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Teaching Digital Natives

Jennifer Hooks

So many educators, while loaded with expertise, knowledge, professionalism, and dedication to their calling, are frustrated when it comes to connecting with their students in real and meaningful ways because technology has in essence rewired their students' brains. This digital divide is a generational issue that's arisen essentially unforeseen out of the technological age we live in--and it holds implications for our children's ministries.

For those of us navigating the church halls every week seeking to equip our kids with a relational knowledge of God, it's more important than ever to open our minds--and hearts--to the reality of kids' unique wiring and capabilities. Even if we ourselves don't navigate emerging technology with the casual dexterity our kids do, we can learn to become interlopers in their world. A mere willingness and openness to learn, to try, to adapt will help us avoid the "power down" effect with the kids we minister to.

Here's what you need to know.

Meet the Natives

Educational researchers and learning experts such as Marc Prensky (Teaching Digital Natives), Don Tapscott (Grown Up Digital), and Josh Spear ( have addressed the issue of a digital divide in education, opening compelling and fascinating conversation among educators at all levels.

Prensky coined the term "digital natives" in a 2001 article, "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants." Prensky's digital natives are "a new breed of student entering educational establishments"--in other words, today's children. They're children to whom a digital world is indigenous and completely natural. They were born into an existence where technology evolves at an ever-increasing rate. They interface with one another and with their world through digital means.

Conversely, Prensky defines "digital immigrants" as those who weren't necessarily born into a digital existence but who must adapt and assimilate to function in such a world. A digital immigrant is someone who isn't digital by nature; for instance, one who steadfastly prints hard copies of emails or calls to ensure an email has been received.

Other experts agree with Prensky. Tapscott outlines eight characteristics of today's youth in what he calls the Net Generation Norms. Here's a summary of Tapscott's Norms--as applied to children.

• They expect freedom in everything they do. "Choice is like oxygen to them," notes Tim Windsor, author of the blog Zero Percent Idle. "While older generations feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of sales channels, product types, and brands, [digital natives] take it for granted. [Digital natives] leverage technology to cut through the clutter to find the marketing message that fits their need."

• They enjoy customizing and personalizing. Kids can change the media world they live in--customizing everything from their ring tones to online content they're creating.

• They scrutinize by nature. Kids expect a plethora of online information, and as they age their online forays will only expand. They're by nature intense scrutinizers of whatever they see online, continually assessing, reviewing, and ultimately expecting more from any provider of online content, resources, or products.

• They seek integrity and openness. As they efficiently navigate and scrutinize organizations and products, kids are also using technology to discern whether the values they find match theirs--whether consciously or subconsciously. With ready access to candid reviews by the opinionated masses, there's little that organizations can effectively hide from consumers about their products, services, and integrity.

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