Digital tool timeline

Digital foreigners, storytelling and the i‑generation

What do we do with these young ‘digital natives’ visiting museums? Large museums can meet them with technology. But what of small community museums manned by many who are often foreign to the digital world? What can they offer? Perhaps there’s lessons for all.

Presented by Janis Hanley, Qld rep for MAE and currently researching the value of digital storytelling as an education activity in community museums, for her Masters Honours thesis.




OK. So it was 2005 when Prensky coined the term “digital native.” Remember 2005? You might. Facebook has been born the year before. The term Prensky also coined was “digital immigrants.” Who’s heard that term? Yeah.

So that’s the rest of us. Even if we’re digitally fluent, we speak digital with an accent. It means technology isn’t as integrated into our lives as it is for our grandkids or kids. For instance, my lack of gaming skills has my 13-year-old really worried about my real driving. So I think my thumbs are digital immigrants. They just don’t have the dexterity. Poor Princess Peach.

You’ll also know about digital immigrancy if you’ve ever made the move from Microsoft to Apple, or vice versa. Five years ago since I did, and my Microsoft accent is thick still.

So here’s what Prensky said about digital immigrants. They need the information fast. They look like they’re not participating. It’s not that they can’t, they choose not to. And the digital immigrants think they can’t possibly be learning anything if they’re listening to music and watching TV. And that’s because the immigrants haven’t practised these skills since birth. The natives have.

There we are. So there’s those quotes. OK.

So at the small volunteer-run museum where my research is focused, I run digital story programmes inspired by HTAV and Culture Victoria. Students come, learn, create digital stories, and showcase them at the end of the day.

These days are very fast-paced. They’re high school students. Students can choose what to focus on from a vast range. And they’re using well-practiced iPad skills.

The average age of volunteers at the museum is 73. The majority turn 80 next year. Most have access to a computer and email. And most know how to reply. Attachments are more troublesome, though.

“Janis, love, do you think you could pop that in the post for me?” I often hear. But the thing is, they keenly participate in these digital storytelling excursions. They intuitively know it’s important for the museum and for the kids.

I’ve decided they’re digital foreigners, or perhaps digital tourists. It’s like when you visit another country, you might learn one of two words to get by. Hello, please, thank you. But that’s it. You know you’re not going to be in that country for that long, and not knowing the language isn’t really going to affect your life too badly. And that’s perfectly fine.

They speak a kind of pidgin digital. The metaphors could go on. But the point is, the digital divide. And get used to it. It’s not going away.
There’s a digital divide between students in year 12 and preps. And I think the buddy systems in K-12 schools are as much about the littlies teaching the seniors teaching digital fluency as it is about socialising the young ones. It’s the young ones who have the iPads.

And don’t think that when the World War II generation have gone the techno divide will cease. It will only get wider and more diverse. Grade eights programme Arduinos to build robots. Grade sevens create artefacts with 3D printers. Primary schools have green rooms for media productions. And that’s all happening in state schools. I’m so jealous.

So even if you’re as ancient as 30 years old, school is quite different now. When Prensky wrote of digital natives in 2005, he was writing about the undergraduates then. The 30-somethings of today. 10 years has seen a lot of change.

Here’s a timeline of where the world’s travelled since then. So since 2005 when he wrote this, we’ve had YouTube, Twitter, first iPhone, and first iPad. Significant things. And with us all being cultural workers, we know big changes aren’t about– was that too fast? Sorry. I don’t know how to go back. And I’ll lose time. Back arrow? Here we are. Sorry. I’ll leave that there.

So we know the big changes aren’t about technology. The huge things are socially. It’s about what we do day-to-day, and about all our relationships. So what can these digital foreigners in museums teach these iPad natives arriving at the door?

If the foreigners say, welcome, please bring your iPads, let’s make some history, very exciting things happen. Excitement comes from being co-creators. Kid, you handle the technology. I’ll tell the stories. Got the sound levels right?

Excitement comes from what my first research participant calls “en theos,” the God within. She says, if you teach from the God within, if you teach from your love, your enthusiasm will carry through.

A story passionately told is a story remembered. The seniors volunteering in these museums have this in spades. They desperately want children to feel what they’re feeling. You can’t make a digital story about someone else’s experience without truly listening to their story.

Great excitement also comes from a story remembered and retold. And I’ve got 37 seconds left. So I think what kids really need from early on is to start learning about communicating digitally. It’s not about programming. It’s learning about meaning. It’s learning about the multiple literacies that we take for granted. They need to effectively communicate meaning and emotion personally and digitally to have these multiple literacies, to discern the messages bombarding them each day as they swipe their iPads, headphones on, to be media savvy. This is what the new literacies are about. There’s the noise. Not passive, but active participants, creators.

Thank you.




Ed Program Design


← Schedule