Thursday, September 9, 2010

Think you’re a Digital Immigrant? Get Over It!

“What you ought to be learning at school is that you don't need to be taught in order to learn.”

Peter Kent, reminds us of this quote from Seymour Papert as he confronts educators afflicted with what he calls Learned Helplessness. He describes this affliction as a flawed mindset that insists on Professional Development before integrating technology. He explains that “this is not how we were born. As children we all learnt to play with our toy, draw with our crayons, and as we learnt we made mistakes. We did this through experimentation. It is how we were born to acquire skills, to learn.”

He asks, “How is it now that so many adults are reduced to tears when confronted by an unfamiliar technology?” and answers that, “We have learned to become helpless; most likely by playing the traditional game of ‘school’.” He laments that this not quite what Papert was after.

Meanwhile over at the My Island View blog in his post Short Term Learner, Tom Whitby my white-haired friend who always has a smile and usually a tropical shirt, shares that the term Lifelong Learner applies to him. He goes on to explain the thing that makes the learning fun and easy is the technology. While he admits he is not always comfortable with it, he does not fear it. He shares this because the reasons he’s most often given by others for educators not embracing technology is that educators are fearful of it, or they are not comfortable with it.

I share Tom and Peter’s experience in my own role where I support teachers in using new technologies. Our evaluations through PD surveys, conversations, and focus groups indicate that teachers feel they don’t use technology because they don’t have enough training. These teachers are often self-classified as what Marc Prensky has coined as “Digital Immigrants” or those not born into a digital world of their students who are “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.

Both Kent and Whitby have a message for the self-proclaimed, helpless digital immigrants which is:

Get over it!

Kent questions these teachers in the following excerpt from Learned Helplessness

Proud to be a Digital Immigrant ???????????

I don’t really subscribe to the digital immigrant / digital native thing, it was an interesting observation at the time, but that is all. For me ‘Learned Helplessness’ is the attitude that many of the self-described ‘digital immigrants’ adopt. It still surprises me to this day when I hear teachers bleat out with a certain sort of pride that they are a ‘digital immigrant’. To me they are saying that they have learned to be helpless, and they are proud of that.

It is unreasonable to expect that all teachers and school leaders will have a deep understanding of ICT and its potential. If they don’t it is not something to be proud of, and it is a situation that they need to address as a matter of urgency.


Kent advises the reality is that if you want to be a great teacher, you in fact should not to go to PD. Tom Whitby expands upon this concept explaining that educators must take ownership of their learning rather than waiting for/relying on others to provide it. He does this through the development of his Personal Learning Network which he shares had nothing to do with being a digital Native, because he is not.

He challenges those self-proclaimed digital immigrant teachers who can sometimes be heard saying, “A good teacher can be just as effective without technology.” and asks, “but why?” Explaining that technology is but a tool for educators and students to use. The skills remain the same no matter what the tool. Teachers do not need to be technology experts to allow students to use it to retrieve information, collaborate, create, and communicate. (This is what Prensky addresses in his new book Teaching Digital Natives - Partnering for Real Learning). That is what will be required of them in their world. While educators debate and control technology as a tool, business and industry are embracing it. Technology continues to advance and many educators are not even familiar with what possibilities are available. If technology requires a new form of literacy, many of our educators are illiterate.

Whitby advises educators hesitant to use the modern tools of today, to stop relying on others and take ownership of their learning and suggests this can be done through developing a personal learning network. He elaborates in this excerpt from his post.

A PLN allows people to explore and collaborate on whatever it is they determine as a need to know. A PLN is not exclusive to educators. They can have: Boat builders connected to boat builders, doctors connected to doctors, educators connected to educators, learners connected to learners. People can choose their direction and go down that road as far as they need to go. A PLN enables a person to control her or his learning. A PLN is a digital tool for learning. We can use it to model the very thing that we strive to teach our students. A PLN is not learned, as much as experienced. A PLN enables us to continue our path to Lifelong Learning.


As we enter into the next decade of the 21st century, it seems we have turned a bit of a corner. There is less tolerance for educators who do not believe it is their responsibility to move their teaching out of the past. Those stuck in the past... those who are not developing their own personal learning networks... those not taking ownership for their learning... are doing a great disservice to our students and themselves. In the words of leadership expert Jim Collins, these are the people that those who care about student success may want to advise to just get off the bus.
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