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The Teaching Space Podcast

The podcast is on pause for a year (as of August 2021) as I am tackling the final year of my masters in education (which I am doing alongside my full-time job). In the meantime, please revisit the considerable back catalogue of episodes. Also, give me a follow on Twitter, where I am still very active and sign up for my personal newsletter here. You can visit The Teaching Space website here:

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May 4, 2018

Podcast Episode 18 Transcript

Welcome to The Teaching Space podcast, coming to you from Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

Hello and welcome to Episode 18 of The Teaching Space podcast. It's Martine here. Thank you so much for joining me.

In this episode, I want to encourage you to question the idea of digital natives. I hear a lot about digital natives versus digital immigrants when the topic of ed tech comes up in my staff room and other staff rooms that I have the privilege of visiting.

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

Before we get into the discussion about whether digital natives and digital immigrants are even a thing, let's rewind a little bit and, I'll tell you about when these terms were first used.

Back in 2001, Marc Prensky wrote an essay, which coined the term digital natives and digital immigrants. He was getting at the fact that our students are digital natives and the teachers, most of the teachers, tend to be digital immigrants. This is a direct quote from the essay regarding Prensky's description of our students.

 "Our students today are all native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games, and the internet."

In other words, our students have been brought up with technology. That's what they know. They get technology naturally and, they have this innate ability to multitask when it comes to tech. They can be watching a YouTube video and typing up an assignment at the same time. Allegedly. 

Marc Prensky's Essay

Digital immigrants, on the other hand, are people who have not necessarily grown up with technology and have had to learn how to use everything and adopt new ways of working as a result.

Incidentally, here is a link to Prensky's essay.

In his essay, Prensky, (it's not very easy to say) Prensky goes on to explain that because teachers tend to be digital immigrants and students tend to be digital natives, they are speaking totally different languages. The result of this is that teachers really need to adapt the way they teach to the learners.

A Different Language?

At this point, I want to remind you that the reason for this very short episode is to get you to start challenging the idea that our students are digital natives, so hold that thought for just a minute.

While I believe that, in many cases, teachers speak a different language to their learners, I believe assuming our learners are digital natives can be quite dangerous.

I want to question why we assume that they are something different to us. Is it because we're worried that they know more than us? Is that a genuine fear that teachers have?

I'm only talking, of course, when it comes to technology here. Question it though.

Online Safety

Your learners might be able to intuitively use things like the latest iPhone and navigate apps like Snapchat, but often they don't have a clue about being safe online or using technology for anything other than social interactions. Really are these interactions social? Chances are, they don't have a clue about their digital footprint. 


As a quick aside, have you ever tried to use Snapchat? I'm not even joking when I say it's impossible. Yet, give it to a 15-year-old and they instantly know how to use it. It's fascinating.

I don't question the fact that young people's brains are wired differently today. That I can agree with. What I can't agree with is that these kids that we're teaching know all there is to know about tech because they certainly don't.


And that's where this multitasking thing, study after study, proves that there is no such thing as multitasking.

What learners are doing if they are looking at Twitter, and writing an assignment, and listening to Spotify, and watching a YouTube video, they aren't concentrating on all of those things at the same time. Our brains aren't wired to do that.

What we're doing is switching between tasks. When you switch between tasks really quickly, you're unable to get into a state of flow, a really deep state of concentration. So, you're only ever taking in information at a sort of surface level. 

If you're interested in exploring this concept a little bit further, you might want to listen to one of my previous episodes about the Pomodoro Technique and, you can find that at 

Modern-Day Student

I'm not questioning the fact that kids today are different to kids 20 years ago. I mean, they are overstimulated with all of the information and the distractions out there, and I think that creates a huge number of challenges for them.

Learners today are different but they're only different in the way that every single learner you teach is different and always has been. When you teach a class of 20 people, they are 20 individuals and that has always been the case.

If we go back to one of the fundamental things you learn when you do your teacher training, the first stage of the teaching, learning, and assessment cycle is identifying the needs of your learners.

Off the back of that, you plan the learning, and then you facilitate the learning, and then you assess the learning, and so on, and so forth.

The Fundamentals of Teaching Haven't Changed

Even though there is clearly a difference with today's learners, we can almost approach it in a similar way. As long as we identify the needs of our learners and accommodate those needs, then surely we are going to create the learning experience we want to.

We need to identify our learners' needs, get to know them really well, and work with them to understand how they learn best. We need to find ways to help them avoid multitasking, and that's really challenging. Again, I recommend you check out the Pomodoro Technique in Episode 12. 

Sharing Strategies

We also need to be really careful we don't make assumptions about our learners' functional level of online literacy. It's very difficult to delve into this important topic in just 10 minutes.

What I wanted to do with this episode is just maybe spark a few thoughts for you, and I'd really love it if we could carry on the discussion in The Teaching Space Staffroom, which is our closed Facebook group.

There is a mild irony of having a chat about all this stuff on a social media platform where are loads of distractions but just go with me there. It would be really great to hear your thoughts on this.

I'd love to know about challenges that you're facing in your classroom. Whether you've found you've had to adapt your practice over, say, the last 5 or 10 years. It would be great if you co could share some strategies for helping our learners navigate this very complicated tech-heavy world that we live in today.


I read quite a few interesting articles in preparation for this episode, such as this from Quartz which challenges the idea of the Digital Native being the child, and is interesting to read beside this article about the Myth of the Digital Native

Another article to check out is this one from The Teacher Toolkit, which not only looks briefly at the Myth of the Digital Native but eleven other the best ‘worst’ research myths and legends.

Wrap Up

Okay, it's time for me to wrap things up, but before I go, I have a cheeky favour to ask. If you've enjoyed this episode or any previous episodes of The Teaching Space podcast, please consider leaving a positive review on iTunes. It's really helpful for when other teachers are searching for education podcasts.

If The Teaching Space has lots of positive reviews, then we go straight to the top of the search results. If you'd be kind enough to consider leaving a positive review, I'd be really grateful. 

Okay, that's it. I'll see in the Facebook group and I hope you'll tune in to the next episode.

Thanks for listening.