Teaching Digital Natives


So many educators, while loaded with expertise, knowledge,
professionalism, and dedication to their calling, are frustrated
when it comes to connecting with their students in real and
meaningful ways because technology has in essence rewired their
students’ brains. This digital divide is a generational issue
that’s arisen essentially unforeseen out of the technological age
we live in–and it holds implications for our children’s

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For those of us navigating the church halls every week seeking to
equip our kids with a relational knowledge of God, it’s more
important than ever to open our minds–and hearts–to the reality
of kids’ unique wiring and capabilities. Even if we ourselves don’t
navigate emerging technology with the casual dexterity our kids do,
we can learn to become interlopers in their world. A mere
willingness and openness to learn, to try, to adapt will help us
avoid the “power down” effect with the kids we minister to.

Here’s what you need to know.

Meet the Natives

Educational researchers and learning experts such as Marc Prensky
(Teaching Digital Natives), Don Tapscott (Grown Up
), and Josh Spear (Undercurrent.com) have
addressed the issue of a digital divide in education, opening
compelling and fascinating conversation among educators at all

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Prensky coined the term “digital natives” in a 2001 article,
“Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” Prensky’s digital natives
are “a new breed of student entering educational
establishments”–in other words, today’s children. They’re children
to whom a digital world is indigenous and completely natural. They
were born into an existence where technology evolves at an
ever-increasing rate. They interface with one another and with
their world through digital means.

Conversely, Prensky defines “digital immigrants” as those who
weren’t necessarily born into a digital existence but who must
adapt and assimilate to function in such a world. A digital
immigrant is someone who isn’t digital by nature; for instance, one
who steadfastly prints hard copies of emails or calls to ensure an
email has been received.

Other experts agree with Prensky. Tapscott outlines eight
characteristics of today’s youth in what he calls the Net
Generation Norms. Here’s a summary of Tapscott’s Norms–as applied
to children.

• They expect freedom in everything they do.
“Choice is like oxygen to them,” notes Tim Windsor, author of the
blog Zero Percent Idle. “While older generations feel overwhelmed
by the proliferation of sales channels, product types, and brands,
[digital natives]take it for granted. [Digital natives] leverage
technology to cut through the clutter to find the marketing message
that fits their need.”

• They enjoy customizing and personalizing. Kids
can change the media world they live in–customizing everything
from their ring tones to online content they’re creating.

• They scrutinize by nature. Kids expect a
plethora of online information, and as they age their online forays
will only expand. They’re by nature intense scrutinizers of
whatever they see online, continually assessing, reviewing, and
ultimately expecting more from any provider of online content,
resources, or products.

• They seek integrity and openness. As they
efficiently navigate and scrutinize organizations and products,
kids are also using technology to discern whether the values they
find match theirs–whether consciously or subconsciously. With
ready access to candid reviews by the opinionated masses, there’s
little that organizations can effectively hide from consumers about
their products, services, and integrity.


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