What does it mean to be digitally native?
We do a lot of work on the assumption that the wider use of ‘e-learning’ or ‘learning technology’ is necessarily a good thing. This of course needs some explication and justification. Our founding claim is that learning, teaching and research (LTR) can be significantly enhanced with the application of appropriate digital and online technologies by staff and students for whom those technologies are self-evidently obvious and natural.
LTR activities are usually collaborative. The use of technologies within such collaborative activities requires that the various partners are comfortable and capable with the tools used. Each collaborator can be skilled to a varying extent, with some super-users leading the way. But experience shows that the more widely the skills are spread, the better the uptake of the technology, and the more effective it is in enhancing the activity.
The concept of ‘digitally native’ is useful. My conjecture is that the more people who are ‘digitally native’ the more effective the technologies can be in enhancing these collaborative activities. Steve Carpenter (Sciences E-learning Advisor) introduced me to the term ‘digital native’, and its antithesis ‘digital immigrant’. The terms, it seems, were invented by Marc Prensky (CEO of Games2Train and author of Digital Game-Based Learning). You can read more in his article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants in which he makes the more dramatic claim that there is a mismatch between digital native students and the digital immigrants who teach them. I’m not going to assess this claim. Rather, I want to give a more explicit definition of what it means to be digitally native, as a means to outline a vision of where I think the university should be in five years time.
What qualifies someone as being ‘digitally native’? A simple set of skills, employing the best available technologies. The digital native does the following:
- produce and store quality content (text, images, audio, video, diagrams, databases etc), with consideration of its presentation online;
- share content online, in an appropriate location and with appropriate security constraints (considering legal, moral and inter-personal issues);
- where responsible, maintain, update and remove content;
- structure the relations between content items;
- classify and describe content to make it more meaningful and useful;
- locate, assess and use shared content;
- edit and extend, comment upon, filter, and recommend to others;
- record and reflect upon their own work and that of others as represented by their online activities;
- create,define and manage networks of other online people;
- build up an electronic portfolio and profile;
- present samples of online work;
- reflect upon this work, in collaboration with others, so as to identify strengths, weaknesses, and actions for improvement (informally, or formally as peer review).
My assessment of the Arts Faculty at Warwick is that it is edging slowly towards being digitally native, but progress is slow, and in some areas non-existent. This pace is surprising, considering the technologies and services that are available. We have a reliable and increasingly extensive web architecture (Sitebuilder, Forums, Blogs), which is well supported and increasingly ubiquitous. There are also many isolated examples of successful technology enhancement of learning, teaching and research. But these remain isolated. Prensky would argue that the big blocker to a digitally native university is that the majority of the people who do the teaching and set examples to be followed are in fact digital immigrants.