It is Tuesday. My brilliant student teacher is supervising a work period, and I am at my desk marking math books. A large timer on our Smartboard counts down - there are ten minutes left until lunch. Ten minutes left to work. Six year-old Sumantra works quietly at one of the class MacBooks, and then a quizical expression creeps across his face. He closes the laptop, and carries it over to me.
"Got a question, kiddo?"
"Yeah...I can't resize this image. My wolf image is covering up my brick house image and the text I've already typed. Do I two-finger-click the resizing node or should I just command-z? I'm not so good with Macs yet."
Welcome to my classroom.
When I was Sumantra's age twenty-odd years ago, PCs came with DOS, and Windows 2.0 could be purchased as a sizable upgrade. The Tandy Deskmate graphical interface provided a productivity suite of programs, and PC-Link online software (a precursor to AOL).
Monochrome monitors dominated the scene, and 16'' color monitors were cutting edge (as were CD-ROM drives, which didn't take off until the 1990s). Radioshack sold the Tandy TL for $1400, but that didn't cover a mouse, modem, or hard drive.
Sumantra and his classmates are growing up in an infinitely more digital world than I experienced as a child. In fact, the children that I teach have (on average) the same amount of online accounts that I had painstakingly acquired by first-year university.
The knowledge that 'Digital Natives' have of technology has striking implications for the process that they experience as they acquire information. According to Mark Prensky; "Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work."
I am fortunate that, through focus and fluke, while I grew up as a 'digital immigrant', I speak the language of my students fluently. I may have learned to access, evaluate, and question information in the analog, hardcopy world, but much of my learning experiences are exclusively digital.
As my students learn to access, evaluate, and question information in a digital world, they do so in a largely outdated education system - not prepared for their voracious style of information acquisition. Don't believe me? As evidence, I submit this fact: It is still possible to mail-order 35mm filmstrips from the Toronto Board's central library.
I could have a ten minute film shipped to my class in three business days. My class views and creates about four hours of digital media per day in my class on our Smartboard or on our class laptops (in the form of images, sound clips, videos, and text).
By the time the filmstrip shows up, my students will have viewed and created more than ten hours of online media.
Digital food for digital thought.