On Tuesday evening, I participated in our group Skype chat which was focused on the notion of digital natives and digital immigrants.
It was a big conversation in many ways, not least because there were nine participants*, including Sian. Towards the start of the conversation, Karen, commentating on just how many of us were involved, asked if there was a collective noun for such a large Skype chat and Sian suggested a very apt epithet.
What followed was indeed a jabber. The conversation was multi-threaded and pacey. Some contributions were picked up and responded to, others were not: ideas disappeared into the stream of interaction, unacknowledged and lost. Dialogues weaved through broader conversations and some voices were lost in the babble.
One of the features of Skype is the alert which tells you who is typing. I found that this discouraged me from offering my views at times as I could see that there were already a number of people preparing their contributions for the thread. It was useful that Sian had laid out some ground rules in advance, thereby helping us to set our expectations about the frenetic and frantic nature of the conversation. This ensured that I didn’t feel anxious about the disjointed and hectic threads:
A number of key issues around the digital native/immigrant dichotomy were discussed. Firstly, Sian asked us to consider why the terminology persisted. Paul and Sai offered a concise rationale for the terminology’s refusal to die:
We went on to explore the problematic nature of using colonial metaphors and the fact that, if we are to engage with and critique the simplistic binary we have no choice but to use the terms.
The conversation moved on to exploring what other factors, other than Prensky’s reductive argument about age, might impact on whether we could be termed ‘native’ and some interesting points were made. Stig posited the notion that our ability to manage technological breakdowns defines the divide:
We explored who benefits from the embedding of the native/immigrant distinction. Both Joy and I have experienced teachers using the supposed divide as a way of abdicating responsibility, a way of avoiding trying to use technologies in teaching and learning:
The discussion broadened to consider the benefits and disadvantages of using technologies. As a technophile, I was surprised by some of the stances which my peers have adopted to technology. Stig, for example, is considering banning laptops from his lectures. Currently – and I’m sure that this will change as the course progresses and my understanding deepens – my stance is that we should, as educators, be inculcating good practice in using the medium rather than not allowing it to be used. Personally, I would be at a loss in Stig’s lectures as I don’t use paper and pens any longer: I rely on my iPad for note-taking. Sian pointed us towards a thought-provoking article about a ‘no-tech’ school and Joy mentioned a book ‘Toxic Childhood’ which also, in part, criticises the pervasive nature of technology within children’s lives. The notion of ‘solutionism’ was posited by Sian as a useful concept to explore when considering these arguments. Morozov claims that many of the problems for which we strive to find technological solutions might not require solutions as they might not, really, be problems. If we apply this line of thought to our examination of the introduction of technologies into schools, we might be advised to consider whether we are engaged in the folly of solutioneering where no solution is really required.
Some of the papers were discussed in a little more detail too, particularly Helsper and Eynon’s distinction between ‘being’ and ‘doing’; there was general consensus that this particular binary was helpful as it acknowledged the possibility of acquiring what Paul termed ‘digital citizenship’ rather than excluding on the basis of age alone.
The last part of our discussion explored how to define what ‘nativeness’ is. Many of the definitions were considered reductive and Sian suggested that we shouldn’t perhaps, be trying to nuance – and thereby give life to – such a problematic term.
With regards to the dynamics of the conversation, Stig made some challenging and at times provocative points and it was interesting to see how the group managed this. Some of us quietened and some of us aimed to diffuse using humour. We also allowed Sian to step in as tutor to manage this:
Looking over the transcripts from others conversations, it’s interesting to see other dynamics at play. The Monday afternoon conversation, which had just four participants, was a more sociable conversation where the participants reflected on their technology use in less theoretical and more personal terms. The Tuesday afternoon conversation was focused on the readings but, with fewer (six) participants, the threads seem more coherent. What was also interesting was how the participants in this group supported one another in developing their knowledge and understanding of the tool (Skype) that they were using. Rory pointed out this ‘incidental learning’ as worthy of note. The Wednesday afternoon chat was another one which was characterised by personal reflections on technology use. One concept which I hadn’t come across before but which is of interest is that of the ‘digital tattoo‘, a far more effective metaphor than digital footprint.
Skype as a tool for discussion this week has allowed us to engage in wide-ranging discussions. However, by necessity, this synchronous medium doesn’t facilitate the detailed, rich, exploratory conversations which the asynchronous forums. There were practical difficulties too. Some participants were unable to join the discussions and others felt that they were not able to fully participate:
With regard to ‘presence’ I do feel that this week’s conversation enabled a greater sense of connection with the other students on the course. It will be interesting to see how our digitally connected community develops as we hear one another’s voices on Skype in a few weeks’ time.
*Sian, Stig, Sai, Karen, Sarah, Lorenzo, Joy, Paul and me.