Can you be a native in a world that is always changing?

So I’m working on an assignment examining and critiquing the government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER). It looks like the argument I’m going to make is that it won’t be a success. Where success is defined as achieving its goals, which is to

contribute sustainable and meaningful change to teaching and learning in Australian schools that will prepare students for further education, training, jobs of the future and to live and work in a digital world

I think it will fail mostly because that it fails to recognise what Collins and Halverson (2009, p. xiv) describe as the “deep incompatibilities between technology and schooling”. i.e. the digital world that the DER is trying to prepare students for is itself largely incompatible with the nature of schooling.

In addition, as I read more about the DER and its various sub-projects, the more I am seeing the thinking of digital immigrants. I’m not sure that the people developing the DER sub-projects actually understand the nature of the digital world. At least not in its current incarnation in terms of social media, Web 2.0, etc. An argument I extended a bit in the comments section of this post from yesterday.

I hear the groans and the cries of “bingo” from those playing educational technology/Captain Obvious bingo. Surely not the old digital immigrants/natives silliness again? Well, yes, but not not the Prensky version, the Barlow version (which I believe arose prior to Prensky) described here by Lankshear and Bigum (1998)

Barlow’s third distinction is between those he calls ‘immigrants’ in Cyberspace, and those he calls ‘natives’. This is the difference between those who have, as it were, ‘been born and grown up’ in Net-space (the natives) and those who have, as it were, migrated to it. More to the point, it distinguishes those who ‘understand the Internet, virtual concepts and the IT world generally’ from those who do not: i.e., it distinguishes mind-sets. Immigrants don’t have the experiences, history and resources available to them that natives have and, to that extent, cannot understand the space that natives do.

Now I don’t believe that all the youngsters are natives and all us old folk are natives. But I do believe that there is a distinct difference in appreciation, knowledge, and accent between the natives of the “digital world” and those that are immigrants. And I’m sorry to say that I hear quite a broad immigrant accent as I read about the DER.

Can you ever really be a native?

This has got me wondering about the somewhat static definitions of native and immigrant. If non-stop change is a defining characteristic of the digital world, can you ever remain a native of it forever? What about if personalisation, customisation, and diversity are also defining characteristics of the digital world? Can anyone person be considered a native?

Perhaps this is part of the argument for moving toward Dave White’s metaphor of Visitors and Residents.


Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology: The digital revolution and schooling in America. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lankshear, C., & Bigum, C. (1998). Literacies and technologies in school settings: Findings from the field. Keynote address to 1998 ALEA/ATEA National Conference. Canberra, ACT, Australia: Full text at: http://www. geocities. com/c. lankshear/litandtechs. html. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from

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