June 04, 2007

Prensky IV (Need a creative, catchy title)

Prensky has a book out, as well.

Marc Prensky - Digital Natives Digital Immigrants
©2001 Marc Prensky
By Marc Prensky
From On the Horizon
(NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001)
© 2001 Marc Prensky - Part 4

“Legacy” content includes reading, writing, arithmetic, logical thinking, understanding the writings and ideas of the past, etc – all of our “traditional” curriculum. It is of course still important, but it is from a different era. Some of it (such as logical thinking) will continue to be important, but some (perhaps like Euclidean geometry) will become less so, as did Latin and Greek.

“Future” content is to a large extent, not surprisingly, digital and technological. But while it includes software, hardware, robotics, nanotechnology, genomics, etc. it also includes the ethics, politics, sociology, languages and other things that go with them. This “Future” content is extremely interesting to today’s students. But how many Digital Immigrants are prepared to teach it? Someone once suggested to me that kids should only be allowed to use computers in school that they have built themselves. It’s a brilliant idea that is very doable from the point of view of the students’ capabilities. But who could teach it?

As educators, we need to be thinking about how to teach both Legacy and Future content in the language of the Digital Natives. The first involves a major translation and change of methodology; the second involves all that PLUS new content and thinking. It’s not actually clear to me which is harder – “learning new stuff” or “learning new ways to do old stuff.” I suspect it’s the latter.

So we have to invent, but not necessarily from scratch. Adapting materials to the language of Digital Natives has already been done successfully. My own preference for teaching Digital Natives is to invent computer games to do the job, even for the most serious content. After all, it’s an idiom with which most of them are totally familiar.
Not long ago a group of professors showed up at my company with new computer-aided design (CAD) software they had developed for mechanical engineers. Their creation was so much better than what people were currently using that they had assumed the entire engineering world would quickly adopt it. But instead they encountered a lot of resistance, due in large part to the product’s extremely steep learning curve – the software contained hundreds of new buttons, options and approaches to master.

Their marketers, however, had a brilliant idea. Observing that the users of CAD software were almost exclusively male engineers between 20 and 30, they said “Why not make the learning into a video game!” So we invented and created for them a computer game in the “first person shooter” style of the consumer games Doom and Quake, called The Monkey Wrench Conspiracy. Its player becomes an intergalactic secret agent who has to save a space station from an attack by the evil Dr. Monkey Wrench. The only way to defeat him is to use the CAD software, which the learner must employ to build tools, fix weapons, and defeat booby traps. There is one hour of game time, plus 30 “tasks,” which can take from 15 minutes to several hours depending on one’s experience level.

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