Great comments and links from Quentin D’Souza and Christopher Harris on my post “Digital refugees and digital bridges” yesterday. Quentin’s diffusion model of technology use IS helpful (categorizing users as innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards) but I think his framework still suffers from the oversimplification problems of a simple dichotomy between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” view. My slightly more expanded version with “digital refugees” and “digital bridges” certainly does:

Our Digital Landscape

Christopher Harris’ post “Why Dichotomies Fail” from early this summer contains some excellent ideas about why we need to move beyond simple dichotomies. I think (and it seems Christopher may agree based on his comment) that Prensky’s dichotomy is helpful for starting conversations, but we need to move beyond mere conversation starters and use metaphors which can help ourselves and others move forward constructively with more sophisticated uses of digital tools and resources. Toward this end, Chrisopher suggested back in February a different construct in his post “Knowing | Participating | Living.” I had not previously heard of Stephen Abram’s concept of “Internet Voyeurs:”

Definition: An Internet Voyeur is someone who is aware of the tools, sites and concepts of the new ways of web ecology but hasn’t really experienced them personally. They’ve read about blogs, maybe visited a few; they’ve heard about, for example, MySpace and The Facebook, or and Flickr but only understand what they look like from afar and on an intellectual level.

Christopher suggests instead of using an oversimplified dichotomy to understand digital learners (both novice and expert), we should look at whether people merely KNOW ABOUT technologies, are PARTICIPATING IN the use of specific technologies, or are LIVING the use of technologies. Being a rather visually oriented person, I created a modified graphic of these ideas tonight:

Our Digital Landscape, Revision 2

I think there is still room in this framework for the concept of “refugees,” who are either ignorant of specific technologies or in denial that they exist and should be at least acknowledged. I also think there is still room for the idea of people who serve as “digital bridges.” I really do like the idea of not just categorizing people based on their age or their “average perceived understanding and use” of digital tools, but rather using a technology by technology level of analysis. This means I can still be a “digital voyeur” when it comes to the use of GPS technologies (which I am) and simultaneously a “digital native” when it comes to blogging and podcasting. It also avoids the all-to-common problem of assuming that a digital native “knows it all” when it comes to technology, when in fact the knowledge and skills each “native” has are generally contextually limited. (The learning style of a generational digital native may be navigational rather than procedural, as the generational digital immigrants’ learning styles often are, but a navigational learning style– i.e. “the VCR gene syndrome” does not correlate to actual knowledge and skills with all technologies.)

Frameworks and analyses like these can certainly get overly complicated, and simplicity can be a good thing, but I do agree with both Quentin and Christopher that we need more robust and complex models than the simple dichotomy of “digital immigrants and digital natives” if we not only want to understand WHERE WE ARE as learners, but also HOW WE CAN MOVE FORWARD in learning to effectively utilize additional digital tools.

These ideas support my own contention that in educator professional development settings, teachers need to be provided with more opportunities to PARTICIPATE IN the use of web 2.0 technologies, rather than merely grow aware of them. If we persist in the latter type of professional development, we will likely increase the population of “digital voyeurs” in our midst but not necessarily swell the ranks of the “digital immigrants” and “digital natives.”

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7 Responses to Beyond the digital native / immigrant dichotomy

  1. nix says:

    How about the idea that the refugee has chosen to leave one place and move to another but can see the best of both worlds.

  2. Wes,

    Great review, but I want to stress one thing a bit more heavily. The problem with the revised model and the diffused model put forth by Quinten are that they attempt to tackle ALL technologies at once. If we are looking at technology within the context of teaching and learning, then I really think we need to look at each technology within its own particular context.

    How does someone become a digital native? Do you have to be some uber-geek who knows “everything about everything?” I don’t really use IM, does that mean I can’t be a digital native? No, it simply means I am not a digital native in the realm of IM (though I know I need to be!).

    From a professional development/adult learner perspective, these attempts to tackle the whole at once are worrisome. Adult learners need to feel respected and need to celebrate successes that legitimize their progress. “Labeling” on each technology allows them to tackle the ones they want, gain expertise, and celebrate small successes.

  3. Andrew Calkins says:

    While I agree with Christopher that we need to go beyond the simple duality of “in” or “out” with regards technology, I wonder if all of these models are missing the central point: how well can an individual learn a new technology. I may be a “digital voyeur” with regards to a lot of different technologies (for instance GPS) but I also know that if I have a need to understand that technology I can fairly quickly master it. So, one could laboriously map out my abilities with each technology, or try to plop me into a single inappropriate category, but what really counts is 1) my interest in learning new technologies, and 2) my ability to learn a new technology once I put my mind to it. I think that this is where we need to focus as technology educators: showing the value/usefullness of these technologies, and increasing students’ ability to master ANY new technology that they have an interest in.

  4. […] Wes clarified his thinking further next day in a posting on his blog.  He looked at the dichotomy of the digital native/immigrant.  My take within the dichotomy is that is not enough to know about the technology but to keep pushing to use the technology.  The ever changing world of technology makes it hard to keep up but for the natives they don’t see it as keeping up but as discovering new frontiers. […]

  5. […] It’s probably a combination of these, although I’d probably put the emphasis on the first and last ones. The conversation bloomed somewhat via the comment thread, leading to Others talking about this issue on their blogs. I’ve been meaning to post about if for a while and, being inspired by Dave Warlick’s pre-conference keynote for the K12 Online Conference, I’ve decided to vodcast my thoughts on this… […]

  6. […] Wes Fryer wrote this week about the narrowness of the native:immigrant analogy. He adds the category of digital refugees to the mix; as well as bridges – those with one foot in each century … I like this word picture – and voyeurs – those who just watch as others do – they are many times referred to as lurkers in online learning environments. […]

  7. Toni Allen says:

    I see it as a civilization that is evolving. My thought is along the lines of the children’s book Westlandia. Westley creates and discovers a new civilization in his backyard. It has its own number system, language, games, etc. all based on the primary crop.
    Techlandia. A civilization with no borders.
    Andrew Calkins wrote about feeling capable to learn new technology because he is fluent in some. He is talking about learning a new language/culture. Some of us are still tourists with a Berlitz book. But we are willing.
    I think it is a journey or continuum. Everybody has to start somewhere. And everyone has to keep evolving.Like going beyond learning to read to reading to learn. It’s getting over that fence. It takes willingness.

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