Sunday, June 8, 2008

Digital Divide

In this era of rapid social and technological change, we need to rethink what modern education is and how it relates to the country’s leading position in world economy. As it stands, the education industry, like media, manufacturing, transportation, and other industries, will be “out of business” if led by mediocrity. The NETP, powered by the No Child Left Behind Act, is to “raise expectations and produce results” and thus “turn multiple opportunities for success into reality for our nation’s nearly 50 million student.”

I applaud the U.S. Department of Education’s foresight and determination in shepherding a “systemic change” in education -- especially the 7 Major Action Steps which has laid out a long-term strategical framework. It seems that the USDE has sufficiently realized how vital it is to create a new student-teacher partnership and to eliminate the “digital disconnect” between them. However, it remains a complicated issue on filling the gap between today’s technology-savvy students and their comparatively technology-behind teachers. Simply put, how the educators who are “digital immigrants” teach their students who are “digital natives”?

Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. They represent the first generations to grow up with the new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives. They are, as Marc Prensky designated, “Digital Natives”. The rest of us, who were not born into this digital world but later became fascinated by and adopted the new technology, consist of “Digital Immigrants.”

The serious problem of this in education is, as Prensky asserted, “our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.”

As a matter of fact, most Digital Immigrants like you and I will constantly confront this “Native/Immigrant Divide” when dealing with the young generation. It is not only about the different technology skill level or a generation gap that we have, but also about the difference between our thinking patterns and our languages! You keep asking yourself, what does that mean? Who can be your translator? What on earth do they want?

As it stands, understanding the “digital disconnect” is one thing, but how to handle it is another. There is still a long way to go in terms of “catching-up”. Probably the more urgent question for now is not how the Digital Immigrants teach the Digital Narratives, but who teaches the Digital Immigrants.

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