Monday, October 19, 2015

Reflection on Boyd's "Are Today's Youth Digital Natives?"

This selection is one chapter from a book titled It's Complicated by Danah Boyd. In Chapter 7: "Are Today's Youths Digital Natives?" Boyd discusses a wide range of topics from the validity of Wikipedia and Google, to Myspace to the inequality in digital literacy.

In the first few paragraphs of the chapter, Boyd says something that I was just talking about in my team meeting this week and it really stood out.
It is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed. It is also naive to assume that so-called digital immigrants can offer valuable critical perspective. Neither teens nore adults are monolithic, and there is no magical relation between skills and age. Whether in school, or in informational settings, youth need opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge to engage with contemporary technology effectively and meaningfully. Becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age.

This resonated with me because my eighth grade students were given Chromebooks to take home this year. They were not given paper agendas from the school because the administration expected students to be able to write their homework on their devices. This is a lofty goal. I love the initiative to allow students to work with technology so much and that the school is moving to be more "green," however, it is not without its bugs. Many students use Google Keep or Google Calendars to write down their homework. But those are the students who already had an organized system for homework tracking on paper. For those students who aren't well organized on paper or have physical copies of assignments, doing everything online is too abstract. I know how to use Google Drive and am able to organize everything into folders, but that is because I have the skills already established . Many teachers are struggling with how to work with those students to give them time to learn about the resources available to them.

Another comparison that I really loved was Boyd's analysis of the idea of native and immigrant. The first thing I thought of when I read this was students from Mexico or Puerto Rico taking Spanish in school. Spanish-speaking students in a Spanish class are often assumed to have an easier time with the content because they already know the language, However, they know conversational Spanish in their native country, which could be very different from what they are taught. These students speak Spanish with their friends and family, but do not have to diagram sentences, conjugate verbs or write full paragraphs. 
The same can be said for teens and technology today. They've grown up with technology all around them, but use it primarily for searching for information on Google or Wikipedia, or for social networking. They have know way of inherently knowing how to properly cite a source, or format an essay or use Google Drive. These skills need to be taught just like a language would be.

The final thing that stood out to me was the following quote:
As more youth gained access through schools and public institutions, and as a result of the decline in costs of technology, scholars increasingly raised concern about the unevenness of skills, literacy and "socially meaningful" access.

I thought this was interesting inconjunction in the experience I'd had in the last 3 years. For two of those years, my students from working class families struggled to finish homework and projects at school because they didn't have access to a computer or the internet at home. One family in particular comes to mind. There were four children all in the same grade, so they had the same homework assignments but only one computer at home. Often, three siblings would not have their work done because the fourth was "hogging the computer."
I compare that experience with that of the students I have now. Everyone was given a chrome book to take home that was to be used just for school work. Many students asked about watching Netflix or playing games on it. When they were told not to, the general tone was "okay, I'll just watch it on my iPad/laptop/phone."

Doesn't it make more sense to give access to the students who need it, as opposed to the students who already have the resources they need? Boyd also talks about a study by Eszter Hargittai that explores the levels of literacy based on the amount of access students have. The students who had access to technology at home had a much better understanding and willingness to use technology than those with access only at school, the local library or at the Boys and Girls Club.

As an aside - The text book I was given for my 11th grade World History course was written in 1998. I have already planned to have the students "fact-check" the text book to find inaccuracies and figure out biases, like Boyd discussed here.


  1. I like the analogy you made with native spanish speakers and the assumption that kids are "native" technology users. Just because kids are generally pretty good at picking up how to use technology (compared to adults), it doesn't mean that using technology is the best way for the students to interact with the material. I also couldn't agree more with your point about the disproportionate allocation of technology.

  2. Great idea to have your students fact-check their 17 year old text. I could do the same with the 2014 text I've been given. I've already found several inaccuracies, and topics that should be important are barely mentioned or glossed over. From what I read in Boyd, student texts are no more accurate, or maybe even less accurate, than Wikipedia. It makes me wonder if it would be possible to teach a course using only Wikipedia entries. Hmm.