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Responding to the Digital Native

July 15, 2013

This blog post is in response to a prompt provided on my professor’s blog.

While theories abound about the differences of digital natives, the readings provided at the beginning of this term (Prensky, 2001; McKenzie, 2007; and Reeves, 2008) together make a strong argument that the differences cited by others are overblown. There may be some differences seen between generations as there has always been, but learning processes remain fairly constant.

In an earlier blog post I already decried jumping on the bandwagon of ebooks for academic use and the challenges that currently exist. I will therefore turn my attention to information literacy and research skills instruction and the digital native.

As a librarian, I am in the midst of this turmoil and controversy. Much is said about how online resources revolutionize learning. Questions about the continuing need or purposes of libraries and librarians are raised daily. Claims are made and overblown about digital natives’ use of technology and the resulting reduced need for library resources or instruction. In some cases, school libraries are downsized or even closed because of this false perception.

Paradoxically, I see even greater need for research and library instruction because of the technological revolution. Teachers and administrators often assume that because digital natives know how to use a computer, they must therefore also already know how to define research questions, create effective research strategies and evaluate and correctly document sources. They question the need for librarian-led information literacy sessions, reasoning that the students already knows these critical skills. Because of these attitudes, students come to college with very limited research skills; their research skills are often limited to typing a few words into Google and using the first page of websites. Digital native students do not differ in their learning needs; they still need this vital instruction from librarians.

The content of the instruction may change with technological advances, however. In the past information was scarce and so instruction focused on learning rote procedures to find the information. Students were taught how to go to a few central indices, search laboriously through them by standard subject terms, and then locate the articles through the library’s print collection or time-consuming interlibrary loan. Students today face an onslaught of information. Research instruction must now address countless information resources, research strategies in an online environment without standard subject terminology, evaluation skills, and citation management. In addition to continuing to learn about traditional publishing avenues for peer-reviewed academic resources, students must also become familiar with and be able to critically evaluate information posted without the benefit of formal academic peer review processes. Information literacy instruction is where this is provided.

When faced with questions from peers and colleagues about the abilities of digital natives and their differences in learning, I wish I could invite them to my information literacy sessions that I lead with First Year Seminars. These sessions clearly illustrate what the readings theorize; digital natives may be familiar with technology, but they still need instruction on learning basics, as have every generation before them.

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism, digital delusions, and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2). Retrieved from http://fno.org/nov07/nativism.html
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
Reeves, T. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Retrieved from http://itforum.coe.uga.edu/Paper104/ReevesITForumJan08.pdf
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