Excerpt from Teaching Digital Natives by Marc Prensky, entrepreneur, inventor and author who originally coined the term "digital native" and "digital immigrants" and is the author of several books and articles on education and learning.
"Based on interviews of almost a thousand of today's students from all economic, social, intellectual, and age strata, all over the world, I have found that what they say is remarkably consistent:
They do not want to be lectured to.
They want to be respected, to be trusted, and to have their opinions valued and count.
They want to follow their own interests and passions.
They want to create using the tools of their time.
They want to work wit their peers on group work and projects (and prevent slackers from getting a free ride).
They want to make decisions and share control.
They want to connect with their peers to express and share their opinions, in class and around the world
They want to cooperate and compete with each other
[And one more...]
They want an education that is not just relevant, but real
It is possible, of course, to view this list as a narcissistic or unrealistic set of expectations on the part of the students. But to do so would be a big mistake...Today's students want to learn differently than in the past. They want ways of learning that are meaningful to them, ways that make them see--immediately--that the time they are spending on their formal education is valuable, and ways that make good use of the technology they know is their birthright."
As an educator of this current generation, I find Prensky's book helpful. His insights help me overcome the "this generation is just addicted to their technology" rant and discover a more nuanced, complex truth.
Spinning the Learning-Application Wheel
I think it has always been true that students want to know the relevance of what they are learning. But it's different today because of the technology they have grown up with. The collapsed distance between learning and application made possible by technology translates across our lives.
As digital natives, they have grown up playing games where you earn abilities and then get to use them immediately or open an app and just figure it out on your own. Learning and application are more tightly coupled than ever. The wheel of learning and applying, learning and applying spins faster for them than any previous generation. They enter our classrooms and online courses with the same expectation.
Is a Carpenter Addicted to his Hammer?
Psychology and the field of marketing have offered the "Extended Self Theory" that proposes "an individual's possessions, whether knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, can become an extension of one's self." Taken further, digital natives' technology is part of them just as a guitar is a part of a guitarist or a hammer is part of a carpenter.
You wouldn't say to the musician, "Put that guitar away, we are just going to learn theory and the history of music." But we like to decry that students are "just addicted to their phones." Please note: I am aware of the research on technology addiction and recognize this is a real issue. However, blanket statements that characterize all behaviors as exhibiting addiction are not accurate.
The Extended Self Theory makes me think that technology is an extension of the students. For them to bring their whole selves to a subject, perhaps they must be allowed--and even encouraged and challenged--to use that technology to push the boundaries of their own learning and that of their peers.