User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Examining Your Beliefs About Digital Youth

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This weekend I attended a conference presentation entitled, Cultural Imposition: When Digital Immigrant Therapists See Digital Native Clients (yep, I know there is some push back against the terms of digital natives and digital immigrants). It’s focus was understanding digital youth as a unique culture. It got me thinking, though, about the assumptions that adults who work with and teach youth make about their digital use and behaviors.

Guiding Questions for Examining Teaching Practices Within a Context of Digital and Social Media Use:

  • How does the social-cultural phenomena of digital access and use affect your work as an educator?
  • What are your assumptions about the use of digital technology and social media?
  • What issues about social media have emerged in your work with students?
  • What are your thoughts about digital communication?

Educators way too often make unquestioned assumptions about digital youth and their use of social media:

  • Texting is generally bad – it stifles both written and spoken language.
  • Genuine communication and attachment cannot occur through social media.
  • Wikipedia and Youtube are generally not sources of valid information.
  • Sharing personal information publically is undesirable.
  • Online multiplayer games keep young people from doing productive things with their lives; they are escapes from the reality-the real world.

These beliefs or assumptions are absolutes and often signify biases of those who not of the digital youth cultures. To these assumptions, one must ask, “Who says?” or “According to whom?” They can and should be examined within a framework and context of a digital youth culture. This would help educators and others who work with them having a greater understanding of their media use patterns and the meaning of these patterns from the perspective of the youth themselves.

What is culture?

The ACA Code of Ethics defines culture as “membership in a socially constructed way of living, which incorporates collective values, beliefs, norms, boundaries and lifestyles.” Although specific definitions of culture vary depending on the source, cultural components consistently include language, cuisine, music, dress, government, gestures, grooming and technology.

I believe and discussed that educators should be ethnographers of their learners. The effective educator learns about the cultures of their learners and uses their knowledge to design instruction, suggest resources, propose learning strategies based on those cultures.

In doing this type of examination, the following might be considered:

  • Educators may discover that they view actions of digital youth and their tech use as devious-undesirable without understanding the motivations.
  • By not allowing tools/strategies that digital youth use on a daily basis, educators may inadvertently be alienating them.
  • When we make school policies about technology in the learning environment, why aren’t the thoughts and ideas of the digital youth in those classrooms considered?

It is important for adults who work with digital youth to see that culture through the eyes of the youth and whenever possible and feasible to bring aspects of the digital youth culture into the learning environment. If the adults in young people’s lives gain a greater understanding of the use and meaning of digital media, they can offer (offering as in suggesting not insisting) youth ways to navigate the digital world for learning, for positive identity development, and for developing a positive online presence. Digital youth can benefit from the adults who can help them develop tools and strategies for facilitating positive coping and navigation in the digital environment. But this can only occur if those adults have a deep and realistic view of the behaviors of digital youth.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 30, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. I like the point about ” their tech use as devious-undesirable without understanding the motivations” I think that allot of people who did not grow up in this environment automatically view technology in the class room as devious. Granted there are allot of devious applications of that tech that should not be used in a classroom. There are a wide array of great educational tools that we can use in our classrooms.


    September 29, 2015 at 6:22 pm

  2. Hi Jackie,

    I found this post so interesting. It is so true that many of us have the same assumptions about video games, texting, wikipedia, and communication in general and its effect on youth. In some ways I have thought that instead of fighting these beliefs or assumptions I would love to be able to incorporate some of these ideas in how students learn within the classroom. You mentioned in another post about building on learner interest and passions. Why not bring the concept of digital youth into the classroom to help students learn? I am not quite sure how to incorporate this idea effectivelty but love the idea of investigating it more.


    James Harenberg

    September 29, 2015 at 11:21 pm

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