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Digital wisdom: a necessary faculty competency?

IT HAS BEEN ALMOST A DECADE since Marc Prensky wrote about digital natives and digital immigrants (2001 a, 2001 b). In these initial writings, Prensky compared digital natives, that generation that grew up with technology, with digital immigrants, those who had not grown up with technology. A few years earlier, Tapscott (I 998) introduced the digital generation, and described how adolescents were different in a variety of traits. Howe and Strauss (2000) also wrote about Millennials and their need for a different type of educational experience. Oblinger and Oblinger (2005) edited an entire online textbook on educating the Net generation.

Some (Bennett, Maton, & Kervin, 2007; Hoover, 2009; Margaryan & Littlejohn, 2008) have debated the validity of these descriptions of the Millennial, Net, and digital generations. They postulated that the evidence does not exist to support the claims that were being made: "We argue that rather than being empirically and theoretically informed, the debate can be likened to an academic form of a 'moral panic.' We propose a more measured and disinterested approach is now required to investigate 'digital native' and their implication for education" In an examination of the Millennial muddle from a student affairs perspective, Hoover (2009) in essence noted that many, like Howe and Strauss (2000), have created a substantive and lucrative business model to help people understand the Millennial student, worker, and citizen.

I propose that now is the time to move beyond the debate. In the United States, there are statistics to demonstrate that both students and faculty fall across the spectrum of digital immigrants to digital natives. As educators, we need to transcend this divide and think about the notion of digital wisdom being suggested by Prensky (2009).

Prensky stated, "Although many have found the terms to be useful, as we move further into the 21st century when all will have grown up in the era of digital technology, the distinction between digital natives and digital immigrants will becomes less relevant. Clearly, as we work to create and improve the future, we will need to imagine a new set of distinctions" Thus, the concept of digital wisdom. Prensky believes that "digital technology can make us not just smarter but truly wiser." Based on that assumption, digital wisdom is conceptualized as "wisdom that arises from the use of digital technology to access cognitive power beyond our innate capacity and wisdom in the prudent use of the technology to enhance our capabilities." Digital wisdom does not just focus on one's ability to easily use or even creatively use technology. It is all about making wiser decisions because one uses technological enhancements.

Prensky makes the case that people seeking wisdom will need the use of digital technologies to provide them with unprecedented access to data, information, and knowledge from across the globe. How one uses, filters, and eventually applies these resources will play an important role in the wisdom of their decisions and judgments. He believes that "technology alone will not replace intuition, judgment, problem-solving abilities, and a clear moral compass" (Prensky, 2009), but, he warns, "The digitally unenhanced person, however wise, will not be able to access the tools of wisdom that will be available to even the least wise digitally enhanced human." Prensky goes on to describe digitally enhanced person and applies the label homo sapiens digital.

The notion of being digitally enhanced conjures up a lot of images in my mind. I have to admit that I was unsure about the direction in which Prensky was heading. But if you continue reading, you will find several key ideas that will resonate with educators.

First, digital wisdom can be learned and therefore can be taught. Second, with more emphasis on digital literacy in our educational systems, educators have more opportunities to provide guidance to students about becoming digitally wise. Third, digitally wise educators can guide students by "letting students learn by using new technologies, putting themselves in the role of guides, context providers, and quality controllers ... and encouraging them to use digital technology wisely" (Prensky, 2009). Fourth, the key is to ask oneself: How do I, as an educator, use technology to enhance thinking and understanding and promote learning.

Is Prensky off base? Or is this an idea that would enable educators to prepare students to become wise citizens in the digital world? To address these questions, let's examine some of the recent reports about students and their use of technology.

Brown (2009) conducted a geographically dispersed focus group, collecting in-depth responses from 14 students. He asked current students to share their ideas about what educators should think about as they plan learning environments for the next two to four years. The results provide new insights into how students view faculty's use of technology inside/outside the classroom, as well as their views on technology and learning.

Brown (2009) summarized that there were two predominate themes: a) Too much or unfettered technology is bad and directly hinders learning, b) The use of technology should not come at the expense of personal interaction both in and outside the classroom. He gives quotations from students to illustrate these themes, a) "I believe the most important things to keep in mind about learning and technology is that they should be considered in that order" (Brown, p. 62) b) "Any technology that separates the student from the teacher or his or her peers detracts from a fundamental dimension of education" (Brown, p. 62). This second statement is particularly important to think about if you are an online instructor. Stop asking your students to do two postings a week in the course discussion. Rather, give them active learning experiences in which they dialogue, debate, and engage in the conversation, and thus facilitate their learning.

According to Brown's findings (2009), technology should be well integrated with student engagement. It needs to support student engagement, using such educational strategies as active learning exercises, group activities, demonstrations, and interactions with guest speakers. The idea of capturing an entire lecture as a videocast was not viewed as an example of a good use of technology. Of what particular value is the video of a talking head?

Students gave the following example to emphasize that technology should not be seen as "one size fits all": "For an instructor to declare that everything will be done using online discussion sections simply 'technologizes' old practices" (Brown, 2009, p. 63).Technology facilitates learning when it is used to provide multiple pathways to learning since not all students have the same learning style. One student noted that "there is a difference between increasing efficiency and increasing learning" (Brown, p. 63).We know this is true when faculty simply upload PowerPoint slides, assign some readings, and set up discussion groups, requesting students to post two messages. Finally, students acknowledged that everyone learns in a course, including faculty, and that "learning is not just about content but also about strategies to master the content" (Brown, p. 63). The takeaway message from Brown comes from the title of his article: Learning and technology -in that order.

Another published study (Smith, Salaway & Caruso, 2009) provides further insight. For the last six years, the Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR) has surveyed undergraduate students regarding their use of information technology in their academic and personal lives. As in earlier years, the most recent survey targeted more than 30,000 students; 90 percent represented four-year institutions, and the majority (81.7 percent) were under 25 years old and attended full-time (87.4 percent). Here are some of the major findings from 2009:

* Ninety-eight percent of students owned computers.

* Most (87.8 percent) owned laptops, and most laptops (79 percent) were new, less than a year old.

* A majority of students (51.2 percent) owned Internet mobile devices; more than a half of these users accessed the Internet on a daily basis.

* Social network use and text messages were so widespread they were

reaching a ceiling, with the use of social networks increasing across all age groups.

* There was decreased use of instant messaging, but 98 percent of students engaged in text messaging.

* Students considered themselves tech savvy and reported using lots of information technology (IT) tools (Internet, Microsoft Suite of Tools, and Web 2.0 tools). They considered themselves more skilled with Internet-based tools.

* Students thought of themselves as mainstream adopters but not innovators and used technology more for personal use than for classes.

* Faculty were all across the board--from no use to zealots. Only 45 percent of the faculty used IT effectively in their courses.

* Students reported a balanced approach to IT in courses and also wanted interactions. Perhaps one of the most insightful comments reported by Smith et al. was this one: "Shiny tech is still no substitute for well-trained, passionate instructors"

So what do these research findings mean to nursing education? While there is definitely no question that students are using technology and IT tools, I believe that both studies show that faculty are not using technology for learning effectively. We need to explore current technologies and begin to make better decisions in terms of how and when to use them. We need to focus, as the students suggest, on learning first and then on technology. And perhaps, as Prensky suggests, we need digital wisdom to determine how we can best use technology to enhance learning. For this to happen, faculty will need to gain digital wisdom. We must first understand and use a particular technology before deciding to use it as an enhancement for learning. So, does this mean that we need to start advocating for digital wisdom as a future faculty competency?

My takeaway message is, the next time you are considering the use of a technological tool, either in the physical or virtual classroom, think about how this tool will enhance the student's ability to learn. Ask yourself: Am I being digitally wise in my decision to facilitate the student's learning by using this particular technology? As you reflect upon these thoughts, feel free to write to me at Or send me a message via Facebook.


Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin L. (2008).The "digital natives" debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786.

Brown, M. (2009). Learning & technology--"In that order." Educause Review, 44(4), 62-63.

Hoover, E. (2009, October 19).The Millennial muddle: How stereotyping students became a thriving industry and a bundle of contradictions. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.comlarticlelThe-MillenniaI-Muddle-How/48772/

Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. NewYork: Vintage Books.

Margaryan, A., & Littlejohn,A. (2008).Are digital natives a myth or reality? Students' use of technologies for learning. Retrieved from documents/ DigitalNativesMythOrReality-MargaryanAndLittlejohn-draftI I 1208.pdf

Oblinger, D. G, & Oblinger, J. L., Eds. (2005). Educating the net generation, [Educause e-book]. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), I-6. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2001 b), Digital natives, digital immigrants, part 2: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6), I-6. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2009). H. sapiens digital: From digital immigrants and digital natives to digital wisdom. Innovate, 5(3). Retrieved from H._Sapiens_Digital-__From_Digital_lmmigrants and Digital_Natives_to_Digital_Wisdom.pdf

Smith, S. D., Salaway, G., & Caruso, J. B. (2009). The ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology, 2009. Boulder, CO: Educause Center for Applied Research. Retrieved from

Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing up digital: The rise of the net generation. New York McGraw-Hill.
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Author:Skiba, Diane J.
Publication:Nursing Education Perspectives
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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