We’re all ‘digital natives’

Jane Basnett

Jane Basnett is head of MFL at Downe House, a successful Independent Girls School in Berkshire. She has been teaching for almost 20 years and is still learning. She achieved an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching at Nottingham University.

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Website: janeebasnett.blogspot.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I am a Head of Modern Languages, leading a large department. I use technology in my everyday teaching and I am an MIEExpert. That said, I do not claim to be some kind of guru who knows all the answers on how we can thoroughly prepare our students in 21st Century Learning Skills. And I’m not about to overload you with research. What follows is an opinion piece backed up only with evidence from my own experience.

I can tell you that I don’t subscribe to this ‘digital native, digital immigrant’ scenario often propounded on social media. We’re all ‘digital natives’ at anything we use a lot just as we’re ‘immigrants’ when it comes to other tools. To clarify, I would consider myself a ‘native’ when it comes to using Flipgrid, whereas my daughter wouldn’t know where to start. Conversely, she tells me I’m useless at Snapchat (and that’s fine by me).

So what about these 21st Century Learning Skills ? A quick google of the expression gives me the following list:

  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Information literacy
  • Media literacy
  • Technology literacy
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Initiative
  • Productivity
  • Social skills

(Taken from https://www.aeseducation.com/career-readiness/what-are-21st-century-skills)

Well, it strikes me that my ability to write this article right here, sitting in a beautiful garden, surrounded by vineyards and orchards where kiwis grow prodigiously, next to a pool, on my phone, is an excellent sign that I am already adapting well to this New Age of existing and working. I have been flexible in my approach.

Of course my flexibility in this instance has been borne of necessity and does not really demonstrate any great skill, but you get the idea. Sometimes our students will need to adapt in ways that they might not want to and what we do in our classroom can enable them to build resilience in this respect. Thinking back to Snapchat I can see that I’ve learnt something from using it and perhaps I can take that with me to some other tool.

Some of the skills listed are no different to those that we have always expected of our learners. Communication, collaboration, initiative, even information literacy to name but a few. However, now we have to consider how technology plays a part in all of this and what we do in our classrooms is key. ’Twas ever thus.

digital native

Take collaboration. Never has this been easier. In my recent experience using Microsoft’s Suite of tools on our Surface Pros, my students, in year 7, have been able to work in different ways on the same page to produce an artefact. They have been dependent on one another and yet they have worked independently. They have communicated face to face, or via online chat and they have been creative embedding videos, Sways, or soundfiles. Although I have just finished a quarter of a century of teaching, this has been a new way of working for me. It has been my first year of teaching a whole class equipped with the same technological device. We have all had to be flexible and whilst I would say that I have provided the lion's share of guidance and leading, I have also learned from my students. I have loved their initiative.

Our shared experience over this past year has confirmed my belief that the “digital native”, “digital immigrant” divide purported by Marc Prensky (you can read more on these terms here), is not necessarily as simple as Prensky makes out. Some of my students have demonstrated their ease when managing and adapting to different technologies. They have had a certain ease around the tools we have used and could be deemed to be technologically literate. Others have benefitted from guidance given both by me and by their peers.

digital native 4

Setting up my lessons so that the students have to move easily between tools has been an integral part of this learning process. Our Class Notebook has been the perfect place to manage this element of 21st Century Learning Skills. Via links, I have led my students to different tools where they have drilled, practised, applied and created and they have followed willingly rather like the days of yore when we flipped between textbooks, worksheets and exercise books. Via these links, my students have developed their linguistic skills and have become proficient manipulators of the tools available on the Internet. Crucially they have all learnt to evaluate these tools so that they are using the right tool for the right job.

The requisite skills for our students are not so different from the ones they have always needed, it is just the tools that we, as teachers, will use and the mindset we have that must differ. Sticking with the “native” versus “immigrant” terms, we need to be, in fact, digital explorers ones who like to investigate and who are not scared of trying things differently. This sense of adventure, in my opinion, is key if we, as teachers, are to lead our charges to success in the 21st Century.

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