digital natives debate

Bennett and Maton begin their article by discussing the uses of different technology – and the different ways in which prep-school children will interact with it, as compared with university students. They say, for example, that university students will a) be able to complete the necessary tasks; and b) be inexpensive. (I would tend to add that uni students will look for technology that they are comfortable with, as well as something ‘cool’. Uni students will buy an iPhone over a Samsung because their friends have iPhones and they already have an Apple product – sometimes even if the Samsung is cheaper.) Prep-school students, meanwhile, will use the technology available to them, and model their technology use after their family and friends; if their family uses their computer for work, the child will use the computer for homework. (I disagree with this point, although in theory it should be correct. Parents will, now, encourage their child to go on the computer when they are complaining of boredom, replacing television, books or games. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a fact of changing times. When I was 12 – in 2003 – I watched a lot of TV or read books; my brother is 12 now and he sits on the computer or his iPod.)

The following segment of the Bennett and Maton article goes on to discuss the ways in which students – of all ages – use technology. After quoting a lot of studies that show how young children use technology, and again with university students, the authors come across some none-too-amazing conclusions. One is that younger children at school are more varied – economically and socially – than university students. The other is that “there is significant variation in the ways in which young people use technology, suggesting that rather than being a homogenous generation, there is a diversity of interests, motivations and needs.”

Neither of the above two pieces of information were, I believe, necessary to mention in such detail in the article. The former, simply due to the fact that school education is compulsory for all children until the end of Year 10. When all children from the ages of four to 15 are made by law to go to school, of course there is going to be a large discrepancy between students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, just as there is between every family. University is an active choice, made to further education in a specific field. This decision process can include the question of available or future funds, and whether study can therefore be afforded or justified. Therefore, students will tend to be in a higher income bracket than those who do not go to university. (This, obviously, does not preclude all lower-income students from going to university, nor does it assume that all those of a higher income will go to tertiary education.) The latter point, regarding homogeneity (or its lack thereof) in students, is an obvious fact; the authors would likely not expect homogeneity between themselves and their next-door neighbours, or their colleagues. Why homogeneity could or would be expected between students is therefore perplexing.

The authors then use these two pieces of information to build the argument that since not all students use technology in the same ways, they may not be able to learn the same things simply by its use. I am not quite sure if what the authors are trying to say is that is it therefore unnecessary to teach students with new technology, or if it is a balancing act between the traditional and the new. I would hope that they mean for the latter, as technology is only ever on the increase, and ignoring it can only hinder the students’ education, especially when it comes to their departure from school into the outside world.

To conclude, the authors looked over all the studies that had been mentioned in their article, and called them part of “the growing body of evidence that simultaneously refutes the simple notion of

the ‘digital native’ and highlights the complexities of young people’s technology experiences.” As a conclusion, this highlights the major problem I had with the article: it argues nothing. They say that one study shows that university students are not homogenous, but another shows that they are more homogenous than younger school students and/or the outside world. They say that children use technology differently to each other, but that as a whole they use technology differently to adults. While these claims are not contradictory as such, they are not particularly useful to anyone who wishes to greater understand the topic. The article argues neither for nor against, but sums up seemingly disjointed pieces of information and expects the reader to take from that what they will. And in the end, the article says that more research should be undertaken to further understand the topic, with no suggestion or reiteration of, in the authors’ view, how technology should be integrated into the classroom.

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