester I took EC&I 830 through the U of R that discussed the issues surrounding computers (and essentially technology) in the classroom. One of our topics of discussion was the “Digital Divide”. According to Wikipedia, the digital divide “is an economic inequality between groups, broadly construed, in terms of access to, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technologies (ICT)”. For example: Internet access for first world countries vs third world countries. And within that division there is also a division of the people who have access to the internet: Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. I am a Digital Immigrant – I had to learn about computers as they were introduced to the home. My children, on the other hand, are Digital Natives. They were born with the internet, computer and devices in the house. Kati Lepei, a journalist who writes for Edudemic, explains what and who these people are in her article: The Differences Between Digital Natives And Digital Immigrants.
However, Holly Clark, another journalist for Edudemic, proposes that their is a new digital divide on the horizon. In her article, Do Your Students Know How To Search? Clark suggests that the divide is no longer “who has access” and “who doesn’t have”, it has morphed into more of a “who knows how to find the information” and “who doesn’t”. It is very often assumed by Digital Immigrants (mainly Teachers) that their Digital Natives (their students) know how to use the internet and access information because they were born with it at their fingertips. However, we were all born with access to bicycles, but I sure didn’t know how to ride one the first time I tried. I needed guidance from my parents and friends to learn. I think the same can be said for our “Digital Natives”. But the analogy ends here.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by dadblunders: http://flickr.com/photos/sahdblunders/8644936719/
Riding a bike was scary at first. Their was always that fear of falling and hurting ourselves. Our parents gentle encouragements and the bike “seat belt” that was Mom or Dad’s hand on the back of the seat are what kept us trying to master the two wheeler of freedom. The major difference between learning to ride a bike and learning the internet is that students don’t have the fear of technology that we teachers (and parents) have. Kids dive in, learn and eventually comprehend better then most parents ever will. However, what kids “learn” on their own might not be the best way to find information. Don’t get me wrong, I love that kids take a lot more risks when it comes to learning new technologies, apps and web tools, but I also see how they don’t understand what they are doing on the web.
One of the biggest misuses of the Internet for students in my school is Google Images. Students think that, because it is on the web, it is free for them to use. And, when speaking with teachers, they too are of the same mindset: as long as it is on Google Images and the students “cite” where they go their work, then they can use it. When I mention Creative Commons licencing, they shake their heads and have no idea what that means.
Another major misunderstanding of a great internet-based tool that comes up is Google Translate. This week, I was working with a group of Grade 5 French Immersion students. One asked how to say “death penalty” in French. Well, as it happens, death penalty is not in my daily French repertoire. I asked the student to open Google Translate and see what it says. Their was a collective gasp from the group “But Madame! Google Translate is bad! We’re not allowed to use it!”. This response didn’t surprise me, but it does irritate me. I gently explained that Google Translate is only bad when you get lazy and only want to write in English and then translate into French without reviewing how it was translated. When you need a word, or difficult phrase, Google Translate is an amazing tool. We looked up death penalty and world didn’t come crashing down on us!
If you still have students that use Google Translate to translate word for word all written assignments, share this video with them. It shows how Google Translate isn’t perfect and it’s easy to tell.
I sometimes feel sorry for the first digital native generation. They are having to cope with the teachings of those who are still digital immigrants with a fear of the internet and an ignorance of learning how the internet should be used. Although my colleagues call me the tech geek, I openly admit that I too am still learning how to navigate the internet properly. I agree with Clark that there is a new digital divide, but before we jump to “who knows how to search for the best information” and “who doesn’t know how”, I think the divide is more likely “those who know how to use the internet properly” and “those who are still learning”.