Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Digital Divide

Screenshot of Google search results.
What is a digital native? I've been thinking about this recently as I prepare for the new school year. We're constantly hearing people talking about how our students are digital natives but have we ever stopped to think about what this truly means? A quick Google search reveals that a digital native is someone who is "familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age." Is that the whole definition though? Based on the definition of a digital native, all of our students should be familiar with computers and the Internet. However, this is not true.

While doing some reading on the topic, I found an interesting blog post by Geek Law Blog where he discusses a guest lecture at a law school. That's not the part of his post that interested me. I liked when he talked about his family:
"My wife thinks my sons are geniuses. One piece of evidence she submits in their favor is how well they use an iPad. I agree with her that the fact that my 1.5 year old can use an iPad is a testament to genius. But not his. For me, it is a testament to the genius of the designers at Apple who created a device so intuitive that 1.5 year old can use it. The kid touches a picture, it moves. Congratulations to him!"
Mary Jackson (NASA) one of the
first computer programmers.
Image Source:
To better think about this concept, think back to the computers we grew up with. Remember DOS? How many of you reading this blog post are even older and remember what came before DOS? I don't, and I'm not going to pretend to understand the early computers but I did see Hidden Figures so I know that at one point computers were giant machines that read punch cards of sorts.

A dictionary entry on Techopedia does a much better job of explaining the concept of a digital native for teachers. The entry states that while children today are more likely to be familiar with the terminology of the digital world, it does not mean they will intuitively understand the processes and concepts. This is where teachers come in to play. We must guide our students.

I'm going to play a little devil's advocate for a moment and try to explain the importance of Computer Science by talking about a different subject that our students are required to learn in school. Biology.

From a young age, our students have interacted with living and non-living things. They understand there is a difference between plants and animals. They know that the fish they won at the carnival died and that mom flushed it down the toilet so it could go back to it's family in the ocean (alright, not really but you get the point). So why do we still teach Biology in school? Our students live and breathe Biology every day of their lives. They see it everywhere. Therefore they shouldn't need to learn about it, they already know it.

That is how we should feel about computer science. Yes, our students are growing up surrounded by it but that doesn't mean they have a true understanding of the concepts.

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