Syndicate content

Digital Literacy

Revisiting the Digital Native Hypothesis

Michael Trucano's picture
ertrt
some people claim that we're artificial constructs

It is conventional wisdom in many quarters -- indeed, for some people it approaches the level of 'incontrovertible fact' -- that young people are 'digital natives', possessed of some sort of innate ability to understand and utilize digital devices and applications merely because of their youth, because they have 'grown up surrounded by technology', in ways that older folks can't -- and perhaps never will. Anecdotes from amazed and proud parents and grandparents detailing how adept little Johnny (or Gianni, or Krishna, or Yidan, or Fatima, or Omar, or Maria) is at manipulating his (or her) parents' mobile phone or tablet "even though s/he doesn't even know how to read yet!" are commonly heard in conversations around the world.

In a very influential essay that appeared about 15 years ago ("Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" [pdf]), Mark Prensky coined the term 'digital natives', asserting that "students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet" and that, as a result, "today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors". In contrast, "[t]hose of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants." While Prensky's views on this topic have evolved over the years and become more nuanced (those interested in his particular views may wish to visit his web site), this original definition and delineation of what it means to be a digital native and a digital immigrant remains quite potent for many people.

At the same time, and for over a decade, this assertion has come under consistent challenge and criticism from many academics, who contest various aspects of the 'digital natives myth', as well as the policy and design implications that often flow from them. The observable differences at the heart of the digital native narrative relate more to culture, or to geography, to socio-economic status or even just to personal preferences than they do to age, critics argue. No doubt some of these folks may glance at this post and ask: 'Digital natives', haven't we moved on from that stuff? When it comes to related academic discourse, the answer to this question is probably a qualified 'yes, at least in some circles'.

That said, in my experience, the digital natives hypothesis remains alive and well in many educational policymaking circles (as it does with many parents -- and grandparents, and marketers, and with many kids themselves), especially in places around the world that are just now beginning to roll-out or consider the use of educational technologies at a wide scale. Indeed, while meeting with education ministries on three different continents over the course of the last month, I've had very senior education officials in three different governments explain to me how the concept of 'digital natives' was central for their vision for education going forward. These recent conversations -- and many others -- prompted me to write this quick blog post (as well as one that will follow).

Apples are not oranges – but bad questions will make you think so

Sonia Jawaid Shaikh's picture

While global wave-based country surveys may be asking boring questions, many others are not.

Consider this survey by Pew on why American workers use social media at work. Instead of merely relying on the number of estimated hours and types of social media used or attempting to calculate the internet subscriptions per 100 people in a community, the survey goes ahead and gives respondents a chance to explain their behaviors. Interestingly, a majority use social media to take a “mental” break from work, followed by connecting with family and friends.

Similar results were found by World Wide Web for a different demographic: poor urban women in developing countries. When asked why they access the internet, 97% of them said they used the internet to maintain existing social ties.

Now forgive me for making a leap, but millions of users around the globe “could be” using social media primarily to take breaks or to connect with friends and family. If that is true, it means that a huge majority may not be very interested or active in social campaigns or political participation via social media. In this scenario, the usual largely accepted link between political activity around the world and the number of social media users may require serious readjustment.

 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Africa is moving toward a massive and important free trade agreement
Washington Post

African heads of state and government officials are meeting this week in Kigali, Rwanda, for the 27th African Union Summit. On their agenda will be taking the next steps to establish a free-trade area that would include all 54 African countries — which could be up and running by the end of 2017. This is news to much of the global community. Here are seven things you need to know about Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA):

Mobile Phone Data Reveals Literacy Rates in Developing Countries
MIT Technology Review

One of the millennium development goals of the United Nations is to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. That’s a complex task, since poverty has many contributing factors. But one of the more significant is the 750 million people around the world who are unable to read and write, two-thirds of which are women. There are plenty of organizations that can help, provided they know where to place their resources. So identifying areas where literacy rates are low is an important challenge. The usual method is to carry out household surveys. But this is time-consuming and expensive work, and difficult to repeat on a regular basis. And in any case, data from the developing world is often out of date before it can be used effectively. So a faster, cheaper way of mapping literacy rates would be hugely welcome.
 

Media (R)evolutions: Bringing the next 4.4 billion people online will require collaboration to overcome barriers

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Increasingly, access to the Internet is crucial both in economic and social dimensions.  It contributes to national gross domestic product (GDP) and fuels new, innovative industries and brings about social change, connecting individuals and communities, providing access to information and education, and promoting greater transparency. Since 2004, around 1.8 billion people have gained access to the internet, driven mainly by the expansion of mobile-network coverage, urbanization, decreasing device and data-plan prices, a growing middle class worldwide, and the increasing utility of the Internet.

Nevertheless, its adoption worldwide has not been even, and the growth rate of Internet users worldwide has slowed significantly in recent years.  One reason broader internet adoption will may stagnate in future years is that about 75% of the offline population is concentrated in 20 countries and is disproportionately rural, low income, elderly, illiterate, and female.

The graph below is based on a report from McKinsey&Company, “Offline and falling behind: Barriers to Internet adoption,” and World Bank data.  It was compiled by Mary Meeker and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as part of their annual Internet Trends Report. It illustrates four main factors limiting internet adoptionincentives, infrastructure, user capabilities, and low incomes and affordabilityas well as a set of five groupings that provide insight into each set’s common challenges.
 

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Thanks to Urbanization, Tomorrow's Megalopolises Will Be in Africa and Asia
Foreign Policy
Tokyo will still be the world’s largest city in 2030, but it will have many more contenders on its heels. According to a fascinating new report from the United Nations, the globe will have 41 “mega-cities” -- defined as those with 10 million or more inhabitants -- up from 28 now. Although the world’s largest urban centers have historically been concentrated in the developed world, fast-paced urbanization in Africa and Asia means that the megalopolises of tomorrow will be found in the developing world. By 2030, Asia and Africa will host nine of the world’s 10 largest cities, according to the report.

Mobilizing Private Investment for Post-2015 Sustainable Development
Brookings
The sustainable development goals are likely to have a more ambitious scope than the Millennium Development Goals. Accordingly, they will need a more ambitious financing for development strategy that can mobilize much more public, private, and “blended” finance.  Very rough estimates indicate that at least $1 trillion of additional annual investment is required in developing and emerging economies.  At first glance this might appear to be a large number, but it represents only approximately 10 percent of extra investment above current levels. It is clear that official development assistance, on its own, would be incapable of meeting financing needs, even if the target to provide 0.7 percent of gross national income were to be achieved by all developed countries. But official development assistance (ODA) could, through leverage and catalytic support, help mobilize substantially more private capital. 
 

The Key’s in the Keyboard: New Technologies Can Help Enhance India's Agricultural Productivity

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

Agriculture in India still remains the main source of livelihood for the majority of the rural population and more importantly the small holding farmers. With an average annual growth rate of 3.3%, the major challenges facing this sector include a shrinking land base, dwindling water resources, the adverse impact of climate change, shortage of farm labour, increasing costs and uncertainties associated with the volatility of international markets.

A pertinent factor that continues to impinge upon these challenges is the lack of timely information about market prices, crop varieties, production techniques, seasonal risk and disease control strategies. The critical question thus is — how can we effectively apply information and communication technologies (ICTs) in agriculture to mitigate the factors that lead to the physical isolation of the rural smallholder during the ensuing 12th Five Year Plan period.

Media Literacy in the Digital Age

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

A new report out from the Knight Commission on Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy makes the case for emphasis on media literacy in the digital age. Entitled Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action, the report by Renee Hobbs focuses on media literacy in the U.S., but some of its points struck me as potentially applicable in other parts of the world as well. Hobbs isolates several digital and media literacy skills that are necessary to take part in civic life in an information-saturated society (all of these are taken directly from her report):