Digital natives? Not at all! Digital afraid I would say

Personal thoughts to start

I am writing for my progression assessment, which has been a real struggle. Writing is for me a difficult act. I have been identifying some aspects of it so I can improve. It might be because I need to stop, find silence within me, and try to find words and a way to structure them so they make justice to my ideas and all the bits and bops that float around but are an important part of the process of ideation. So yes!! It is an agony I am afraid. But here I am, holding the space of struggle and moving forward I hope! Courage is not missing, so I guess, there will be a productive outcome, in what form, that is still to come 🙂

I am receiving an incredible support from @gconole, my supervisor Grainne Conole. Thank you for that!

My research interest and reflection in relation with exploring the present and not so much predicting the future

Reflecting on my work through my writing and some reading (@DonnaLanclos and @Lawrie) I did this morning I came to realise how important the first phase of my research is. To give this reflection a context let me summarise my research and then explain what I am saying.

My research is about finding ways in which the university, through its members of staff and their institutional vision, can support students to enhance, improve and sometimes even learn about digital literacies. I think digital literacies will and indeed already are, in some occasions, taking the place of literacy as we know them, but I will develop this idea in another post, although I already started to reflect on it here.

When I was thinking about the idea of my research I had already a potential answer or hunch solution if you will. Then came all the process of thinking about how this question could be answered and planning the design research that goes with it. In this process something was not feeling right, I was very uncomfortable, still at an intuitive level, with the idea of how to implement this ‘hunch’ or idea about improving students’ digital literacies. It was definitely not standing in front of a group of students and presenting to them “my idea”! Who am I to present to them ‘The Solution’ without asking them. That felt very uncomfortable, so much so, that I decided to stop for a while and give it further thinking and time to  mature.

I then had the chance to give a talk about my research in the National University Galway with @catherinecronin in CELT (Centre for the Excellence of Learning and Teaching), where I had very good feedback and a rich and fruitful 1:1 discussion with Catherine to share our research ideas and the literature we had been looking at. The result of both, the feedback and the discussion session was a CLICK, an AJA moment. It all suddenly fall into place and I saw the piece that was missing: Students voice, their current digital practice, where they are at in this particular moment in relation with their digital literacies. What was missing was the ‘present moment’ which Donna Lanclos describes very nicely in her article (referred and linked above). An interesting point she makes is not to base our research in an imagined future, instead we need to explore the messy and not so sexy but indeed interesting present.

Future thinking is unfortunate because in part it encourages a neglect of the complicated and messy (and interesting!) present. It’s easier to think and talk about a future where the current problems with which we wrestle are fixed (jet packs!). It is more challenging to confront the present.

This idea of the problems of the future being fixed is relevant and more so the challenge that lies in exploring the present -not an imagined present she says- in order to see what is really possible to do. The core of her article is how the ‘digital native’ cliche does exactly that, hands us an imagined present where young people, all in general, do technology, are experts, hence there is no need to improve nothing, there is no need to teach nothing but only let them do what they know best and in a way we are liberated of all responsibility not only with them, but more over with our own improvement of digital literacies.

This idea of exploring the present is also encouraged by critical thinkers of ed tech like Neil Selwyn and Martin Oliver. They are also informing my work. They argue that there is a need in ed tech to explore more the ‘state of the current’ how they call it in order to attempt to bridge the existing gap between the enthusiastic rhetoric and the not so happy reality happening in the classrooms. And this is exactly what I am doing in phase 1, mapping students current digital practice so I can understand what is what they can and cannot do with technology and where is support really needed. I am using the V+R approach (another explanation here) to map students’ digital practice and it has been eye opening for my research. It shows exactly the opposite of what Prensky has established. From 20 students I worked with only 3 have located digital tools for academic purposes in their V+R Map, and less than 1/4 of the participants feel safe and confident with the idea of exploring new tools in order to work in formal settings and improve their academic digital skills. I also had a big discussion with a  group of 30 students (between 23 and 45 years old) and only 3 knew the meaning of digital literacies. In my case the evidence contradicts Prensky’s assumption totally, and it reveals how passive this cliche results.

Next step will be looking at the different factors that are hindering students to use more digital tools for learning and studying available in the Internet. As Lanclos argues, there is a need to look at the complex interactions of factors that are restricting students from being masters of the Web and its tools for academic purposes. The idea with phase 1 is to be able to extract  relevant elements from the data in order to design a scaffolding structure that supports students to improve their existing and informal personal learning environments reflected in their V+R map.

It is only exploring and knowing how their present practice looks like that anything relevant can be designed  in order to support them in the process of improving and teaching the so demanded digital literacies.



3 thoughts on “Digital natives? Not at all! Digital afraid I would say

  1. Wonderful post, Caroline – thank you! I admire your resolve to “hold the space of struggle”. The struggle (to explore many paths, to theorise, to write, etc.) is frustrating and often painful, but from this comes work that is clear and true. You are obviously on this path — your work is evolving and is already a valuable resource for others.

    As you know, I’m exploring similar questions, firstly with academic staff and in the coming months with staff and students together. I learn so much from our conversations and I look forward to those continuing 🙂 I’m committed to grounding my work also in the “state of the actual”, as defined by Selwyn, Facer, Lanclos and others, and exploring how learners and educators construct their own meanings of their digital experiences — they may not use the term ‘digital literacies’ (or indeed ‘social constructivism’, ‘digital identity’, etc.) but their actual practices, and meaning-making about those practices, can teach us so much. Building our understanding of these will help us not only in our research but in our aims to support students and staff effectively in our networked/digital/post-digital era. May the conversation continue 🙂


    1. Thank you @catherine, I am really holding this space. And yes it is painful for now, I hope it will ease when more clarity is reached. The conversations were and are so rich and clarifying, they are a balm for the intellect and the spirit, both for me part of what makes me stay here.
      Thank you for stopping by and reading my post. Feedback is always welcome! Looking forward seeing you soon 🙂


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