Let’s talk: “Digital Native”

The term, “digital native” has always bothered me. It was coined by a man named Marc Prensky, and its original intent:

Prensky defines digital natives as those born into an innate “new culture” while the digital immigrants are old-world settlers, who have lived in the analogue age and immigrated to the digital world.


Okay — hold up.

First: Native.

Second: Immigrant?

His word choices always bugged the **** out of me. And I am not qualified to respond to his intent, but the impact his work had on two important groups: teachers and students. The amount of ageism and opportunity for misunderstanding and poor instructional practices grew from his work. It became assumed that teachers did not embrace technology unless they were of a ‘certain age’ and that students could run circles around them, that they didn’t need to be shown how to use technology tools. They were born with them in their hands. When I told my husband about this term, his first reaction was to call it garbage, and if anything he and I were both digital “pioneers,” which I also cringe over.

Let’s start by dismantling the ‘manifest destiny’ language. There are no natives, pioneers, or immigrants.

And to find other voices who feel as I do, all I had to do was search for issues with digital native term. Lauren Parren wrote this back in 2015, “The Digital Native Problem.” She says what I have experienced first-hand with students: the term assumes too much. It makes teachers believe that if a student can navigate apps like Snapchat they can switch to more “business” software and somehow instinctively understand how to send an email. There is no discussion about how companies spend millions to create UX and UI so that users do not have to navigate language or syntax to communicate something.

Let’s also talk about the lack of technology and internet for many US children and families

The Loss Of Public Goods To Big Tech

“The world’s largest tech companies have become propagators of deadly information, while they simultaneously profit from it.”


And since there are 70 days for my building before the first day of school, and even states like Arizona and Texas are finally getting the message about COVID19, there is a strong chance we will not be returning to the buildings this next school year.

Read Teachers: Refuse to Return to Campus by Harley Litzelman:

If you were horrified by the dystopian, disease-ridden classrooms I described in my previous piece, if you shutter at the thought of the viruses your children will bring home to you, if you cannot study while you fear that your classmates might kill you, I ask: What are you willing to do about it?


This post is mushrooming: started with a small annoyance over language. The author has readdressed the concerns and now calls it ‘digital wisdom.’ Good for him. But there are way bigger issues going on.

But here we are. And I can only share my experience with students. It may not be yours.

My students often don’t have internet at home. They have to struggle and hustle to get the hardware and the internet. Often, English is not their first language. Sometimes their early childhood experiences are with ‘input’ of media, and not time to produce creative works. They are savvy with this input and consumption. The act of using technology as tools to create is unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable, and having created curriculum and taught CTE is sometimes fraught with shame that they don’t know something that someone else does in the classroom. They don’t want to ask. I worked very hard to structure the classroom community to be one of support–I took pictures of the staff displaying tech tools they rocked, and where they needed help– this helped minimize and diffuse the angst associated with students who were told they were “digital natives” and assumed to be “good” at technology. And while I enjoyed students telling me, often, that I was ‘better’ at technology than they were, or how I supported colleagues in their 20s and 30s who were self-reported ‘hated technology’ it wasn’t about my skill or strategy set in knowing how to use the tools.

Because that’s ultimately all they are. Tools. There is no shame that should be associated with learning how to use a tool to create something.

If we have to use platitudes and catch phrases, I don’t have a replacement suggestion. “Digital Wisdom” might be a little too hokey for me. Maybe I’m struggling with my own history with technology: to go from wax and typesetting to word processing tools in a span of a few years, and then how much we have now–should we have a week long class in tech history from 1990 to now?

Here’s what we do know: if we don’t get ourselves together and fortified to ensure everyone has reliable, publicly funded access to internet, hardware and software that works, and foundational instruction in digital citizenship, purpose and basics it’s going to be more difficult to connect, teach and learn. I can’t be the only one who’s afraid of losing students, losing that connection.