Saturday, November 5, 2011

Labeled with a Technology Disability

I consider myself a digital native. When I was little, I used to play letter games on my dad's Commodore 64. I developed some of the craziest typing skills you've ever seen by keeping up with lively conversations in Yahoo! Chat Rooms and on AOL Instant Messenger. Really, don't watch me type. It's ugly, but it gets the job done. I look like a circus "peculiarity" if touch-typing is your modus operandi. :-) But it's all good.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, I am a digital native. At least, that's what I consider myself. I create media, I follow blogs, I love my Google Docs and my Twitter and my Scoop.It and all of my collaboration tools. I talk geek speak with the best of them and am constantly reminded by my colleagues that I've "lost" them.

Yes, by all intents and purposes, I'm a digital native. Fluent in the language of mobile technology and social media, I am comfortable having powerful conversations with my students about the challenges faced by digital citizens.

On the other hand, there is so much I don't do well. Colleagues in my Twitter network constantly remind me that I have a long way to go. No, I mean it. I've never made my own podcast. I've never published a video, screencast, or photo story online that I've created. I still prefer PowerPoint over Prezi and I absolutely do NOT get Leet. The closest I get are sideways smileys. Period.

And there are so many things I aspire to get better at or aspire to even understand. Google Lit Trips, social bookmarking with my students, video editing and production (so that it's NOT a 12 week production!) ... and the list goes on and on.

As the technology instructor at my school, I serve as a leader in technology integration. I lead and organize PD and constantly assess where my colleagues are at in their journey with technology.

I screwed up when I lead my professional development this summer. I labeled half of my staff with a Technology Disability. I called them digital immigrants.

I know that the terms digital immigrant and digital native are rife throughout the education technology community. I've used the terms myself often in conversations about the needs of our professional community as well as the needs of our students to be ready in the 21st century. When our students seem so good at navigating technology, it only seems natural to comment on their innate ability. "Well, they're digital natives. This stuff comes easy to them." In fact, it still amazes me that my daughter, at 5 months, knew how to operate the touch screen on my iPhone.

After this blog post, I am done using these terms. For good.

I believe that all children can learn. To heck with this innate ability paradigm (Howard, 2011) that posits that some of our students are simply born with the stuff and some are not. I teach all of my students with the same high expectations whether or not they have every touched a computer before they get to me in kindergarten. My goal is to get my students career and college ready and that takes high expectations, scaffolded support, and sometimes a little tough love. (No, I will not type in your login for you.) If my students work hard, they develop technology skills and they achieve.

And then I label my colleagues as having a Technology Disability. Whatever it is that our students have that make them successful at technology, you don't have it. They were born with it, you were not. It is always going to be hard for you. Chances are, your students will know how to operate your technology better than you do. 

But when it comes to technology, many children are more than willing to put forth the effort needed to become fluent. I think their "native fluency" really has a lot to do with being engagement and motivation. They are engaged and therefore put forth the hard work needed to become skilled. They see their skills grow, and so their self-confidence soars. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we are going to teach our students under the premise that all children can learn, then we must also teach our adults with the unwavering premise that all adults can learn. Dumbing down our curriculum because children come into our school from minority backgrounds or high poverty communities is akin to malpractice. If we wouldn't do it to kids, then why do we do it to adults?

If we are going to bridge the gaps that exist between our teachers who span either side of the digital divide, then we have got to stop labeling them as Haves and Have Nots. If we keep throwing around the labels digital immigrants and digital natives, then we underscore the innate ability paradigm that perpetuates the divide that we fight so hard in education to counteract.

After this post, I will no longer refer to my colleagues and my students as digital immigrants and digital natives. I will find a way to foster skills in fellow educators that closes the gaps and builds capacity in my peers to navigate the digital community with the same knowledge and skills I'd expect from my students.

We can all be skillful digital citizens. We can all be geeks.

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