Digital Natives, Devices and Education Funding [Holly on the Hill]

Digital NativeWe have been hearing a lot lately about education funding, WPUs, and one-to-one but we haven’t spent as much time talking about those who really matter: the kids.

Those kids who are already in the school system and those who will be entering it in the next few years have a distinct advantage over those of us who are their parents and grandparents.

They are digital natives.

Unlike those of us who are digital immigrants (born before the mid-90’s), digital natives live in a world where they are fluent in the language and at home in the surroundings. They never knew the days when phones were attached to the wall and the only mobility they had was how long the coiled cord could stretch. They have always known computers, DVDs, and hundreds of TV channels. They laugh at the idea of 5 channels you had to change by hand and think records are big, black CD’s (which, by the way, are also on their way out.)

They are connected in ways we never dreamed of and consume information in ways we never thought of.  These digital natives exist in every corner of the world. CNN reported in Dec 2012 that

In India, over two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank. But a United Nations report still says that mobile phones are more common than toilets, with nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion population armed with a handset.

Imagine. More phones than toilets….Oh wait – our family has almost 3 times the number of phones as toilets. Carry on….

Anyway – what does India (and China and Africa….) having an abundance of cell phones have to do with education?


We live in an interconnected world, where our children and grandchildren will be competing globally.

It does not make sense to take these digital natives, plop them in seats, take away all devices and tell them to open their $100 textbook.  It just doesn’t.

Here’s the brave new world part – that same textbook is (eventually) going to be available digitally for a lot less money. In fact, if it’s a good textbook, its conversion to digital will include interactive experiences simply not possible with a two-dimensional textbook.

In fact, digital learning opens up some incredible worlds. Wanna explore the cosmos or the depths of the deep blue sea? You don’t just have to read about it – you can GO there with interactive video.  You can learn to read, to type, to write, teach yourself to do magic tricks, explore Ancient Rome, learn math concepts from simple addition to calculus and beyond, learn another language, dare, dream, do…. (Ok, I might have gotten carried away there. But you get the idea…..Oh, and here’s the obligatory disclaimer. In no way do I believe we should all begin living exclusively in a virtual world. Kids need good old-fashioned play, time outdoors, time with real books and real people – and they can still benefit immensely from digital learning.)


On the Hill

Up on Utah’s Capitol Hill, Speaker Becky Lockhart is proposing that we move into the digital age of learning sooner rather than later. She wants to get “a device” into the hands of every child in public school in this state.

I heard a legislator say this weekend that he didn’t see a benefit to digital learning and that really, those devices were just time wasters.  In fact, simply adding a device to the classroom without any further thought probably WOULD be a waste of time and money.  However, this idea did not come out of the blue, but after carefully looking at a number of places who have managed digital learning successfully, as well as those who have flopped.

There will be no “mandating” the purchase of a specific device. Instead, each school district will be able to decide what options best meet their needs and go from there. (Local control. Imagine!)

There will be no purchasing of devices, throwing them at kids and wishing them good luck. Instead, the purchasing of devices comes third, behind infrastructure and teacher development.

There will be filters in place so kids don’t “accidentally” wander to sites they should not. Even after taking the devices home, they would access the Internet via their school server.

The local school districts will make the critical decisions about implementation of the program.

If you are a digital immigrant like me, here’s the good news: We can be taught.

We can even excel.

With infrastructure in place and skilled digital immigrants, we see a win/win for the students of Utah.

They will be prepared to enter not the one-to-one era, but truly, the one-to-world era.


Previously published at Holly on the Hill.

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