Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When Digital Natives Act Like Foreigners

I really don't like the terms digital native or digital immigrant. However, if a native is a person born in a specified place or associated with a place by birth (in Google, type "define: native"), then my students were born in a certain time in history when digital tools were commonplace, if not ubiquitous. Every year I poll my students to find out how many of them have a computer at home that they are allowed to use. I ask how many have their own computer, cell phone, iPod, or other digital device. Almost all of my students have something with which they can access digital content online. Even those in the worst of economic conditions seem to have a smart phone!

When it comes to knowing how to use digital tools for learning, it's often another matter. What does a netbook teacher do when his students can't seem to remember to charge their netbooks? What happens when a student's only access to their current AR (Accelerated Reader) book is on a Kindle or Nook, and they routinely forget to charge the device, much less bring the charger to school. This happens even though we've provided a whole wall of electrical outlets for this purpose alone! Just because you're from a certain place doesn't necessarily mean you embrace the things that make that place unique and inviting. Just because a student lives in the 21st Century where digital learning tools are commonplace, it doesn't necessarily follow that they will come to school prepared to use these tools as part of a digital learning management system. I can find a piece of paper and a pencil to loan a forgetful student. It's a little more challenging to do this with a netbook. Although, I've tried!

If a foreigner is a person not belonging to a particular place or group; a stranger or outsider (in Google, type "define: foreigner"), then I have a sub-set of students in my classroom who are aliens! 

Personally, I've walked out the door with my iPhone still on the charger at home. This device serves as my watch, my timer, access to my email and text messages, my calculator, my camera, my magazine rack, and much more, including my telephone! I'm pretty lost without it. I use most of these things every day at school. How can a person leave home without it? I've done it. So, I sympathize with those students who've rushed out the door on a "bad morning" and neglected to put their netbook into their backpack. But, to do this day in and day out, or (worse yet) to come with no charger and a dead battery? What a waste of added weight in the backpack! No battery, no netbook. What's a netbook teacher to do?

I get mad. I think about getting even. But, I'm an adult. So, I get prepared. Our school does much of this for me, fortunately. Our principal, who doesn't have to deal directly with the students each day, maintains a more healthy perspective on the problem and has seen to it that our classrooms are retrofitted with the following:
  • several desktop computers for students whose netbooks are not available
  • about a dozen electrical outlets along a wall in the classroom, easily accessible for plugging in netbook chargers; in every classroom
  • I've added a table in that location so the netbooks don't have to sit on the floor
  • I've also instituted a rule: you cannot use the netbook, only charge it 
  • When it's charged for about a half-hour, then you use it for the rest of the class period; meanwhile, use digital tools or the class computers, which are often a hassle for the student because of file management issues
  • At lunch or recess, plug in your netbook again so you can go all afternoon without another charge
Most students, like me, forget only occasionally. Our netbooks can go all day on a charge (if the student purchased one of the recommended models), so if they follow a routine of charging overnight they are good to go from 8-3. Repeat that routine daily and all is well.

For those who forget, we have the systems mentioned above. It's working for most students. Those who appear to be foreigners or aliens, well, they're just different. They usually don't have their analog learning management tools, either. No pencil. No binder. No paper. No AR book. They forget to come to class on time. So, it's not about digital, it's about them being foreign to this whole system of learning called school and The ClassroomAs any teacher knows, every classroom has at least one of these learners. That's a whole new topic for another article. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning! 

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