Week 2 Readings: Multiliteracies and “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”

I chose to read this week’s texts starting with Multiliteracies and then move to Prensky’s “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” and I am happy with my choice. Reading the last article definitely stirred a reaction from me — which I am assuming was Prensky’s point in using a condescending, and uninformed tone — which motivated me to write about it right away. However, I’ll get to that at the end of this post.

Multiliteracies Multiliteracies is a collaborative effort and substantive piece of writing aimed at identifying many historical and social influences and events shaping literacy today while also addressing what a Multiliteracy pedagogy should entail.

Myriad concepts, constructs and terminology are introduced in the first two hundred pages of the text, some I’ve encountered before, many I have not. Reading this text presented a challenge in that ideas introduced and discussed are somewhat removed from applications to teaching practice, but I need a place to ground my thoughts and experiences as a teacher, and so far, this text seems to be a good start. While the collection of authors of Multiliteracies address an extensive list of components of a multiliteracy pedagogy, certain items were more compelling than others and I will focus on what Cope and Kalantzis call the “paradox of pluralism”.

Paradox of Pluralism In Chapter 10, Cope and Kalantzis address the concept within Multiliteracies of designs for social futures. They address what they call the paradox of pluralism by stating, “The paradox here is that the technologies of connection and communication, technologies that glory in global reach and local exoticism, intensify the significance and poignancy of differences” (p. 233). The solution it seems, according to Cope and Kalantzis, is to ensure that cultural makers shift between cultural selves or groups with ease and be able to negotiate this regularly. I’m not quite sure I understand exactly what this may look like, or even if I have their proposed solution correct; I will have to think more on this.

“Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” As a teacher who actively seeks new paths to using technology in my classroom, I find, along with others I’m sure, that the distinctions “Digital Immigrants” and “Digital Natives” are misnomers, and naive ones at that. But this article was published in 2001, so perhaps Prensky was just jumping the gun. After reading Prensky’s “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”, I thought it best to make a list of my contentions. First, however, I would like to state that I think Prensky’s intention is to generate some emotional reactions to his message, and I do agree that students’ brains are different than they used to be and that teachers should consider this when teaching; however, Prensky’s message is a little naive in its application to the actual classroom.

1. Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants speak a different language. In a black and white world, perhaps this statement is true; however, we live, teach, and learn in the gray area. Prensky (2001) states, “Our students today are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet” (1). This isn’t entirely true. They may be more fluent than Digital Immigrants, but their fluency varies within that subgroup, and there are different dialects and variations of fluent speakers. This also leads me to believe that the language is always going to be changing as new devices and tools are being integrated into the classroom, and this will necessitate and facilitate a change. I think of my students now who have had a moderate amount of usage of a computer for school, but when I added iPads to the equation, the language changed and the vocabulary expanded. Students needed to understand technical concepts of sharing files, navigating between apps (called “app smashing”), and various workflows for completing tasks (which they are just now getting used to knowing and using after an entire semester). With a different device, which is inevitable, the language changes. So the so-called “digital natives” in my class may become a varying degree of that group, perhaps even becoming a “digital immigrant”.
2. Students can multitask. Students can’t multitask. When the brain receives more than one input (something of which to attend), it switches its focus between tasks. For instance, listening to music while reading Animal Farm actually means either listening to music OR reading Animal Farm, not both. The brain switches between stimuli. See the Unified Learning Model.

3. With technology, teachers need to entertain (or “infotain”) students. Yes, engaging students with the content is necessary for understanding, retention, and transference, but the call for teachers to entertain students sounds like we are there to put on a show for them. What message does this send to students and parents? If it’s not fun, then it’s not worth knowing? Interest drives attention, but learning is hard work, messy and wrought with failures; and sometimes it is not fun in the immediate, but it is rewarding later on in life.

4. Gaming is applicable for each subject area. This points to a frustration I have with writers and “thought leaders” (see Prensky’s bio at the end) who attempt to apply a technological pedagogical method to each subject area, yet the content area of English/Language Arts seems to be missing from the articles. There probably is some sort of connection between gaming and English/Language Arts, but I struggle to see it in a meaningful way. Most writing mentions how games are great for learning in math, science, and social studies, but no mention, even in Prensky’s article, about the teaching of literature and writing. I would like to see my content area represented more in literature that makes the claim this or that technology has applications to each subject area.

It is articles like these that concern me as an educator because typically the loudest voice gets the most attention. I think it is important to critically evaluate any new methodology or technology that comes into the classroom before assuming it is going to be the panacea to failure.


8 thoughts on “Week 2 Readings: Multiliteracies and “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”

  1. Games are something I debate as well. I grew up playing the original pixel version of Oregon Trail. It was one of my favorite games and I loved playing it during class. However, I have no idea what it taught me besides be a doctor, don’t get typhoid, and always float the wagon across the river. Do I remember the cities on the trail? No. Not really. So, here was a game that was encouraged in classes, but that probably failed to really teach me anything in particular. I know not all games have such questionable educational value, but I still worry about ones that are used for fun (like using Angry Birds to teach trajection) vs. ones that really help a person learn process or concepts.

    • That’s a perfect example that resonates with me! I did not learn a single relevant thing while playing that game. I suppose I learned what it meant to ford a river, but the amount of time I spent playing the game was not worth the small nugget of vocabulary I retained. I think I have used that word maybe once in my life after my sixth grade year. What has been really popular lately is using Minecraft to teach a load of different topics, but I haven’t seen an idea yet to deal with literature and composition. I am not sure if it is because there really isn’t a higher-order application to English, or if I’m not thinking “outside the box” enough, but it seems as if this idea will be around for a little bit and I’d like to feel like I’ve settled on something, either way.

  2. Great thoughts. I too, bristled at the casual generalizations in Prensky’s text, and I found myself wondering what a revision of his article might look like in 2014. I appreciate how you broke down some of your qualms with the overarching claims of the text; and I look forward to reading more of your blog!


  3. I agree with some of your sentiments on the Prensky piece, especially on the gaming side of things. I don’t think there are games that truly assist with writing practices. Sure, we can make games on sentence structure, vocabulary, grammar, etc., but the actual, physical task of writing seems difficult to construct into a video game of sorts. I agree there are many gaming technologies that help us with literacy, and even more specifically digital literacy, but it really depends on the person attempting the games for them to be effective. For instance, my parents, both immigrants who were are additionally very much digital immigrants, can barely understand how to send an email. It’s taken a few years, but I’ve gotten them to the point where they can do basic google searches and simply check their email. There’s a lot of learning curves out there. Great discussion! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I am really glad you bring up the issue of multitasking, one of the topics which has been so hotly debated following Prensky’s piece and the wealth of scholarship that has been published over the last two decades. Rather than engaging in the debate about whether or not we even have the ability to multitask, I am more interested in the question of what it means that we THINK that we can. Regardless of hard science research on the way the brain processes information, I would argue that we are a society of people who claim to multitask. How does this belief effect our students (and our) reception of information and the ways in which we approach teaching our students? It also brings up a question of terminology. How do we distinguish “multitasking” from “parallel processing” which Prensky also discusses? If we cannot multitask, can we parallel process? And how might we learn to do this effectively? How does parallel processing change the meaning of information? How might we see multimodality as a compositional strategy which insists on recognizing parallel processing?

    • To be honest, I don’t think I’ve heard of parallel processing, so I had to look it up. Understanding how the brain processes dynamic and multi-layered stimuli and input would be beneficial to developing a multiliteracies pedagogy. You raise interesting questions!

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