When I realized I was a technology immigrant trying to learn Technology As A Second Language℠ (see previous blog TSL℠: Do You Speak It?), I hadn’t yet read Marc Prensky’s two amazing articles, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and Do They Really Think Differently? Part II.
Turns out we are on the same wavelength. In 2001, Prensky had already defined digital natives as those who have grown up with technology and digital immigrants as those who did not. While my focus has been on how to educate digital immigrants, his focus has been on how to educate digital natives.
According to Prensky, what makes this digital immigrants/digital natives situation unique is that while traditional immigrants learn the prevailing culture from natives, in education the situation is reversed. Digital immigrants are trying to teach digital natives how to succeed in an increasingly digital world, one that students have a better grasp of than teachers. Prensky believes that this is “the single biggest problem facing education today.”
There is only a slim, slow chance of solving this problem if digital immigrants continue to obsess about “negative” effects of technology. Steven Pinker describes the hysteria:
Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of “you are what you eat.” As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, they assume that watching quick cuts in rock videos turns your mental life into quick cuts or that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.
Even if this were true, we would still have to deal with it. If we are going to help next generations, we need to stop wasting time lamenting basic truths:
- Technology has changed everything and will continue to do so.
- Using technology rewires the brain and changes the way people think just as driving cars and working in offices changed the brains and thinking of people who rode in buggies and farmed.
- Technology means we don’t have to remember as much information as we used to.
Prensky accepts these premises. In his 2014 article, The World Needs a New Curriculum, he explains that the core subjects, math, science, language arts, and history are just “proxies” for teaching what most agree is needed to succeed such as informed thinking, acting, and communicating. We expect students to learn the latter even though they are rarely taught directly.
According to Prensky, modern times require flipping the curriculum to teach what we value most upfront, using subject matter where it fits. He proposes four basic subjects: Effective Thinking such as critical thinking, mathematical thinking, design thinking, and problem solving. Effective Actions such as mindset, grit, and entrepreneurship. Effective Relationships such as communication, collaboration, ethics, and politics. And, Effective Accomplishment which requires students to work on real-world projects. Technology is included as digital natives include it–integrated into whatever is happening.
Prensky doesn’t have all the answers, but his proposals change the focus of the reforming education conversation from how to use technology to teach to how to teach the meaningful thinking that will help students navigate the challenges of a technology world. I think he’s on the right track.