Created by Ruth Elliott

Welcome! Join me as I reflect on my learning journey with Web 2.0 tools. I'm sure I will find bandwagons to jump on along the way. Let's enjoy the trip.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bridge over the Digital Divide

Opening of the Victoria BridgeImage by Sheila Steele via Flickr

I live in the "City of Bridges" on the Canadian prairies. The city of Saskatoon currently has four traffic bridges and two railway bridges allowing trains and vehicles to cross over the South Saskatchewan River. In the early days of this city, there were no bridges. Since the settlement was established on both sides of the river, people used a ferry boat in the summer and crossed the ice in the winter. However, in the spring and fall, there was no way to cross the river. There was great rejoicing when first a train bridge and later a traffic bridge were built across the river.

As I think about the geographical divide in my city of Saskatoon, I apply the thoughts of divisions and bridges to the digital divide in the educational technology world. In an era in which students and teachers are encouraged to use the resources of the internet, both within and outside of school, many divides can prevent this ideal digital world. In a blog post, mmardis (2008) suggests that there are four dimensions of digital divides--access, skill, motivation, and policy.

Access: A group in the United States called Internet for Everyone (website) posits that lack of internet access is related to social class, geographical location, and race. In Canada, a Stats Canada study found that in 2003, within the lowest income quartile, only 22.6% had internet access at home. For the highest income quartile, 75.8% had internet access at home. (Hick, Graham, & Jones, 2008) It costs money to purchase high-speed internet access at home.

The Speech from the Throne in 1997 promised to make Canada the most connected country in the world. (Dowding, 2008) Many cities and university campuses have free wireless internet. However, in rural settings, high-speed internet is often unavailable.In some geographical locations, the only option is dial-up access. My sister lives in rural Saskatchewan and refuses to open any digital photographs (sent as email attachments) because it takes so long using dial-up access. Internet for Everyone would call this the "digital dirt road". They documented people's stories of living far from ideal internet access in rural America. (website)

In the end, this lack of access to high speed internet results in a limited experience of the value of connectivity. "What a person can accomplish with an outdated [computer] in a public library with mandatory filtering software and no opportunity for storage or transmission pales in comparison to what [a] person can accomplish with a home computer with unfettered Internet access, high band-width, and continuous connectivity. (Jenkins, n.d., p. 15)

Another issue with access is the hardware and software needed to use technology. I recently visited a school library which had nine computer terminals. However, when I sat down to search for a book for a student, I was shocked to discover that the mouse had NO SCROLL WHEEL. I have become so accustomed to a scroll wheel that I did not know what to do for a moment. At this particular school, the computers in the library and in their computer lab are receiving only minimal upgrades because their technology budget is going to purchase pods of laptops that can travel from classroom to classroom.

Some schools have outdated computer equipment and many students have no computers at home. Last year in my classroom, only half of the students had computers at home. These six and seven year old students did not even know how to manipulate a computer mouse. If students with no computers at home do not learn how to use computers at school, the gap between the rich and the poor will grow even wider.

In Canada, the government recognized that it needed to provide computers for the community. In 1994, the Community Access Program (CAP) was created under the auspices of Industry Canada. It aimed to "provide Canadians with affordable public access to the Internet and the skills they need to use it effectively. Public locations like schools, libraries and community centres [acted] as 'on-ramps' to the Information Highway, and [provided] computer support and training" (Dowding, 2008, p. 100). The CAP program continues to provide some funding for CAP sites across Canada. (website)

Some organizations (Geekcorps, EduVision, Inveneo) are working to provide lower cost technology options such as laptops, notebooks, handhelds, tablet PCs and low-cost wireless internet options. (Wikipedia)

Skill: Another type of divide is in the skill level that people bring to technology. Some may be very talented with texting using a cell phone but clueless about how to create an Animoto video. Some may be an expert in Web 1.0 innovations but unfamiliar with some of the new Web 2.0 tools. I recently attended a computer in-service regarding setting up a wiki. One of the Information Technology managers who co-lead the workshop talked about his unfamiliarity with Twitter. He was unwilling to develop a skill in this new direction.

Motivation: The above example also extends to motivation. People need to see a reason for learning about new technology. That IT manager did not see any value in Twitter and was unmotivated to push himself to learn about it. There is also a divide between those who love technology and those who are tech-averse. I think that it is helpful to tell these people that they are on the "digital continuum" as they learn and develop technology skills.

There are people who are motivated to be early innovators and adopt each new technology innovation that comes along. These people will be the ones learning about ChatRoulette (see blog post) and figuring out what to tell the rest of us. Then there are other people who are afraid of using a computer mouse because they might break the computer.

Policy: I recently visited a local school where the administrative assistant showed me the school portal online. She said that parents could give the school an email address and be permitted to access private information on the school website. They may check the school attendance and learn about assignments and read classroom newsletters. This is a new policy for the school division. What about those parents who do not have a computer, internet access at home, or an email account? They will be left on the other side of the digital divide for home to school communication.

When the city of Saskatoon was divided by a river, the citizens built six bridges to help vehicles and trains to cross that river. As educators, we can do a lot to help people overcome their digital divides as well. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Advocate for wireless internet access in schools and public settings so that laptops, phones with internet access and handheld devices can get online.

2. Support programs for recycling computer equipment that can be refurbished and given to low-income families.

3. Apply for CAP grants to support technology purchases and classes in your school.

4. Consider training adult volunteers (possibly even senior citizens) to assist young students in computer use. This will develop technology skills for both age groups.

5. Encourage school systems to invest in more hardware (desktop computers, laptops) and less software. Educate them about cloud computing and programs such as Google Docs and Slideshare so that costly site licenses are not necessary for software such as Microsoft Office.

6. If your school is one of the more well-to-do in your area, develop a program for sharing computers with schools in more socio-economically needy areas. In schools with wealthy parents, more funds are raised for computer purchases. Just as some schools have "book drives" for less-advantaged schools, your school could have a "computer drive" for less-advantaged schools.

Here are two videos that give a few more ideas for how to overcome the Digital Divide. Good luck with your bridge building.

Video from India about Bridging the Digital Divide

Project regarding bridging the digital divide in a rural area (video)


Dowding, M. (2008). The digital divide: Canada's access as a neo-liberal commodity. Rivista Mexicana de Estudios Canadienses, 97-110.

Hick, S., Graham, J., & Jones, M. (2008). Navigating the digital divide. Currents: New Scholarship in the Human Services, 7, 2.

Jenkins, H. (n.d.). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century.

mmardis. (October 30, 2008). Web 2.0 in schools: Our digital divides are showing! AASL Blog.

Wikipedia. Digital Divide entry.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

Filter Frustrations: Why Block Google Docs?

Yesterday morning I rose with the dawn to descend to my basement office for homework duty. My basement is always chilly (1964 home with little insulation to keep out the cold). That morning my sweater, scarf, and blanket were not enough to keep away the shivers. I kept working, reading, and typing while sipping hot coffee to warm up. When my husband got up, he noticed that it was cold in our house. He checked the temperature on our set-back thermostat (which automatically lowers the temperature at night and raises it in the morning). 16.5 degrees Celsius (62 degrees Fahrenheit)! Normal household temperatures should be around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. No wonder I was turning into an ice cube!

Our furnace was not turning on. As I imagined huge repair bills and the need to call a furnace specialist out on a weekend (big $$$$), my husband went to look at the furnace. He pulled out the filter. It was totally clogged with debris filtered from the air circulating through our home. (That's a picture of it on the right.) Once the filter was removed and replaced with a new one, the furnace turned on. We had never realized that a clogged filter could cause our entire heating system to shut down.

Once my brain began to warm up, I had an A-Ha moment. I had been working on the topic of Filtering in the online world. Could there be any parallels with my own physical world filtering crisis? With the recognition that every metaphor breaks down at some point, here are some of the parallels that I noticed.

  • Filters are necessary to keep out harmful stuff (dust, lint, and bunny hair for our furnace; pornography, depictions of violence, and lewd language on the internet).

Most public schools (if not all) block sites which depict violence, graphic sexual imagery, or improper language. In the class discussion this week, it has been recognized that, due to Intellectual Freedom measures, many public libraries have a much lower firewall. I was disturbed to learn (via a video shared by Mark), that in a Chicago Public Library, the freedom experienced by adult library patrons to view pornographic images is impeding the freedom of other library patrons. The third floor of that library has become a "no-fly zone" for many women and families. Ideally, the freedom of access enjoyed by one person should not adversely affect another individual.

Since public schools routinely block this kind of harmful viewing, the question becomes: What do public school students do when using home computers? Many parents have software on home computers which blocks harmful sites. However, technology savvy young people often know how to skirt these controls. For this reason, students need to be educated about how to use the best filtering system of all--the filter between their ears. Vicki Davis (2010) worked with middle years' students to find safe sites for younger children to use. She taught her students how to create their own filters to detect harmful influences. Teachers and parents need to teach children how to develop their own filters. If you read the transcript of the presentation by Vicki's students, you will see how they learned to filter out harm and to evaluate websites.

As I thought about this aspect of educating students to erect their own filters, I could see that teacher-librarians may be the ideal candidates for teaching these lessons. Teacher-librarians could work with students of any age and with parents to explain some of the issues. Teacher-librarians could teach even the very young what to do when something inappropriate appears on the screen ("Hit the button to turn off the monitor and then call an adult").

  • Filters need to be adjusted or tuned up from time to time.
In a world where technology is always changing, the filters used by public schools must also be altered. As I read what people were saying about this issue online, I noticed someone complaining about their school system blocking Google Docs (a free online application that is similar to Microsoft Word). That teacher had to use a fancy work-around in order to get access to a Google document created at home. As someone who uses Google Docs for most of my word-processing work, I would be upset if I could not have access to that document at school.

The adjustment of the filter requires mechanisms for removing blocks to sites and for adding a block to a site. Buffy Hamilton shared her procedure for requesting access to a blocked site:

"Just this week, I had to spend some time making a case for a tool I wanted unblocked so that students could access a powerful social bookmarking and sharing tool. I thought it was important enough for my students that I took the time to compose a professional letter of request complete with links of articles that outlined the educational uses of this tool and an explanation of how it was endorsed by AASL on their Top 25 Websites for Teaching and for Learning, which included a great explanation of how the tool was tied to one of the 21st Century Standards for Teaching Learning. I took time to explain how I planned to use it and why it was important to our research project. I even offered to go to the district office and do a demonstration of the tool. Because of the efforts I made, I fully expect the tool will be unblocked next week." (Comment on blog post, Nelson, 2009)

Who is in charge of adjusting the filter and fine-tuning its parameters? Some have complained that it is the technology people in school board offices who are erecting the filters. It would be ideal to have technology-savvy teachers and administrators working on a committee with the technology wizards to implement filtering decisions. In some systems, filtering decisions are made at the school itself. If a teacher wants a site unblocked, the administrator at that school has the authority to lift the filter for that site.

In some school divisions, the requirements for unblocking a site are so onerous, that teachers give up even asking. One teacher (Nick) at a huge high school (1700 students, only one fax machine) was required to fax in a request to unblock a site. After sending two faxes along with numerous emails regarding the status of the requests, both requests were denied. No wonder that teacher gave up for that year. (Comments, Warlick, 2009)
  • If I banned air or furnaces in my house, the furnace filter would remain perfectly pristine. No dust mites would cling to its surface. The filter would be clean but I would have no air or heat.
If tight controls are kept on internet use at school, this impedes students from using technology to its fullest advantage. When many sites are blocked, it is like "teaching traffic safety to kindergartners by banning roads" (Abram, 2007, p. 21). Just as air and heat need to circulate in my home (which will lead to a dirty filter), technology needs to flow quite freely in schools. We need to "stop letting paranoia, combined with laziness, block teachers...and students from the internet resources they deserve to access at school" (Bell, 2008, p. 37). There needs to be a balance of freedom and checks on the freedom, a balance of privileges and acting responsibly with those privileges.
  • Draconian filtering can cause the entire system to stop working.
After our furnace stopped working because the filter was stuffed-up with junk, my husband mentioned that he had recently put in a filter that caught more of the small bits. This filter was plugged up more quickly than any filter in the past. Thus, our furnace ground to a halt.

In the zeal to keep students safe, the firewall at a school may be far too high. It may block most of the "new, innovative tools that allow students and teachers alike to leverage technology in powerful new ways" (Hall, 2008, p. 26). With the many Web 2.0 tools, there are more opportunities than ever before for on-line collaborations between teachers, students, and classrooms. I remember learning about one teacher who invited people from around the world to Skype with her grade one class. She asked her Skype guests to share what they remembered learning in grade one. This interaction took place on the second day of the new school year. Imagine the impression this would leave on those young students! However, if that teacher's school system blocked Skype, this online interaction would never have occurred.
  • Filters come in many shapes and sizes. You need to use the one that works best for your system.
Since furnaces come in all shapes and sizes, furnace filters come in an array of shapes and designs. So too, the appropriate filter must be selected for a school. Recently Janet French (2010, p. A3), an education journalist for the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, reported that my school division has chosen to lift Internet filters for teachers and high school students. (Read the entire article underneath the Reference list for this blog post.) The powers that be in my school division have recognized that filters come in many shapes and sizes. They are making choices to apply those filters in different ways depending on the age of the student.

One of the articles I read for this assignment, talked about the Virtual Wild Wild West (Hall, 2008). When I think about the wild and crazy side of the internet, one application that comes to mind is YouTube. However, even YouTube has decided that it is time for some filtering. A YouTube visitor can select the level of filter that they want (Ingram, 2010). Here is their video about how to filter YouTube if you want to do that.

You Tube Safety Mode Demo
  • Now, here's where my metaphor or the parallels between filtering the air for my furnace and filtering the internet for students breaks down. My furnace is never going to develop the wisdom or mechanisms for filtering the air for itself. My students will need to develop the wisdom or mechanisms for filtering the internet for themselves.
We need to move from "policing the way students use the internet to educating them about using it more safely" (Villano, 2008, p. 54). Once students leave the more protected digital environment which may be in place at school, they need to know how to deal with the possible dangers of an unfiltered setting at home or elsewhere. Teachers and parents need to work together to educate students. According to Villano, in Finland there are no filters at schools for internet content. They believe in educating students so that the filters exist in their minds.

Before I leave this topic of filters, I have one more thought about filters. This blog post so far has examined the filters in place for content incoming from the internet. One last aspect of filtering is to have a filter in place for personal content that is going out to the internet. In the summer, I interviewed a 15 year old boy about his use of technology. He said that many of his friends used YouTube as their main way of communicating with each other. However, he said that many of the conversations on YouTube were rude and contained profanity and vulgarity. This week, as I have followed the Olympics online, I have been very interested in the concurrent Facebook chat for each live event. (For an example, check out this CTV site for hockey coverage.) I have been horrified by the nasty comments in the chat. If someone dislikes another person's comment, he or she begins to critique the other person's spelling, attitude, and nationality. There were even people who made negative comments about the profile picture of the other person (e.g. You look ugly in your profile picture). Admittedly, there were some people who were saying nice things and trying to calm the vitriol. These were strangers who were interacting on the chat. Where were their filters? Why were they being so rude and nasty to each other? I believe that teachers need to educate students to filter what is going out online as well as what is coming in.

The filter problems that stopped my home furnace from working were easily fixed with the insertion of an brand-new filter. The issue of filtering digital content in education will not be so easily resolved. Let's help our students develop the best filters of all--the ones between their ears.


Abram, Stephen. (January/February 2007). Justifying the Social Tools: Improving the Conversation. In Multimedia & Internet@Schools, 14, 1, 21-22. ProQuest Journals.

Bell, Mary Ann. (September/October 2008). I'm Mad and I'm Not Gonna Take It Anymore! In Multimedia & Internet@Schools. ProQuest Journals.

Davis, Vicki. (January 28, 2010). Super social safety: Digiteens share the best (and worst) in social sites for kids. In Cool Cat Teacher Blog.

French, Janet. (February 10, 2010). Division lifts Internet filters. In Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, page A3. (Copied in full at the bottom of this blog post)

Hall, Don. (May 2008). Web 2.0: The Virtual Wild Wild West. In Learning & Leading with Technology. ProQuest Journals.

Ingram, Matthew. (February 10, 2010). YouTube Gets Violence and Profanity Filter. Blog post at GIGAOM.

Nelson, Cathy. (October 17, 2009). Filters? A Problem of Complacency. Blog post at Techno-Tuesday. Online at

Warlick, David. (July 11, 2009). Filters Work. Blog post in 2 Cents Worth. Online at

Villano, Matt. (May 2008). What are we protecting them from? In T.H.E. Journal, 35, 5, 48-54. ProQuest Journals.

Copy of Article from Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

French, Janet. (February 10, 2010). Division lifts Internet filters. In Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, page A3.

Public school students can now access websites that were once blocked. The virtual wall keeping Saskatoon public high school students away from Internet distractions while at school has come down. As of Feb. 1, Saskatoon Public Schools lifted a significant portion of the extensive Internet filters it has had in place since the 1990s. It gives students at the division’s 11 collegiates access to previously blocked sites, including video-sharing site YouTube, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, file-sharing sites such as Napster and the ability to chat online using instant messenger programs.

Similarly, last September, the division also loosened Internet restrictions for teachers and other school staff.

“If we’re going to invest in technology — and we have — then let’s make sure both our teachers and our students are learning the strategies and the available resources that are going to maximize learning in the 21st century,” said public division superintendent of education Barry MacDougall.

The decision came after a division sub-committee that looks at technology in learning studied the practices of other school divisions and recommended opening up more of the Internet, says Patricia Jamison, co-ordinator of curriculum and instruction at the public division. The students have access to the Internet both on school computers and by logging on to each school’s wireless network with personal laptops or cellphones.

Filters still exist that aim to block sites such as pornography, Internet gambling and other content not appropriate for schools.

Jamison says loosening up restrictions has allowed classes to take part in activities such as chatting with Canadian soldiers stationed in Afghanistan or an Australian bug expert over Skype, and giving students and teachers the ability to watch videos online to back up what they’re learning in lectures. One teacher is going to be blogging from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and another school set up a blog that allows students to post their work, then get feedback from other students.

Although students technically could use school computers and Wi-Fi networks to fool around, they’re not supposed to, Jamison says. Students are supervised while using computers at school and the division has posted an “acceptable use policy” students are supposed to follow. The rules say kids and teachers aren’t supposed to use the Internet for “personal” activities, such as sending personal messages or watching video; playing games or looking up information that’s “not for learning” or using the web to say mean or hurtful things.

The consequences include having Internet and computer privileges revoked or paying to replace broken or damaged equipment.

Trusting students to police much of their own web activity is part of the learning experience, MacDougall says.

When asked if the expanded web access could be another distraction in classes, MacDougall said students determined to avoid paying attention will find a way, with or without the Internet.

“I don’t think the issue has changed,” he said. “It might be the medium that’s changed, but there have always been alternatives to listening.”

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, meanwhile, is sticking to a different philosophy.

In 2002, Catholic division administrators decided to install software to limit web traffic on school computers, blocking sites that had to do with pornography, hacking and other perceived threats.

Students and teachers also have different levels of web access in the division. Teachers, for example, have access to Facebook and YouTube, whereas students don’t, says superintendent of education Brendan Bitz.

However, if a teacher finds something on the Internet he or she wants to show in class as part of a lesson, and it’s blocked on school computers, Bitz says the division’s technical team can quickly unlock a web address for an appointed date and time.

“We’d rather stand protected and release these sites as they are required, rather than leave it out and worry about the difficulties that are created by inappropriate access,” Bitz says.

Limits on bandwidth and computer terminals also prompt the Catholic division to restrict students’ time online, Bitz says.

Other differences between the divisions are that, unlike public high school students, Catholic students don’t have access to wireless Internet in schools on their own laptops or cellphones (except one special program at St. Edward elementary); if legal, public division students can upload or download music, videos and other files using peer-to-peer sharing software (such as Napster), where Catholic students cannot; every Catholic high school student who uses a school computer must first have permission from a staff member; and each Catholic school sets its own “acceptable use” policy for computers, whereas Saskatoon public has a division-wide policy.
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Digital Pioneer Buys Grey Cup Tickets

Canadian Football LeagueImage via Wikipedia

During the Canadian Football League's regular season, I bleed green. My team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, wears green and white. We have season tickets and drive three hours to attend all of the home games for our team. This year, for the first time in decades, the Riders finished on top of the Western division. As we traveled to the Western division final game, visions of the Grey Cup (Canada's version of the Super Bowl game) danced in our heads. If we beat the Calgary Stampeders, we would be off to the Grey Cup the next week. Since the big game was taking place in Calgary, Alberta, we could actually drive there from our home in Saskatoon. The tricky part would be getting Grey Cup tickets. Since Calgary fans were hoping to see their team in the big game, tickets were sold out long before November of 2009.

As we drove to the game, I suggested to my husband that we should consider driving to Calgary for the Grey Cup. I used our cell phone to call my brother-in-law to ask him to start looking for tickets for us. We cheered our hearts out at the game in Regina. We beat the Stampeders and were off to the Grey Cup. Wow! Now we needed tickets. As we drove back to Saskatoon, we checked with my brother-in-law about tickets online. He gave us some prices for tickets. We realized that thousands of Rider fans across Canada would also be trying to find tickets.

After our three hour drive, we went online to check out prices and availability of tickets. Our daughter, who is living in Calgary, called us on Skype. She suggested we use Kijiji Calgary to find tickets. She was copying links into Skype so we could check out the various ticket offers. I emailed two people. One man responded right away and said I was the first to reply to his ad. He asked me to call him. I phoned to discuss his location in Calgary. Our daughter was still on Skype. We discovered that she was living a few blocks away from the man's location. We made arrangements for her to pay for and pick up our GREY CUP TICKETS!!!!! We were on our way to the Grey Cup game. (For those of you who don't follow the CFL, the Riders lost to the Montreal Alouettes because of a last second penalty for "too many men on the field" which allowed Montreal to kick a field goal. I still have a broken heart twibbon on my Twitter avatar. I have not yet read my local newspaper from the day after the game.)

Why have I shared this story with you? This week, for a class assignment, I have been asked to consider the concept of the "digital native" and the implications for teachers and schools. This story demonstrates the power of technology as used by a range of age groups for various purposes. We used cell phones, Skype calls, and landlines to communicate with other people. We used Kijiji and email to access and share information. Who were the digital natives and immigrants in this story? Are these terms adequate to categorize people and their range of interactions using technology?

I recently attended a presentation by Sir Ken Robinson. He suggested that technology is anything that has come into existence since you were born. For my parents, the old black telephone with a rotary dial would have been technology. For myself, a touchtone phone would represent technology. For my children, a cell phone would be an example of technology. However, as we think about digital technologies, who are the digital natives and who are the immigrants? Are these terms useful or do they obscure some of the realities for digital technology users today?

Digital Natives: In 2001, Prensky wrote an article about digital natives and digital immigrants. John Barlow may have been the first one to use the term "immigrants" to describe those who are newcomers to technology. In his "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" (1996), he said:

"You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole,the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat."

Prensky suggested that digital natives have grown up in a world of computers and digital technology. It must be recognized that the digital literacy of these natives may vary (Jorgenson, 2010). Jenkins (2007) suggests that using the term "digital native" as a metaphor for this group will reveal some realities while masking other realities. While some may be adept at social networking (via Facebook or Twitter), others may comment upon and create YouTube videos. Still others may shun digital productivity tools while reveling in the entertainment provided online.

Many educators are part of the "digital immigrant" group (Prensky, 2001). These are individuals who grew up without computers and have now learned (in some cases) to speak digitally. There are those teachers who are not yet comfortable with using technology as a teaching tool. They are on one side of the digital divide while their students are on the other side. They don't seem to speak the same language.

As I considered these two camps (natives and immigrants), I wondered where I fit in. I am part of the baby boomer generation who grew up in a world without computers. However, I believe that two skills provided my foundation for comfort with computers. Starting at the age of 6, I learned to play the piano. Then in high school, I took two years of typing classes. (The eye-hand coordination from playing the piano carried over into the ease of typing.) In 1985, when we bought our first computer (a Commodore 64), I was adept at the keyboarding aspect of computer use. With each new computer, I have built upon the early foundation of digital literacy. I realized that I am neither a native nor an immigrant. What am I?

Other educators have had the same dilemma. Kathy Schrock (2008) calls herself a "digital pioneer", one who "did not grow up with technology. It grew up with me, and I was there every step of the way." Like Schrock, I developed my skill set with technology after years of risk-taking and experimentation. In 1987, when I worked in a college bookstore, I advocated for the creation of a computer database for all of our books. I took all of the handwritten records of our stock and entered it into a database. I created the first website for my school in 1999 and then taught others to continue its upkeep. I continue to add to my technology repertoire. I don't know everything but I do know a lot. I am a digital pioneer.

Many people have pushed back against Prensky's concepts of the native and the immigrant. Some dislike the generalizations which paint a black and white picture. As Jenkins (2007) states:

"Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us."

Shirley, the leader of our class discussion this week, provided us with a matching game in which we were asked to match these quotes with the ones who said them:


1. No, I don't really want an iPhone. It seems too complicated. I just want a simple phone and will buy a Koodoo.

2. I get offended when people don't return my emails. I consider them to be like phone calls. I want a reply!

3. Sure, I would like to buy an iPad. I want to get caught up!

4. I have an iPhone, 3 computers, 2 iPods, 3 digital cameras, and have an iPad on order. Can't wait!

5. I hate Twitter! I even went off Facebook for a time.


a. 23 year old university student

b. 80 year old grandma

c. Baby Boomer Mom

d. Baby Boomer Dad

e. 20 year old university student

Challenge yourself to match the speaker with their quote. (I will give you Shirley's answers at the bottom of this post underneath the References.)

As my classmates and I attempted this matching game (quotes were from real people in Shirley's world), most of us were woefully inept at predicting who said what. This reveals the problem of generalizing. People are individuals--no one fits the mold. Harris (2010) suggests that the native and immigrant distinction is "malarkey" and that we should instead think about a continuum from "needing to be digitally nurtured" to "naturally digital". Each person's position along the continuum should be respected. Those who are naturally digital have an innate curiosity along with the ability to learn and adapt. If they are shown new technology they will figure it out on their own.

Here is an example from my life. I was watching a Flat World workshop taking place in Hong Kong last summer. Students and teachers were working together in learning and presenting information. I overheard a student mention that they could use WallWisher to share their research with others in the group. I looked this up on the internet and used WallWisher as a presentation tool for a class assignment in the fall. It wasn't actually the best tool to use because it ended up as a rather messy, chaotic bulletin board full of digital post-it notes. However, I had fun learning how WallWisher worked and have a new tool in my tool chest.

Those who need to be nurtured digitally are those who need more support and structure in learning to use technology. They need someone to guide, coach, and demonstrate the use of the tools. Last year I attended a workshop about PowerPoint. The instructor provided no handout and simply took us step-by-step through the creation of a PowerPoint slide. This was not an issue for me but many teachers in the class went away confused and uncertain of how to use this tool.

Another issue for those who are digital natives is that many of their most useful tools must be left at the school door. This leads to a disconnect between the world of the classroom and the world outside of school.

There are many implications for those who are teaching digital natives. I think that many digital natives are adept at using Web 1.0 tools (the static use of the Web) but not all are skilled with Web 2.0 tools (social media tools). Michael Wesch (2010) pointed out that most of the social media tools are less than five years old so that we are all digital immigrants with those tools. (Kathy Schrock would probably say that we are digital pioneers with those tools.)

Last summer I read an article (Piedra, 2009) outlining a vision of Web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0. We need to prepare our students for moving beyond simple use of technology to more complex and interactive uses. This article suggests that the next frontier lies in metatagging data so that "resources on the web can be described and linked in a way that it is possible to determine their meaning and allow reuse through many applications." An example of this use of Web 3.0 occurred after the recent earthquake in Haiti. People were tweeting out their distress calls or the cries for help from others. Once a protocol for using specific Twitter #hashtags was instituted, computers could quickly collect these distress calls and direct help to specific locations. Even the United States government began to look to Twitter, Facebook, and blog sites to assist them in knowing where aid was required.

Teachers need to teach for connections, otherwise students are left with random bits of information bytes. Recently we looked at standards for technology learning. In Alberta, technology is integrated within the curriculum. Therefore students are not learning to make a video. They are learning about the history of First Nations people in Alberta and then using various technology tools to uncover and present their information. Michael Wesch (2010) suggests that the subject to be learned should be at the center of the community. Then teachers and students can work together to investigate the subject. Each can use their strengths and learn from others in the areas of weakness. Bell (2010) says that the best way to learn about new technology is to "keep a kid around". Jenkins (2007) says that we need to recognize our own gaps and ask our students to teach us. We also need to recognize our students' gaps and teach them. I like the idea of the ripple effect in technology. As I learn something, I will teach you. Then you in turn can teach someone else.

Last year, I taught my grade one and two students how to use computers for learning and productivity. In the spring, my class taught the other grade one class how to use computers. The grade 7 class assisted my class with downloading digital photographs for use in a class powerpoint. In the future, I would like to set up a project with senior citizens who would come into the school. I would teach them some computer skills. Then they would assist the kindergarten, grade one and two classes with logging on and using computers. I would also love to see a partnership between middle years classes and senior citizens with using computers to do research together. Possibly, middle years students could help seniors research trips to warm destinations in the winter. They could compile information about the culture and customs of the countries where the seniors may visit. When the seniors return from their trips, they could report back to the class. They could also Skype from their destination country. Through engaging in this type of authentic learning, we would create a digital melting pot (Collier, 2009; Stoerger, 2009) which combines those who speak a variety of technology languages. Everyone would have the opportunity to acquire, refine, and update their technology skills.

One study (Bell, 2010) found that digital natives are weak in the areas of:

1) Searching - Students often "bounce" from resource to resource without thoroughly reading any of their online resources. Some people might call this "link flow" but only if you are picking up on the most important information. Students need help with online searches. They spend as much time navigating as they do in collecting information. Unfortunately, students are generally dissatisfied with the help of librarians with online searches. (Law, 2009) Many librarians want to teach the proper way to do searches (akin to "Eat Spinach Syndrome" or "eat your spinach, it's good for you). Students want just a little help and guidance, given as rapidly as possible.

2) Evaluating - Digital natives are "voracious content consumers" (Manafy, 2010) in a venue in which "quality arguments are irrelevant because...the market will decide" (Law, 2009). These users subscribe to the "wisdom of crowds" in which information is "more democratic and less authoritative" (Law). We need to help our students develop critical thinking skills so that they can evaluate information. (Braun, 2009).

3) Staying safe - As Barlow's (1996) declaration points out, it is tempting to put so many restrictions in place for the use of technology, that the baby can be tossed out along with the bath water. Many teachers have expressed their frustration with the firewall that their school systems have erected to protect their students. Often, this wall is keeping out many useful resources. I have read about many ways to get around a block on YouTube since teachers want to use some of the posted videos for teaching and learning in class.

Last year I listened to a presentation by Vicki Davis' (2010) students with the results of their examinations of social sites for younger children online. These grade 9 students were encouraged to disobey the rules to see what type of monitoring was in place on the various sites. Davis believes that the best type of filter is the one between the student's ears. She teaches students the skills to use when evaluating sites and for staying safe on the internet. I believe that this could be an effective model for other students. Older students could be asked to find safe sites for younger students to use.

One last issue for digital immigrants who are teaching digital natives is the issue of lack of training. Today I read a blog post (Still, 2010) which incredulously quotes a comment from a teacher who says that "teachers at the local high school are very tech savvy. They can do things like attach files to emails." These "tech savvy" teachers are somewhere on the digital continuum but neither Still nor myself would term them "tech savvy" in this day and age.

As I look at my school division, I see many computers, digital cameras and projectors, and even some Smart Boards (although I can see the latter may lead to "sage on the stage" interactions). However, there is a lack of professional development opportunities for those wishing to use technology and to teach its use to their students. This is a widespread problem as "far too many schools...will spend..on equipment and software and then fail to provide time and resources for training" (Bell, 2010).

Where are you along the digital continuum? Are you willing to share what you have learned and to ask for help from your students?

As I think about that continuum, I think of Kathy Cassidy's students and their reflections on media literacy, both tech and non-tech. (Kathy is a grade one teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.)

At the other end of the continuum in age is Ivy Bean (Twitter, 2009). Ivy is a British senior citizen who lives in a care home in England. She tweets using the Twitter name of IvyBean104. She is 104 years old. I have been following her on Twitter for six months. I came across an article in the Maclean's magazine from June of 2009 which mentioned Ivy. Ivy has been on Twitter longer than I have (I only started tweeting in July of 2009). She is a true Digital Pioneer.

In conclusion, let's not get caught up in glorifying or dissing the technology skills of others. Let's keep moving along the digital continuum while finding meaningful ways to interact with others. Engage in the global conversation along with Ivy Bean and Kathy's grade one class.


Barlow, John Perry. (February 8, 1996). A declaration of the independence of cyberspace. Online at

Bell, Mary Ann. (January/February 2010). What kids know (and don't know) about technology. In MultiMedia and Internet @ Schools, 17, 1, 39-42.

Braun, Linda. (November 22, 2009). Take the risk: Give teens the chance to think for themselves. In Technology.

Collier, Anne. (December 3, 2009). Not just digital natives and immigrants. In NetFamily

Davis, Vicki. (January 28, 2010). Super social safety: Digiteens share the best (and worst) in social sites for kids. In Cool Cat Teacher Blog.

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Greenhow, Christine. (September/October 2008). Who are today's learners. In Learning and Leading with Technology.

Harris, Christopher. (February 2010). Dumping on "Digital Natives". In School Library Journal, 56, 2, 14.

Jenkins, Henry. (December 5, 2007). Reconsidering digital immigrants. In The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins.

Jones, Sidney & Fox, Susannah. (January 28, 2009). Generations online in 2009. Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Jorgenson, Shirley. (February 5, 2010). Discussion post for EDES 545. University of Alberta (Blackboard).

Law, Derek. (December 2009). Waiting for the (Digital) Barbarians. In Information Outlook, 13, 8, 15-18.

Manafy, Michelle. (January/February 2010). The old news and the good news: Engaging the digital native in the value of news. In EContent, 33, 1, 30-34.

Piedra, N., Chicaiza, J., Lopez, J., Tovar, E., & Martinez, O. (2009). Open educational practices and resources based on social software, UTPL experience. American Conference On Telematics and Information Systems: Proceedings of the 2009 Euro American Conference on Telematics and Information Systems: New Opportunities to increase Digital Citizenship, Prague, Czech Republic, Article 34, DOI:

Prensky, Mark. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. In On the Horizon, 9, 5.

Schrock, Kathy. (October 12, 2008). Digital natives, digital immigrants, and digital pioneers. In Kathy Schrock's KaffeeKlatsch.

Still, Beth. (January 24, 2010). What does it mean to be tech savvy in 2010? In Nebraska Change Agent. Online at

Stoerger, Sharon. (July 6, 2009). The digital melting pot: Bridging the digital native-immigrant divide. In First Monday.

Twitter's oldest Brit user blogs casseroles. (no author) (June 1, 2009). Maclean's.

Wesch, Michael. (2010). The (Digital) Writing on the Walls (and why the walls don't matter anymore). Presentation at the University of Regina. (Video). Online at

(Answers for Match Quote with Speaker from Shirley Jorgenson
1. No, I don't really want an iPhone. It seems too complicated. I just want a simple phone and will buy a Koodoo.

e) My 20 yr old tech savvy daughter's plan was up. She was offered her Dad's Blackberry. No thanks. What about an iPhone? I just want a simple phone. I don't want to have to think abut it.(She has a iPod and lap top)

2. I get offended when people don't return my emails. I consider them to be like phone calls. I want a reply!

c) Baby boomer Mom. Applying the old phone etiquette of...if the phone rings you say hello.

3. Sure, I would like to buy an iPad. I want to get caught up!

b) 80 year old avid reader has been following the hype and has declared that this will be the place where she will jump in. She is jealous of her fellow seniors who keep up with their adult kids via email. She has lost status in the Lodge because of her digital poverty and wants to rectify this.

4. I have an iPhone, 3 computers, 2 iPods, 3 digital cameras, and have an iPad on order. Can't wait!

d) That was Boomer Dad!

5. I hate Twitter! I even went off Facebook for a time.

a) The 23 year old university student.