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Digital immigrants, natives, and "tweeners": a glimpse into the future for our students with gifts and talents.

Among the many important changes occurring across the world is the movement to make all electronic products digitally based. This Digital Revolution means that most forms of technology will soon have the same basic architecture, allowing communication across computers, cameras, telephones, and so forth. Through wires, memory chips, and even wireless technologies, technology (and therefore humans) are starting to communicate with the same basic language. It appears that in a short period of time, all forms of technology will "speak the same language."

Speaking the same technological language exists within the larger digital culture much like speaking a language is part of any other culture. To function fully in any culture, one must speak the language. When schools attempt to teach a second language, cultural aspects are used to provide a semi-immersion experience for the student. It is widely known that, to become fluent in a second language, one should spend time immersed in that culture.

In 2006, virtually everyone in the U.S. over the age of 30 or so has become an immigrant in their own country--digital immigrants. In this definition, being an immigrant means being new to the digital culture, not knowing of or understanding the nuances on which a culture is built. In essence, this large group of Americans is really bicultural.

Where there are cultural (digital) immigrants, there must be cultural (digital) natives (Prensky, 2001). Being a digital native suggests that one has grown up immersed in a culture so that its nuances are accessible to the person, not foreign or unintelligible, make sense, and can be inferred. An early hint that this change to a technological culture was coming could be seen in an unassuming little test--the setting of the clock on the VCR. The dichotomous experience of being one who comfortably sets the clock as compared to those who could not, or would not, foreshadowed things to come. Whether one is a digital native or immigrant today is representative of a complicated relationship of understanding a culture--the culture of digital technology.

These changes provide a background for the following observations and questions. While it is too early to fully address them, they do illustrate changes that have occurred and/or are on the horizon. Some of the ramifications for students with gifts and talents are also noted.

My first observation is that there is a third category to add to the digital native and immigrant dictionary. That is the "tweeners," those who have qualities of both groups. For example, among my wife's and my four children, who range in age from 11-18 years, is witnessed on a daily basis skills, attitudes, and interests that could be placed on a continuum of digital immersion. This is in contrast to the proposed dichotomy of natives and immigrants. Our 18-year-old twins grew up with computers and are quite computer savvy, using digital technology much of each day. However, it does not define them as much as seems to be the case for our younger two children, aged 11 and 15 years. They are both more knowledgeable about and interested in technology in all its forms. They speak digital speak and engage in digital manipulation of memory transfer across forms of technology. They carry iPods and cell phones, constantly transferring memory between them. They use the telephone for music and photography, as well as its original intent. The list of how they manipulate technology is endless. So while all four children are technically savvy and digitally literate, only two are seemingly representative of the digital native category. The two older children are "tweeners," in that they walk relatively comfortably among two cultures to the extent and in the manner that they care to.

Some Unanswered Questions

Although the following questions are appropriate for all students, please ask yourself when reading them, what does this mean for students with gifts and talents today?

1. How does this evolution in technology affect the children of today, given the wide range in level of access to it?

2. What does the digital technology hold for the future, relative to access to information, other people, and the like?

3. How does a technology that emphasizes the culture of oneself ("the culture of me") going to impact the moral and ethical development of the youth of today?

4. What will the movement toward digital technology becoming transparent to us mean for each of these groups?

5. Can digital technology become a means to break down the financial barriers that exist across our public schools?

6. What does all this mean for those of us who never quite mastered that clock on the VCR? Are we doomed to see a flashing 12:00 for the rest of our lives?

A Few Observations

In my last column, I noted how the terms nerd and geek, typically used as disparaging descriptors of gifted and talented students, have evolved over the past 20 years, becoming less pejorative and more descriptive. That gifted student I referred to in my last column who plans to "be nerdy tonight and stay at home and study" is an example. The shift to the current meaning of nerd and geek is somewhat associated with the emergence of computers in our daily lives. As a consequence, increasing numbers of children have developed interests and skills in computers and as such communicate about them regularly. This has led to an acceptance of students with gifts and talents who have passions in this area. As the digital revolution unfolds, an unintended byproduct as driven by the vast numbers of students of all abilities using digital technologies may become the most powerful change agent known to improve the social acceptance of students with gifts and talents. The students with gifts and talents will become more accepted into the mainstream by the vast majority of students due to the similar (digital) language being common to the group. Where they were once outsiders to mainstream culture, they will be speaking the same language and sharing the nuances of the digital culture. Those of us over 30, however, may become the outsiders once again--destined to watch as the VCR blinks 12:00 forever.

Reference

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1, 3-6.
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Title Annotation:social/emotional needs
Author:Cross, Tracy L.
Publication:Gifted Child Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Words:1040
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