Digital Native, isn’t.

“At TeachMeet Nottingham, March 2012, a statement “digital native isn’t” was shared during a ‘TeachMeet 100 ideas’ exercise. The meaning of this was slightly unpicked, and I understood it as an explanation that today’s children do not have a natural ability to use new technologies. The idea that the youngest of children can just pick up a device and use it off the shelf is being observed by Early Years professionals and parents alike. However, this may also be tied in with the assumption ‘they know how to use it because they are not afraid of it’. I think this is where ‘digital native isn’t’ comes in to play. If we take this assumption seriously, it could mean that we don’t see the need to teach children how to use new technologies, such as using iPad because they can demonstrate basic navigation which astounds us! Therefore we may just leave children to ‘get on with it’ because they are familiar with interactive with devices which are shaping the environment. If this is the case, then children might not ever be shown how to search Google (safely) for images of a character from their favourite book.”

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This Easter holiday has been an exciting one for me, as I had some spare time to work with a setting who had purchased their first iPad. As my classroom began as a single iPad setting, and is now a 2 iPad setting, I am eager to help others develop it’s use as a collaborative learning tool. Using the training I organised at my school as a starting point, I worked with the staff at Tiny Tots Day Nursery to create Puppet Pal scenes using Kinectimals as a stimulus (as the setting are also using Kinectimals on X Box Kinect: check it out here, it’s worth a look: www.tinytots.posterous.com).The staff needed time to practise using Apps that I felt could extend children’s learning if an adult shares the experience with them. I demonstrated how to search and save for images of characters using Google search in Safari, then how to insert these in to Apps.

After these demonstrations, and getting to grips with the basics of an iPad, staff became more confident in its use and the possibilities. As this is an Early Years setting, we talked about planning for iPad within the provision of the nursery. I explained that sometimes I have the iPads available on the shelf as a free choice option, so children can use any Apps. However, I also plan for iPad Apps to be used in certain areas of my classroom. For example, in Spring Term 2 we had a Gruffalo birthday party, so Toca Boca Birthday Party App was planned for so that children would role play a birthday party with peers.

I explained that in an Early Years setting, even though we facilitate a vast amount of resources for many possibilities across all areas of learning, our store cupboard is still packed with hundreds of other resources we could have out. We should see iPad Apps like this. Yes, we fill our iPad with hundreds of Apps but that does not mean children must have access to all of them at the same time. It’s ok to use only a handful of Apps and model their use to the children.

At TeachMeet Nottingham, March 2012, a statement “digital native isn’t” was shared during a ‘TeachMeet 100 ideas’ exercise. The meaning of this was slightly unpicked, and I understood it as an explanation that today’s children do not have a natural ability to use new technologies. The idea that the youngest of children can just pick up a device and use it off the shelf is being observed by Early Years professionals and parents alike. However, this may also be tied in with the assumption ‘they know how to use it because they are not afraid of it’. I think this is where ‘digital native isn’t’ comes in to play. If we take this assumption seriously, it could mean that we don’t see the need to teach children how to use new technologies, such as using iPad because they can demonstrate basic navigation which astounds us! Therefore we may just leave children to ‘get on with it’ because they are familiar with interactive with devices which are shaping the environment. If this is the case, then children might not ever be shown how to search Google (safely) for images of a character from their favourite book.

Children in early education need to work with an adult to save images to the device. Adults can model how to insert an image into Puppet Pals as well. Without this collaboration, young children would not have the opportunity to retell the story on the device. Instead, they would probably just select the Gingerbread Man bakery App (which is great don’t get me wrong), but they’ve already used in several times and that hasn’t extended their learning or the possibilities of the device. Therefore, adults need to learn how to use these devices so that they can share this learning with children.

Once a child has mastered a few of the basics, they can start to adapt and apply these skills elsewhere on the device. That’s when the learning starts to happen. It’s exciting for me to watch children move from saying “I want a turn on the iPad” to saying “Can I use Puppet Pals next?”. This shows me that it’s not the latest device they want to get their hands on, but the possibilities it brings to learning. Yes, the children in my class can pick up an iPad and navigate it with ease, but they do not know how to manipulate the device so it works for them. For me, a digital native only describes that children are growing up in a world which is being shaped by new technologies, but this does not mean they know how to use it effectively.

Others at TeachMeet Nottingham described the “digital native isn’t” statement to be the assumption that if we don’t educate children and young adults on new technologies they wouldn’t learn how to use technology appropriately; for example using socail media tools sensitively. If schools and other educational settings fail to model the good uses of technology, learners will only learn what they want for themselves.

At the Derbyshire County Council Early Years Conference in March, I talked with a child minder group about their use of cameras in the setting. The staff had purchased Nintendo DS with inbuilt cameras but have had to tip-ex over the camera as children were using it inappropriately. I modelled the use of several Apps on iPad 2 which either relied on a camera for the learning experience or furthered the possibilities of the App. The staff agreed that by modelling the use of camera technology in a positive activity would teach children how to use the devices appropriately.

What I’m trying to say is, don’t fall in to the trap of ‘children know what to do’. Buying these devices also needs to come with careful planning and training staff to use new technology key to children’s use of it.

Further Reading: Digital Natives: Ten Years After  http://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no4/koutropoulos_1211.htm

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