The Life of a Wannabe Academic

Detail of the life a new academic. The progress from graduate training to professor. Includes reflections on the job hunting process, research in technology and education, and what it is like to be a new college professor.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Digital Natives v. The Faculty

I work in a college where everyone is issued their own laptop computer. I learned today that we are on a four year cycle for upgrades. For me I am a lucky one and I got a new Gateway. But with new computers comes new software. No the college has not switched to Vista, not yet. But we do have Office 2007. If you are familiar with Office 2007 you know that the interface is vastly different than the previous versions of office. This difference was brought up today in a faculty meeting.

A faculty member asked if there was to be a workshop in using the new Office. His concern being that the version of office on his computer (2003) and the version on his freshman's computer (2007) were so different that he did not feel that he could adequately address any problems. A legitimate concern. However, another faculty member spoke up and stated that in her class the assignment given to make a document, save it as a certain file type, name it a certain way and attach as an e-mail, that not one of her students had any issue with the newer software.

This reminded me of a term used in educational technology fields of "Digital Natives" (see Prensky's writing:,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf). This is the issue of the students who are arriving in schools today have grown up with technology and working with technology. They are native to the way it works and also prefer to learn by doing.

An example....When I got my new computer with Office 2007 it took me the better part of an hour just figuring out how to print from a specific printer and to save as a different file format. The tool bar so well known to Word users is completely reinvented. I had to relearn where everything was located. I am probably what would be considered a digital native even though we did not have a computer right when I was born. But I believe it was early enough to warrant myself being called a native. Others might call me a digital immigrant. I still prefer to read from real paper and to hold a book in my hand rather than off of a computer screen.

But others who might be of an older generation are not used to the dynamic means of learning new technologies. They may be more apt to want to learn from a book or in a orderly linear fashion (hence having a workshop on Word 2007). Digital natives would be more likely to learn just by doing and playing around with the program until they figured it out. Why waste precious time reading the owners manual...the technology will soon change anyway, so just learn by using it.

Anyway, I'm not sure how much stock I put into the Digital Natives vs Digital Immigrants. I think that some of the characteristics of immigrants (such as printing off e-mails) have something to do with physical comfort (it's hard to read a lot on a computer screen). But you do have to admit that kids today are very good at learning how to use new technologies with little outside help.


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