The Joys (And Challenges) Of Being An Immigrant

Immigrant: an organism found in a new habitat
I am a digital immigrant.  I thought I was fairly up to speed with technology, proud of the fact that I participated in the pilot Desire2Learn (D2L) project at Vancouver Island University (VIU).  What I’ve learned during the past 5 weeks is that I have barely scratched the surface of available teaching and learning tools.  Even though I know D2L quite well, I still see tools hiding in there that I don’t know how to use!  Prensky (2001) makes a distinction between a digital immigrant and a digital native, especially in how they approach learning.  I chuckled when he described how you may identify a digital immigrant; for example, one who needs to print a document out to edit it rather than edit on screen – that’s me!  But like all immigrants, I have a choice to either immerse myself in this new world (language, culture) or stay firmly in the past.  I feel this tug-of-war inside me on an almost daily basis.
stressed cartoon
What keeps pushing me to learn the new language?  I think it is a combination of my beliefs around teaching and learning, and the support and enthusiasm of my cohort and instructors in the OLTD program.  How can you resist learning a new tool when your peers are so excited about sharing it with you!  I can’t simply refuse to incorporate Web 2.0 tools into my classroom because they make me uncomfortable.  This is hypocritical, since I often ask my students to complete tasks that push them outside their comfort zone.My classes are a mix of digital immigrants and natives.  How do I approach learning so that everyone can be successful?  I think I would use a LMS (D2L) as my ‘home-base’ since it is the standard for VIU and most students will have experience in this platform.  For my digital immigrant students, this may act like a ‘welcome centre’ where they can get a sense of the culture and go from there.  But, as Sclater (2008) points out, a “learning management system suggests disempowerment – an attempt to manage and control the activities of the student by the university” (p. 2).  Adults, according to Malcolm Knowles, prefer to be responsible for decisions related to their education.  Constraining an adult within a LMS removes choice.How can I add non-LMS resources to address this?  Using D2L as a starting point, I can gradually add Web 2.0 tools that put more responsibility on the student for learning rather than learning directed by the instructor.  For example, students could use Google sites to create a collaborative wiki on a course topic.   Asking students to use web and library searches to research a course topic before discussing it in class encourages inquiry.  I can also give them many options for assessment tasks, where they can choose which topic interests them and which tool to use for presentation (e.g. Prezi, SlideShare, PowerPoint, etc.).Adult students also learn best when they can draw on their personal experiences and see the relevance in the content.  Discussion forums are a great way to encourage community and allow students to make connections to their own reality.  However, simply asking a question and having students respond to me would not encourage connection.  Instead, I can ask my learners to choose one of several concepts in a unit and discuss how it connects to their own experiences.  Moving the discussion outside of D2L, where students cannot access it beyond the dates of the course, would enable students to continue their discussions and remain part of their learning community if they wish.  Google Plus seems like a great way to do this!Adults are problem-centred rather than content-centred learners.  To date, much of my teaching is content-centred.  I try to add interactive activities in the classroom, such as case studies in biology, or comparison shopping in math.  But I would like to explore non-LMS tools such as 3D Gamelab or Minecraft as options for creating problem based scenarios for students to apply their learning.  Yes, you read correctly – I’m considering GAMES!So where does this leave me?   I am and always will be a digital immigrant.  But when things get hard, and I’m feeling like I just can’t learn the language, I can always turn to my peers and my personal learning community for support.  Despite the challenges of moving from face-to-face to blended teaching, I know deep down that what I’m doing is for the benefit of my students.  And that is what is most important to me.

Sclater, N.  (2008).  Web 2.0, Personal Learning Environments, and the Future of Learning Management Systems (Research Bulletin 2008(13).  Retrieved from Educause Center for Applied Research website

Prensky, M.  (2001).  Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.  On The Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.  Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf


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