Digital Natives are Entering the Teaching Profession – Now What?

Digital Natives who are Entering the Teaching Profession  need mentorship and guidance from the so called, ‘Digital Immigrants’.

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I have switched my role as an educator from teaching one end of the Digital Generation spectrum to the other. For context, I will explain. I have been teaching an Instructional Technologies course at Brock University to pre-service teachers in Ontario, Canada. This comes after spending the past 11 years as a classroom teacher for the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board teaching 12 year olds. I am still working with the “Net-generation- also called, ‘Generation Y’ , however I am teaching to the opposite bookend.

One common theme that has caused me serious thought- in every one of my classes this year is how concerned my current students are about their digital identity or digital footprint. Online safety, digital citizenship, privacy, teacher online ethics, and appropriate online behaviours – are all topics that my students continue to bring to my attention daily. This information goes well with recent research out of Berkley that concluded that the Digital Generation does care about online privacy – (They just don’t know their rights).

I am teaching 120 students. Of these students, 20 of them used social networking tools prior to my class. When asked, many of my students reported a ‘discomfort’ with online media tools (but good comfort with computer use). This fits well with a study out of Nortwestern University that indicated that college students do have a lack of web savvy skills. This is not what I expected. From the onset, many of them told me quite out right that they disagreed with the use of these tools due to privacy and safety concerns. Regardless, my requirement was (is) that they all begin to use Twitter as an initial platform to develop their online identity. This has not been as easy as I thought. Many of them (not all) changed their names, created alias names and are using generic pictures (thank goodness for Twitter lists!). My students tell me that they are afraid of compromising their privacy. They tell me that as students themselves, they have come from a system that has reminded them over and over of online dangers, online predators, plagiarism concerns and personal identity risk. This is what they see and read in the media. Their schools blocked sites with filtering systems, had strict rules about using personal electronic devices and only a few (if any) of their teachers ever modeled the use any form of networking tools as an alternate form of learning.

I tell them that their concerns are valid. I tell them I am proud that they uphold standards of safety and privacy. I agree with them, that digital citizenship is the single most important skill we need to teach our young learners and care about ourselves. But I point out (strongly) – every day – that our young learners are experiencing a different kind of education- one where the walls of their classrooms extend beyond their schools and communities. Where information access is immediate and uncensored. One where questions can be asked and problems solved between students and classrooms from any grade, at any school and at any time of the day with access to abundant information. I remind them that they will always have access to learning themselves – and that they can choose what they learn and from who. For them, leadership is about what they give and how the contribute and NOT about grades.

But they are frustrated and confused because we keep telling them that it is THEY that are considered the Digital Natives. It is true – they all have cell phones and only a few remember a time when they used dial-up to access Internet. But it is not how they experienced education.

The point I am making is that teachers coming into this profession today are coming from a time when online tools such as blogging, twittering, and networking were not in any way a method of teaching or engagement.

I have included (in the sidebar of this blog) a list of a few student’ teachers who have begun to reflect on their experiences as learners in a 21st century focused classroom. This list has also been grouped with Alec Couros Social Media Mentorship program- (An informal project to build and increase teacher online teacher capacity).

New teachers and pre-service teachers need our attention. Let them see the power of online mentorship and support by welcoming them into your own network and support their tweets and blogs through simple comments, replies and retweets.

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