There has been much ado made in library and information studies and higher education about meeting the needs of “digital natives”, those born around or after the nascence of the Internet and due to the ubiquity of the Internet during their formative years, are thought to possess an innate digital skill set. There have been many articles, studies, and posts debunking this myth, but we information and education types are still buying into it in full force.
Take, for example, the postcard I received today about an upcoming book “The New Digital Scholar: Exploring and Enriching the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students” published by Information Today, Inc. A note about this book up-front: I have not read the book (and don’t own a copy) but am simply basing my observations on the marketing postcard and associated write-up. Not only does it use the ever-so-trendy moniker of “NextGen” to describe these “digital natives” but calls upon us as educators to throw out decades of good pedagogical research because the “practice of research-writing is mired in practices poorly suited for digital natives”. This book is ostensibly “designed for the information universe that NextGen students inhabit”. And that would be the universe of Angry Birds and texting?
Yes, it’s true that this “NextGen” may have a smart phone with them at all times. And yes they know how to text and play games. And they like to think themselves savvy consumers of all things “digital”. In my experience, however, many of these students know little beyond the superficial in the “information universe” and are much less savvy that they appear to be on the whole, especially with information gathering, writing, and the formation of ideas. I would argue that instead of pandering to these “digital natives” by throwing out traditional pedagogy around research and writing, in favor of “digital” projects that this generation is neither interested in or has the skills to complete, we ought to be assessing the needs of this generation of “digital natives” and finding ways to make tried-and-true methods and theories of pedagogy speak to this generation.
Assessment is the key to creating both pedagogy and information services and products that speak to a target group of individuals. As soon as we abandon this myth of “digital nativity” and determine the real wants and needs of this generation, we will have a real nativity of new ideas and methods of teaching research, writing, and other subjects to the NextGen.