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Digital natives, digital immigrants

R. Xiaoong Guo, T. Dobson, S. Petrina: Digital natives, digital immigrants: an analysis of age and ICT competency in teacher education, Educational Computing Research, Vol. 38(3) 235-254, 2008
This article provides a response to the popular theory proposed by Prensky regarding aptitude with digital technologies of those born, roughly, after 1980 (digital natives) and those born before (digital immigrants). We examined the age demographic distributions of student teachers and their perceptions of their ICT literacy and skills. We investigated age effects on ICT literacy. The findings from replication tests showed that there was no statistically significant difference in ICT scores between digital natives and digital immigrants. This finding was consistent with that of preliminary studies by others (Brock et al., 1992; Karsten& Roth, 1998). This study suggests that the differences between digital natives and digital immigrants have been exaggerated. Prensky may be right that so-called digital natives spend more time with emerging technologies than their older counterparts, and that they acquire skill with these technologies in the early years of their lives when they are highly receptive to new learning stimuli. Perhaps so-called digital immigrants do encounter psychological barriers and have different learning behaviors from digital natives. And it may be that social and psychological barriers work to divide youth from adults, creating a façade that, when unexamined, looks like a difference between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.” In practice, however, this divide does not appear to hold up.
Previous research has provided limited understanding regarding the differences in ICT literacy between younger and older individuals. Little is known about how and whether adults acquire ICT literacy differently from young people (Petrina, Feng, & Kim, in press). Further research is needed to examine the barriers for teachers, regardless of age, of effective use of emerging technologies in classroom settings, and how to remove those barriers. Ideally, the concept of ICT literacy in future study would embrace a broader content, including video games, mobile and ubiquitous computing, the philosophy of technology, and so forth. A study of comparisons between student perceptions of their ICT competencies and their task performances in ICT skills to discern whether there is a gap between student perceptions and demonstrated ICT skills (e.g., ETS test of ICT literacy) would also be a very fruitful direction for research.