Welcome to the one place where EMAC is Whack!

"Attack of the EMAC" is Kevin Sharpe's class blog for EMAC 6300: Introduction to the Study of Emerging Media and Communications at the University of Texas, Dallas. He is an educational marketing manager and runs the Newspaper in Education program at The Dallas Morning News.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to bridge the generational divide in the classroom

“Don't even try to keep up with technology,” said a middle school girl recently to a group of teachers. “You'll only look stupid.”

That’s a student quote educational technology consultant Marc Prensky mentions in his article, “On Being Disrespected,” published in the October 2006 edition of “Educational Leadership.” It’s a pretty good way to illustrate the generational “digital divide” N. Katherine Hayles references in “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes.”

Prensky illustrates some of the cultural attitudes occurring between generations in regards to technology as well as emerging educational approaches. Older generations demonstrate a lack of respect toward the educational benefits to digital devices and media -- especially video games.
“One high school student reported to me that his parents told him, ‘Your computer games are a total waste of your time, money, and brain cells.’ Given that this student spends a lot of time playing these games, which are often more challenging than his schoolwork, and that he is proud of succeeding at them, this comment reflects enormous disrespect. The kid was pretty hurt by it.”

On the other hand, Prensky also references a type of “digital elitism” reflected by younger generations toward adults. He states that many students see their teachers as being digitally illiterate – “and they disrespect them for it.”

Prensky – author of the 2001 book “Digital Game-Based Learning,” and the 2005 book “Don’t Bother Me Mom – I’m Learning!” – travels around the world talking to educators about how to address the generational divide in classrooms in regards to the use of technology in schools.

While Hayles examines “Generation M,” Prensky explores the cultural and pedagogical differences between “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants”

Today’s students are “natives” who were born in this digital age while their teachers – like immigrants who physically and geographically leave one world behind and inhabit a new society that requires them to learn a new language and practice new customs. Prensky says "Digital Immigrants" posses a type of “accent,” that is “their foot in the past.” For example, he points out that one “accent” is how Digital Immigrants print out emails and find comfort in creating “paper trails” of their digital documents.

During the first decade of the 21st Century, educators who are Digital Immigrants have been resistant to integrate technology into their teaching strategies, let alone transition from “deep attention” approaches to “hyper-attention” techniques.

These “old school teachers” internalize their educational style and insist that traditional instructional methods that worked for them should be good enough for the students they teach. However, their stubbornness toward embracing digital strategies an emerging technology out of principle and respect for traditional approaches more than likely masks their insecurities regarding their “digital illiteracy.”

Schools are throwing dynamic hardware into classrooms in order to tangibly demonstrates to parents that students are being exposed to 21st century technology. Teachers – on the other hand – are not being taught how to integrate these tools into their teaching strategies. Professional development covers how to “turn it on and off,” and then teachers are expected to go out and “use the stuff.” No time is spent exploring educational features and benefits as well as the diverse approaches that can be developed through these new devices.

Perhaps one of the best ways to help bridge the generational divide in cogitative modes between teachers (Digital Immigrants) and their students (Digital Natives) would be for districts to develop professional development programs for teachers that embrace 21st Century instructional strategies that focus on “hyper-attention.” As it stands in most cases, traditional instructional strategies are being used to show teachers how to use emerging technology. It should be a digitally immersive program that abandons the classroom environment and integrates multi-media, social media and networking, game-based instruction structures as well as other types of distance learning strategies.


  1. Maybe "Digital Rehab" could use new teaching methods to educate teachers. Teach teachers how to teach using new technology. This would help familiarize them with the technology and get them thinking about how to incorporate it into the classroom at the same time, as well as give them example use cases.

  2. Great post on a topic that I know you are passionate about, Kevin. You outline potential solutions to teach "Digital Immigrants" to use technology in a pedagogically effective manner. How about the attitudes of digital elitism that you identify earlier? Will that come with the territory once teachers are more effective in using technology in the classroom?

  3. After reading the Hayles article, I knew you'd be all over this topic, Kevin! I have a friend who is a middle school teacher, and she says that sometimes she doesn't like using the new technology etc. because it makes more work for her to do and it doesn't necessarily create great results afterwords. Her example was that she has a Promethean board (not sure what it is) and that it would take her several hours to create a lesson plan involving it in some way, but it would be easy for the kids to zip on through and might not be beneficial to them. Perhaps these classes you suggest would show teachers how to incorporate them without making the teachers feel it would just make more work than necessary.

  4. Nice post DD. It's sad that the teachers aren't getting the proper training...perhaps they can suck it up like the rest of us and figure it out on their own...I've been doing that for 20 years.

    What's even sadder is I am now an "immigrant"! Oh well, at least I speak it fluently for the most part.

  5. a teacher friend of mine is challenged daily. she likes to say that her mission is "to get teacher off dinosaurs they're riding and into the digital age". she's big in-classroom collaboration. she uses http://etherpad.org/ and googlewave. one of the arguments she makes to her colleagues is that kids read and write on the screen from day one. why wouldn't teachers want to make sure that they are learning to read and write effectively and creatively? technological innovation is our future. so are our kids.

  6. great post. I like how you classify the groups in digital natives and digital immigrants with accents. It's a really good analogy. I know someone my age who still refuses to pay his bills online, opting to mail it in instead, because he just doesn't trust the internet with his payment information. I think a lot of that "foot in the past" behavior also has to do with how insecure information on the web can be sometimes.

  7. Great post. Your last paragraph reminds me of the resistance to online newspapers that so-called old school teachers held. In my own post on the topic I spoke from a student's point of view. Whereas typing homework and using the computer was once thought of as the "easy way out" or elitist, within just a few years the education system did an about face, instead making it mandatory for students to turn in printouts rather than handwritten assignments.