The literature on Digital Natives addresses three themes: a skill-divided generation, what about technology is important, and what technology is important. A skill-divided generation refers to a non-homogeneous generation of technology users that are composed of power users, basic users, regular users, and irregular users. Power users represent the smallest percentage of this generation, basic and regular users the dominant percentage, and irregular a similar percentage as power users (Kennedy, 2010). Overall, each classification most frequently uses standard web and mobile technology, with power users being the unique subset to use content creation tools, virtual reality, wikis, or online gaming.
What about technology is important? Thompson (2013) found that students, “may be using a narrower range of technology tools than the popular press authors claim, and they may not be exploiting the full benefits of these technology tools when using them in the learning context” (p. 35). Evidence from other research points to a generation of students familiar with basic technology and limited knowledge to explore others tools to enhance their learning. However, variables such as socioeconomic status, technology use at home, access to a computer, and K-12 school district emphasis on technology may play a role in students’ perception of the significance of technology in their academic career.
What technology is important to students? While they may own multiple devices to keep them connect to social media, text messages, and email, most student value a combination of traditional and mobile technology for their academic work. The 2017 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology reports that 95% of students own a laptop, 97% own a smartphone, and although about half of students own a tablet, the majority of students surveyed that did not already own a tablet indicated that they did not plan on purchasing one. Laptops/desktops are the preferred technology for academic work, but 78% of students consider their smartphone moderately important to their academic success. NMC’s 2016 Student Technology Use Survey had similar responses.
My dissertation study addressed two dimensions in the technology experience of the Digital Natives who participated: how each student learned with technology during their K-12 and early college experience and how that experience shaped their ability to participate, collaborate, and learn through distance education technology. The focus was on a single cohort of teacher education students completing their fifth year teaching internship in a large midwest city while completing graduate level courses using asynchronous and synchronous technology. The teaching interns had to navigate through new technology while adapting to teaching responsibilities of a year-long apprenticeship year. What role does being a Digital Native play in the use of technology and how they adopt and use it to participate and collaborate in distance education?