Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Digital natives?

No doubt you will remember the story of 3-year old Jack who bought a car on e-bay because his parents left their PayPal details on the computer. Some people were surprised at the time that a 3-year old could do this, but people now seem more accepting of the notion that many young children are competent and confident users of technology. Frequently, the term ‘digital natives’ is used to describe them. I confess to some discomfort with that term, as the native/ immigrant dualism leads to 'othering' and too stark a dichotomy is posed between groups. In addition, not all young children have access to a wide array of technologies in the home and so do not have opportunities to develop skills and knowledge in the same way. It is not just about access to hardware and software either - even in families where children have access to the technology, they may not get to use it for a variety of reasons. There may also be great variation within families - I was interested in this woman's reflections on the digital divide between children within her own family. And if you haven't yet read it, then Nesta Futurelab's report on the digital divide contains some interesting stuff. There are a number of challenges posed for early years educators in considering these issues, not least the need not to make assumptions about children's access to and experience with technologies before entering nursery. We may well encounter children like novice ebay-er Jack in nurseries, but we should also consider the needs of children who have had very little opportunity to develop these kinds of skills and knowledge.

5 comments:

Crimson Wife said...

What effects might exposure to technology at such a young age have on children's minds?

I read a book by Dr. Jane Healy called "Failure to Connect" that presented evidence to suggest parents should be cautious in allowing children under the age of 6 or 7 to use the computer.

guy said...

I'm also uncomfortable with the 'natives'/'incomers' divide. I share some your concerns, Jackie, but it's also my experience that a lot gets hidden when we talk in general terms about new technologies as if all experiences are transferable. So it's very common to have expert status in one digital domain (eg gaming) and be an absolute beginner in another (eg Excell).

Jackie Marsh said...

Good point, Guy. I guess it's also possible to have expert status in one digital domain at one point in your life and then lose that status later on because you haven't practised for a while.

And as to children under the age of 6 or 7 using a computer, Crimson Wife, there is much evidence that outlines the benefits - Douglas Clements conducted a review 20 years ago which outlined some of the benefits:
Clements, D.H. (1987) Computers and Young Children: A Review of Research.'Young Children', v43 n1 p34-44 Nov 1987.
Twenty years later, I would suggest that we are asking the wrong question if we ask if computers are good for young children - we need to ask what types of computer experiences best support children's learning and development?

guy said...

....and who defines/describes 'learning and devlopment' and in what ways...

Sarah said...

I agree with you Jackie on this point. I tend to see 'passive consumers' rather than 'digital natives'.I think pupils as users of technologies still need to learn how to exploit the technologies to 'learn ' in order to get the most out of it. An example would be creating films from poems - we can't assume that pupils understand films and can read films as multimodal texts - explained in my blog posting