June 28, 2006

A Great Vision of Technology and Learning

If you want to get a hint of just how advanced and different personal technology might be in 20 years or so, in life and in learning, I highly recommend you read Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge, the noted science fiction writer.

The concepts of evolved technology that are embedded in the story, from "wearing" special clothing and contact lenses that allow one to effortlessly get multiple synthetic views of the world, to the concept of armies of linked analysts trying to figure out out what is really going on, are truly brilliant.

A highly recommended read.

Posted by Marc at 02:28 PM

June 12, 2006

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: Origins of Terms

[Note: Comments on this blog are closed because of terrible spam problems in the past. Please email me at marc@games2train.com with comments.]

I have received a number of emails from people who are concerned about who “coined” the terms “Digital Native” and “Digital Immigrant.” Here are the facts as I know them:

Although I thought up the terms up on my own, I have never claimed to be the first to use or publish either the metaphor, or either term.

In fact, in my first book, Digital Game-Based Learning (Published 2001), there is a note on page 414 (#54) that reads as follows:

“Although the term digital immigrants may be mine, I am not the first to use the immigrant metaphor. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Playing the Future: How Kids’ Culture Can Teach Us to Thrive in an Age of Chaos, is quoted as saying “kids are natives in a place that most adults are immigrants” (Elizabeth Weil, “The Future is Younger than you think,” Fast Company, 1997”

Rushkoff, in turn, in the preface to the paperback edition of his 1994 work Cyberia (http://www.voidspace.org.uk/cyberpunk/cyberia.shtml), cites John Perry Barlow as writing “On the most rudimentary level there is simply terror of feeling like an immigrant in a
place where your children are natives….”

And Barlow also wrote, as a correspondent recently pointed out to me, in his 1996 Manifesto “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (http://homes.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html), “You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants.”

So, as far as I know, Barlow was the first to think up and publish the concept of natives and immigrants. But he did not use the precise terms “Digital Native” and “Digital Immigrant.”

[Amendment: I recently came across this passage in Slow River, a Nebula Award-winning novel by Nicola Griffith, published in 1995:

“Those born before 1960 had the hardest time adjusting to change. They were the ones who would suddenly stop in the middle of the street as if they had vertigo when som shop window flared or called out, or get that haunted, bewildered look when the PIDA readers changed again, or the newstanks swapped to a different format.

It was a very specific expression: hollow-cheeked, eyes darting, looking for somewhere to hide. I had seen that same look on the faces of war refugees, or the foreign-speaking parents of native-speaking children. Older people were immigrants in their own country. They had not been born to the idea of rapid change – not like us.” ]

Another correspondent also suggested recently that Don Tapscott may have used the term “Digital Native” but provided no citations. I remember Tapscott in Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation using the terms net-gen or “n-gen”. However without a digital copy of his works, I cannot search to see if he used the terms “Digital Native” prior to 2001. If you have a citation in which he does, please send it along

Bottom line: I am the person who should get the credit for popularizing – not for being the “first to think up,” – the native/immigrant distinction, and I should get credit as well, until an earlier citation arises, for adding the descriptor “digital.” This is, of course, somewhat like, as Jerry Michalski points out, Marconi getting credit for the radio that Tesla thought up first, or Bell for the telephone thought up first by Elisha Grey and Lars Ericsson:

Table by Jerry Michalski: Please scroll down--Moveable Type is wierd here

Inventor Invention Who Got the Fame
Philo Farnsworth Television David Sarnoff
Elisha Gray, Lars Ericsson Telephone Alexande Graham Bell
Herbert Matare Transistor William Shockley
Nicolas Tesla Alternating Current Thomas Edison
Nicolas Tesla Radio Guglielmo Marconi

So it appears that one’s name gets associated with an idea not necessarily when one invents it, but when one does a good job of spreading it around. I am happy to take credit for spreading “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants,” as I have put forth a lot of effort to do so.

And with great success I might add – the terms are used around the world. I ascribe the use of the metaphor in so many places not to my own brilliance – which I do not claim – but rather to the fact that it captures an important truth in a way that is instantly understandable to many people.

Still I have no problem in citing, if true, what others have said or published earlier. So if anyone has a citation (work, page number) of the use of the actual terms “Digital Native” and “Digital Immigrant” (individually or together) prior to my 2001 article in On The Horizon, please send it along.

Many thanks.


Update: Douglas Rushkoff writes: "I guess I started "popularizing" the term, myself, in lectures and films starting in about 1994. But many more of the TV interviews and such were in Europe. I didn't start making major use of the terms here in the US until 1996 or 1997. In America, I was definitely the first person to get heat for suggesting our kids were different - better - than us because they were digital natives."

Good for you, Doug! Thanks for being such a pioneer! - M

Posted by Marc at 03:26 PM

June 10, 2006

The Prensky Challenge

Who will be the first to challenge, rather than blame our students?

By Marc Prensky

“I never teach my pupils;
I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
– Albert Einstein

Could it be that our frustration that our kids are not getting better grades, higher scores, or going into math and science careers at the rate we would like is our – i.e. educators’ – fault, and not the fault of the students?

I think almost all the things we are doing to “improve” education, from George Bush’s rigid “[pseudo-]science based” reading programs to Bill Gates’ “mini high schools” initiative are, to a large extent, wastes of students’ time and our money. The effects we are looking for could be produced much more quickly and easily just by giving the students the proper incentives.

Suppose, for example, that at the beginning of the school year we said to students – at any grade level, and at any level of preparedness – the following:

“We have prepared for you a second semester that is fantastic, and totally future-oriented. We will teach you about space exploration, nanotechnology, genomics, protonomics, bioethics, quantum computing, and all the wonders of the coming world. You will learn to program your phones and iPods to their max. You will build robots that can compete and win prizes. You will read and discuss the best science fiction there is. Your instructors will include – virtually – famous people from all over the world, including famous scientists, game designers, cell phone makers, etc. You will use technology such as 3D printers and Nintendo DS’s. This will be by far the most exciting thing you ever saw in school (and possible anywhere else).

“But here’s the thing: In order to get this fantastic second semester, you, the students, have to learn the entire year’s regular curriculum in just the first semester – and all of you must pass the standardized test that says you’ve learned it.

“To get you all to learn, those of you who are strong in whatever areas will need help those who are weaker. You can organize however you like, and work together in groups of your own choosing as much as you want, in order to meet the overall goal, which is that all of you pass. Your teachers will be there to guide you as to what you need to learn, and provide whatever help they can that you ask them for. But the basic responsibility for every student’s learning the material in just one semester will be on you.”

Do you think any group of our students, if given this kind of strong carrot, worthwhile goal, and responsibility to meet that goal themselves, would be able to accomplish this?

I think every group would. And I’m looking for partners to (1) fund the “future content” creation and (2) provide the students, in order to try the experiment.

Want to help? I’m at marc@games2train.com . Thanks.

[Note: Comments on this blog are closed because of terrible spam problems in the past. Please email me at marc@games2train.com with comments.]

Posted by Marc at 04:30 PM