Responding to the Digital Native

This blog post is in response to a prompt provided on my professor’s blog.

While theories abound about the differences of digital natives, the readings provided at the beginning of this term (Prensky, 2001; McKenzie, 2007; and Reeves, 2008) together make a strong argument that the differences cited by others are overblown. There may be some differences seen between generations as there has always been, but learning processes remain fairly constant.

In an earlier blog post I already decried jumping on the bandwagon of ebooks for academic use and the challenges that currently exist. I will therefore turn my attention to information literacy and research skills instruction and the digital native.

As a librarian, I am in the midst of this turmoil and controversy. Much is said about how online resources revolutionize learning. Questions about the continuing need or purposes of libraries and librarians are raised daily. Claims are made and overblown about digital natives’ use of technology and the resulting reduced need for library resources or instruction. In some cases, school libraries are downsized or even closed because of this false perception.

Paradoxically, I see even greater need for research and library instruction because of the technological revolution. Teachers and administrators often assume that because digital natives know how to use a computer, they must therefore also already know how to define research questions, create effective research strategies and evaluate and correctly document sources. They question the need for librarian-led information literacy sessions, reasoning that the students already knows these critical skills. Because of these attitudes, students come to college with very limited research skills; their research skills are often limited to typing a few words into Google and using the first page of websites. Digital native students do not differ in their learning needs; they still need this vital instruction from librarians.

The content of the instruction may change with technological advances, however. In the past information was scarce and so instruction focused on learning rote procedures to find the information. Students were taught how to go to a few central indices, search laboriously through them by standard subject terms, and then locate the articles through the library’s print collection or time-consuming interlibrary loan. Students today face an onslaught of information. Research instruction must now address countless information resources, research strategies in an online environment without standard subject terminology, evaluation skills, and citation management. In addition to continuing to learn about traditional publishing avenues for peer-reviewed academic resources, students must also become familiar with and be able to critically evaluate information posted without the benefit of formal academic peer review processes. Information literacy instruction is where this is provided.

When faced with questions from peers and colleagues about the abilities of digital natives and their differences in learning, I wish I could invite them to my information literacy sessions that I lead with First Year Seminars. These sessions clearly illustrate what the readings theorize; digital natives may be familiar with technology, but they still need instruction on learning basics, as have every generation before them.

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism, digital delusions, and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2). Retrieved from
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
Reeves, T. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Retrieved from
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9 Responses to Responding to the Digital Native

  1. jenniborg22 says:

    Beth, I always enjoy reading your blog entries. They are always insightful and well written. This particular entry is especially well written and offers great insight into the thoughts of a librarian and how digital natives still need instructions on learning basics. Thank you for sharing!

  2. bethtransue says:

    Thanks jenni. I’m glad that you find my perspective useful. One thing that I have enjoyed in every class I’ve taken in this program is learning from the perspective of classroom teachers from various education levels. It helps put what I do in a larger picture.

  3. mkbnl says:

    Beth, can you tell us a little more about these First Year Seminars? I’m curious about what the content includes.

  4. bethtransue says:

    First Year Seminars are similar to first year composition or writing courses that I’ve seen in other college curricula. Every first year (first semester) student must take a First Year Seminar. The classes are intentionally small, typically 15-18 students, to create a small group for students to start fitting in to college life. The content actually differs widely by professor. Faculty may choose topics of interest to them, so they range from Global Nutrition to Science Fiction in Galileo. However the objectives are identical in every course and are to introduce first year students to scholarly work. The class focuses on writing and evaluation skills; they have to write three different types of papers in the course. A librarian is assigned to each course and provides information literacy instruction about research skills, library resources such as catalog and databases, evaluation, and how librarians can help them throughout their academic course of study. This takes up the bulk of my time during the Fall Term!

  5. Mike Lipson says:

    This is a great argument for treating librarians as the highly skilled and insightful educators that they are, rather than as stewards for a school’s collection of books. I think it’s awesome that you’re leading instruction that turns students into better researchers, and I’m confident the results will speak for themselves. It’s always sad to hear about libraries closing or being downsized, as often those changes are the result of ill-advised notions about what students are capable of that aren’t backed up by any real research. While it may be possible for some districts to make libraries more efficient and cost effective, eliminating important people and resources is not the way to approach the task.

  6. bethtransue says:

    Thanks Mike! It is a challenge getting administrators and others to realize the tidal wave of change in the role of librarians. Many still think of us a old ladies in sensible shoes who love to shush everyone! I’m fortunate that my college continues to value the librarian role. I know that isn’t the case in many places. We librarians need to do better in how we explain our roles in education too.

  7. Angela says:

    Beth, your post is enlightening. I wish our school would use our librarian’s skill set in such a meaningful manner! It would be so wonderful to have another resource to help teach proper research practices. You have written an excellent post and provided a valuable perspective as well.

  8. bethtransue says:

    Angela, do you know why this type of information literacy instruction isn’t happening in your school? Does the librarian push for this type of instruction? Is there resistance to this from administration, teachers, or even the librarian? Is budget and labor an issue? What could be done to change that situation? I’m sorry to hear of it, although I’m afraid your situation is pretty common.

  9. Beth, for the most part, I believe it is an issue of time, money and training. Our librarian only worked 3 days a week last year. I know how horrifying this is…our school library, the “hub” of our school was CLOSED two days a week! The position is to extend to 4 days/ week next year, but we are a K-12 school and this makes the librarian’s time extremely limited. I have been thinking about this a great deal, and I believe that there needs to be a far greater push from the rest of the staff to demonstrate our great need for such instruction to be delivered by our librarian. I also believe that the way our school utilizes our library needs to have a complete over-haul. This would be a start!

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