Literature Review – Unit One

Part II Post reading of “digital native, digital immigrant”.


  1. Prensky used language speaking as an analogy to describe the students nowadays as “digital natives”, since they were born into the world with massive availability of digital technologies; and that presents a problem when most of the teachers are “digital immigrants”, and their adaptability to the new “language” varies, i.e., capability of using technology to update and revolutionize their ways of teaching. And fundamentally, this presents a gap of communication, and subsequently, caused a lot of problems in the education system. It is imperative that the teachers are able to develop video games that can engage students better, because that’s the language digital natives speak.

The fact that Prensky has sharply pointed out this view back in 2001 was incredible and very brave. At the present day 2017, digital technology is much more widely spread, and everyone is at some level of dependency on their mobile devices. In my own study of French certificate in HKU SPACE, the classroom teaching is usually supplemented by visual aids, like projected slides, sound/video clips, but the teaching materials can be viewed online on WikiSpaces. For our exercises, the teacher sometimes provide us with links to some interactive games that designed for practicing with certain grammars or vocabularies. This has been significantly different from the way I remembered in my school years where the main teaching is done by ‘chalk-n-talk’ (Rehm, M., Levy, D., Kilippova, O. (2014) lectures.

Although it doesn’t seem to me that the way of teaching has completely changed, and not every subject has been taught by playing computer games. One can understand since the article was published at a time where the “doc-com boom” was in its most high point (cite Wikipedia dot com doom), people believed technology can replace anything, which is not necessarily true. And the article also gives out a hint of panicking, which is a natural reaction, aren’t we all worried that we can no longer efficiently pass our knowledge to the next generation? Although the conclusion from the article seems a little blunt, but it was with eagerness to get his voice heard so people can do something about it.

This paper aims to research the points of views that were influenced by Prensky’s digital natives and digital immigrants.

  • Prensky’s view has been largely adopted by other scholars and educators

I found that there are other ways of referring to digital natives: Net Generation’ (Oblinger 2003), ‘Millenials’ (Howe and Strauss 2000). Although different names, but they collectively expressed that this generation has very distinctive characters reflected by their born fluency of speaking language of digital era. The voices collectively called for new ways of teaching.

Under the influence of Prensky’s advocate, University of Auckland, instead of keeping students in class lectures, they have purposely made online lectures, it shows a successful feedback through surveys conducted among students. Also they have developed student time management system online, monitoring and awarding students who can keep up with the course schedule, and finally a student response system, which enables interactions between teacher and students, as well as promote competition among students for effective learning. (Rehm, M, Levy D., Filippova, O., 2014)

  • There were also debates from other scholars over Prensky’s view:
  1. Bennet, Maton, Kevin (2008) questioned the assumptions for Prensky’s two key claims: (1) that a distinct generation of ‘digital natives’ exists; and (2) that education must fundamentally change to meet the needs of these ‘digital natives’.
  • They argue that there is still a significant proportion of students had lower level skills than might be expected of digital natives.”, and it doesn’t appear to be any evidence that “multitasking is a new phenomenon exclusive to digital natives.” Hence, how do we prove the distinct generation of “digital natives” exists?
  • They also argue that after conducting survey among students, there is little evidence of the serious disaffection and alienation among students towards the existing ways of teaching. So why change?

Bennet, Maton, Kevin (2008) also quoted and challenged Frand (2000) who claimed that this digital immersion is so complete that young people do not even consider computers ‘technology’ anymore. This may still be questionable back in 2000, but standing from 2017, I think there is no point of debate over whether the transforming to digital natives is a “singularity” (Prensky 2001), it has become a common sense. Just for a simple reference, a study by British Military Fitness Revealed that Britain’s tech savvy toddlers are more likely to own a tablet than a teddy. (Web link). From where we are now, there is no turning back.

No matter what we perceive or generalise those “digital natives”, we have to realise the fact that a baby who was born in the year 1982, he or she is now 35 years old. We have already passed the time where we needed to define who these people as a group, we just need to face the fact that what we should do now, with more and more people are dependent on their mobile devices, and connected 24/7. Ways of doing everything has been changing, and why is the way of teachings an exception. On the contrary, it should rise above all needs, should be critically reviewed and reformed. The adults should be able to make the judgement of what the best way, the evidence of the students didn’t feel any disaffection or alienation is irrelevant.

  1. Bayne and Ross (2007) provided strong criticism of Prensky’s “digital natives, digital immigrants” from below aspects:
  • Hierarchical violence and the place of the teacher

The notion of “digital natives” and their new way of learning has put the immigrants, i.e. teachers into a less authoritative role, since they are older, slower, hanging on to the past, logical thinking, analogue and less connected.  In this comparison, the natives is occupying the commanding position. Bayne and Ross (2007).

Personally, I think good teachers should only be concerned of how we can effectively pass the knowledge to the new generation instead of worrying of their authority and status.

2) The discourse of the market

Another analogy was used, comparing the digital natives’ need to educational revolution as “market needs”. In this case, students as customers. And apply the same analogy, if “customer is king”, then so is student. Whatever their needs are would call for effort to reach satisfaction, whatever they don’t desire would require less urgency.

I think Bayne and Ross (2007) is not being very forward looking here. It would be inappropriate to compare students with customers, they are not the consumers where your profit is coming from, and it is human’s obligation to educate their next generation well.

  • A racialised discourse and problematic metaphor:

Understood that the term of “natives” and “immigrants” can evoke some politically sensitive feelings, but I would be less concerned since these terms were created to urgently get the message across, with the pressure of what if we cannot teach if we do not even know how our students learn. And the analogy of natives versus immigrants is more taking on their differences in language speaking instead of other aspects.

So I can probably dismiss the claims from the criticisms from Bayne and Ross (2007), since they are less about arguing the evidences, more for them to be able to hang on to the past more, very similar behaviour as the strong accented ‘immigrants’.


I am still impressed by M. Prensky’s advocate in 2001, not only the analogy to language speaking,  but also the calling for serious review of whether we can keep up with the new generation, not ordinary new, but digital native new. I was hoping for more careful examine of evidences to settle the bluntness in the article, but the more I read, the more I am convinced that this has become common sense with the modern context. It is imperative that we try our best to speak the language of digital. It is the basis of communication, it is basis of how we can educate our young.

— End —



Bayne S., Ross J. (2007), The ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’: a dangerous opposition. The Annual Conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) December 2007.

Bennett, S., Maton, K. and Kervin, L. (2008), The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39: 775–786. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x

Frand, J. (2000). The information-age mindset: changes in students and implications for higher education. EDUCAUSE Review, 35, September-October, 14–24.

  1. Prensky (2001) “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1”, On the Horizon, Vol. 9 Iss 5 pp. 1 – 6

Oblinger, D., 2003. Boomers gen-xers millennials. EDUCAUSE review, 500(4), pp.37-47.

Rehm, M, Levy D., Filippova, O. (2014) Educating digital natives, ERES Education Seminar Dec 2014

Strauss, William, and Neil Howe. “Millennials rising: The next great generation.” New York: Vintage (2000).

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