There is no doubt that technology profoundly changes the lives of human beings. Bennett and Maton are right to point out that technological advances, and the incorporation of these advances into every facet of individual and social life, have led and will lead to several positive and negative effects on individuals, interpersonal relationships, and society; introducing new ethical dilemmas which must be wrestled with and acted upon in order to regulate the use of these technologies. For example, modern technological saturation may lead to internet bullying, internet addiction, cyber predators, internet porn and sexual addiction, obesity, depression, gaming addiction, poor concentration and poor work quality (due to the tendency of the digital generation to multitask coupled with their need for constant entertainment). However, there are also clear positives to modern technological advances. For example, the availability of information, easy dissemination of information, the efficiency and speed of communication, and networking potential. However, researchers are still undecided about the effects of digital technology on human beings and much more study is needed to form a more solid understanding. Nevertheless, our society has embarked upon a mass migration towards the technological saturation of all of our young people without placing much thought on the effects of this on human life, which is, in my opinion, a great folly. Technology itself is neutral; it is neither a force for evil or for good. The splitting of the atom is just as useful for creating power as it is for creating weapons of mass destruction. It is the thoughtless incorporation of technology into every facet of human life which is the problem, not the technology itself. In this sense I agree with Bennett and Maton that the incorporation of technology into the classroom strategies of teachers should not be a panic issue where changes are undertaken out of fear of educational irrelevance, but should be undertaken with care, using a foundation of good research and philosophical reflection on issues that arise.
Bennett and Maton point out that there is disagreement amongst researchers as to whether or not there really is a gap between generations, caused by the widespread incorporation of digital technology into everyday life, which must be closed with new teaching initiatives and strategies. The label attached to the new technologically saturated generation is ‘digital natives’, due to their comfort with modern technology, having grown up in a society saturated by modern digital technology. Though earlier research suggested a large technological gap between older and younger generations this argument has been largely discredited. It is not that older generations are inept at using modern technology while younger generations are more adept (though this is certainly true to an extent in regards to much older generations) it is that they did not grow up in a world saturated by digital technology while the younger generation has. Bennett and Maton make the mistake of linking technological use with technological saturation, claiming that no distinct generation of digital natives actually exists. However, this appears to be untrue. While we must recognize that the incorporation of digital technology is a process, just as is the advance of technology itself, it is clear that for some saturation with this technology has been a lifelong experience while for some incorporation of digital technology has come later in adult life. While there is definitely an effect wrought on the adult population by the utilization of technology later in life, this effect is much different to that wrought on those who have always been surrounded by digital technology from a young age, due to the comparative high elasticity of the young human brain.
This is where the difference lies, not in any generational difference between abilities or willingness to use technology, but in the various changes brought about by this saturation with technology from early childhood onwards. From an educational standpoint it is well known that people learn in different ways, and that in order to communicate to a different sub section of the population in general, and individuals in particular, different sources of communication and learning must be employed. Due to this recognition it seems irresponsible not to take seriously the effects of technological progression on the learning and expressing capabilities of the younger generation, leading towards a change in teaching methods and strategies. However, this change is to be tentative rather than full blown, continually being informed by further research, lest we make changes that are detrimental to student learning and safety.
Bennett and Maton provide research that has shown that while technologically based activities are undertaken by the majority of digital natives there is a wide distribution in regards to frequency of use and their is significant variation in the way that digital natives use technology, with each individual exploring its use in regards to their own interests, motivations, and needs. This variation is substantial in relation to the need for a rethinking of teaching strategies for the new digital native generation. For example this research provides some justification for providing broader assessment opportunities for students to use their niche of digital technology in order to complete a task. Though this sort of research is helpful for resolving the predicament of 21st century teachers, as I have already noted, it must be taken tentatively and be thought through carefully before implementation is undertaken.
Though I disagree with Bennett and Maton on their assertion that no unique Digital Native generation exists, I commend their methodology for making decisions as to what extent technology should be incorporated into the education process.
Bennett, S. and Maton, K. Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Oct 2010, Vol. 26 Issue 5, p321-331.
Sevegny, A. (2012, April 23) Gratification versus Game Based Learning in the Classroom.