blogging, connecting online, digital native, education, pairadimes, technology

The digital native, the digital naive, and the digital divide.

I haven’t written too many quotable quotes in my day… but I like this one:

I come from the Batman era, adding items to my utility belt while students today are the Borg from Star Trek, assimilating technology into their lives.

I just wish it was true! The fact is that my utility belt is often lacking…well… utility, and my students are far from being the technological ‘assimilators’ that I believed them to be.

My post’s title came to me after I read this in Dave Maclean’s post:

Interestingly, I am not seeing the tendencies of digital natives that Marc Prensky writes about. In fact, what I am faced with is students with relative apprehension towards blogging.

Students are not the ‘digital natives’ I thought they were. In fact ‘digital immigrants’ are much more the norm (in my Grade 8 class). Now don’t get me wrong, they are savvy in many ways when it comes to technology. Give an avid Gameboy or Xbox user a new game that they know nothing about and they can make it to the second level before I know what all the controls do. Hand them a cell phone and they can text someone before I can figure out how to clear a number I pressed by mistake.

However, little things are coming up that show me that ‘digital natives’ they are not! (For example, simple things like opening a ‘verify your e-mail’ message and thinking that the act of opening it, -without following the embedded link-, is enough to get verification). But this is just a case of being naive… my students have shown me that they are willing to learn, and that is refreshing!

To start off this calendar year, I created a private community here on elgg*, and set up all my students with their own blogs, as well as some community blogs (see more in my last post). But the few technical problems I had on elgg with my last project are now amplified making it impossible to use this platform… don’t get me wrong, I enjoy working with this elgg blog, but the computer lab I use with my students at school uses either Netscape or Explorer with Mac os9, and the combination is nothing short of brutal! So I adapted. After 2 days of getting everyone set up on elgg and trying to make the best of a bad situation, I stayed up most of the night and figured out how to get everyone a private blog on Google’s Blogger, (here is a step-by-step Powerpoint). BUT… Blogger was not in my utility belt when I started this. As a result I have hit a few school crossing zones on the internet highway.

First I realized, as I started accepting e-mail invites to view my student blogs, that every student is now going to have to invite every other student to see/comment on their blog. I have a Social space for both classes to converge so that means almost 60 e-mail invites that each student must accept. The invite itself is easy, I just have to e-mail the list to each student (the same addresses in the To: box as in the body of the e-mail), but accepting invites will be a tedious step that I didn’t need at elgg.

Then, I just found out that I can’t RSS private blog feeds on Blogger- not even to Google Reader. So now I will have to make the blogs public. Not a big deal except that I was holding off on my letter home to parents about the blog until I had it up and running, and I felt comfortable inviting them to read the class blogs and their child’s blog… but if I am gong to have grade 8’s posting comments ‘out in the open’ parents should be informed in advance.

And here is the clincher… I have spent HOURS playing with these technological tools in the last couple weeks, and very little time on the new Science curriculum. There are two digital divides here preventing me from effectively using technology in the classroom. These divides are the gaps between:

1. What I know and what I need to know.

2. What the school has in the way of technology and what it needs to have.

In a way, these will always be struggles that we are faced with… but there is a bright side. I think that with open source software and friendlier and friendlier user interfaces we will see the divide narrow. Case(s) in point: Computers won’t need to be bogged down with expensive applications, and we won’t have to settle for outdated browsers when we can upgrade them with free open source applications. Cut-and-paste HTMLAnd, I needed some knowledge of html (a slow learning process for me) to move things around and add items in the right column of this elgg page, whereas all I had to do was cut-and-paste some code to do the same thing with Blogger. So the gap is narrowing, and it is becoming easier to be more efficient and effective with our integration of technology: This is a good thing, that we are slowly moving towards. So what are the missing ingredients to speed this up? Professional Development, and mentorship come to mind… so does asking for help.

Well it is past midnight and I have to draft a note to parents…

Are students today digital natives? I would say only a select few that have chosen to be so (out of interest in what technology has to offer as opposed to a birthright of a generation).

Am I digitally naive? Yes, I need more guidance than I have asked for. With this last attempt at blogging with students I know that I have re-invented the stone wheel and there are tons of rubber wheels spinning down the web highway. Many students are also digitally naive, and we have an obligation to help them get ‘good wheels’ too.

Is there a digital divide? Yes, there are at least two that are relevant to teachers in the Western World, but these are getting smaller!

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ps. I think that my kids may be the first truly digital natives: My 4 year old after getting a Webkinz stuffed animal for Christmas, “Now I get to go on Webkinz-dot-com!”

Originally posted: January 15th, 2006

Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:

*elgg – My blog was originally hosted on, then the address was changed to I moved to because eduspaces was going to be moved again… Although that is no longer the case (right now), I am glad that I have made the permanent change!

I’ve added the comments on my original post into the first comment below.

I won’t get any further into the digital immigrant/native discussion here, as I come back to this topic and the batman/borg analogy many more times in the coming year.

What I will address is how blogging/open source/web2.0 tools have gotten much easier and friendlier to use in just 15 months since originally posting this. I can laugh now at my poor strategy for connecting blogs, when all I would have to do today is have one subscription to each blog on Google Reader, tag them and share them.

Although things are getting easier, we still need to be patient with newcomers to the digital frontier. As I begin hosting my blog, I sometimes feel totally lost when trying something new. That same feeling can be overwhelming, just cutting and pasting some html code, for someone doing it for the first time. It can be like being taught the algorithm in Math, without any conceptual idea of what is going on… veer one half-step away from the instructed path, or reach one fork-in-the-road, or circumstance where something needs to be altered and the whole thing gets both confusing and frustrating. We need to ‘expose’ people to new technology gently and be aware that comfort levels are dramatically different.. but more on that later. 🙂

3 comments on “The digital native, the digital naive, and the digital divide.

  1. Comments from my original post:

    – – – – –

    Hi David

    It’s Kevin again.

    Thanks for the reflection here. It is helpful to learn from someone going through the experience. I, too, want to use Elgg for a big project that connects middle school kids but I wasn’t ready to jump ship from our old platform and I don’t think Blogger is right, either. I was trying to get the link to your PP on how you set up Blogger accounts but the link didn’t work for me (maybe I am outside this Elgg?).

    Anyway, not to cheer on your misery, but I just wanted you to know that it was helpful to me to read your thoughts as I consider some of the same moves. And I am curious how Blogger will work for you.

    Best of luck,

    Keven on Monday, 15 January 2007, 12:17 CET

    – – – – –

    Hi David,

    Interesting insights to the difficulties that one can face as we try to navigate the technology highways while still trying to uphold the various policies that we are bound to follow. I have set up a class on Blogmeister and am now beginning to see how this will work for our needs. It is a closed community and I get to monitor all the blog comments and submissions. Oh Yeah!! If you check out you will be able to see how my adventure unfolds. It is good to know that, like myself, things just don’t “work” despite what I’ve read on other blogs. There is much planning, backtracking and recalibrating that goes into using these tools that no one seems to be talking about. Thanks for breaking the silence!


    Kelly Christopherson on Monday, 15 January 2007, 16:47 CET

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    Keven & Kelly, Thanks for commenting (again)!

    I will be sure to visit your sites, (and let you know that I came with a comment), after school today.

    Cheers, Dave.

    Dave Truss on Monday, 15 January 2007, 22:33 CET

    – – – – –
    4. The best laid plans of mice and men….

    I will be checking in on your project to see how you are adjusting to the needs of your students. I too am working a similar system so we can struggle and succeed together.

    Dave Maclean on Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 22:14 CET

    – – – – –

    Hi david,

    I’ve added a link to this post to the
    digital natives / immigrants critique page on the learning evolves wiki.

    Your Batman / Borg slogan is great!

    Bill Kerr on Saturday, 03 February 2007, 12:49 CET

Comments are closed.