Category Archives: early childhood digital normalisation

Being Digital

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

 In 1995 Nicholas Negroponte wrote in his seminal work of ‘being digital’.

The book didn’t define what was meant by ‘being digital’, but simply exemplified what it was likely to mean.

Twenty plus years later, and the movement from an analogue to digital society and with more than half the world digitally connected we can go a long way to clarifying what is ‘being digital’, and to attest why the growth of this capability is critical to the life and education of world’s young, from birth onwards.

Over the last twenty plus years, but particularly the last ten society worldwide has largely unwittingly adapted it ways to accommodate the Digital Revolution and naturally evolved a mode of learning with the digital, from birth onwards (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

It is the state of being digital.

It is already core to the young’s learning worldwide outside the schools, on trend to grow in importance as the digital technologies evolve, becomes increasingly sophisticated and powerful, and digital ecosystems underpin virtually all areas of learning.

It is far more than digital proficiency. While dependent on that proficiency, it is a mindset, a mode of thinking, an expression of values, a set of ever rising expectations, an ability to draw on many connected elements, a way of learning and understanding how to learn, a taking charge of one’s own learning, being able to network, to accommodate accelerating change, to continually grow the capabilities and to use them 24/7/365, lifelong.

It is a suite of linked attributes that will naturally evolve in harmony with the evolving digital technologies, technological practises and changing social mores.

It is a suite that simultaneously draws upon and enhances the other areas of learning.

It is moreover a suite that while containing many common features is individualised, with each child in being digital having the capabilities needed to pursue their interests and passions.

It is most emphatically far more than a variant of handwriting or digital literacy.

It is a connected way of learning that is richer, higher order and more diverse, which can amplify all the non-digital learning interactions.

As the children within digitally connected families grow, mature, develop their cognitive, inter and intrapersonal abilities, become sexually aware, build relationships, socially network, operate at a higher order of thinking and continually attune their ways to the evolving technology so they will develop their own form of being digital – and will continue doing so, in subtly different ways, at the various stages of life.

Being digital as a low caste child in Mumbai, a Masai herder’s boy, a seven year old girl in Riyadh, a ten year old in outback Australia, an Inuit teen or a sixteen year old in Vancouver, Seoul, Sao Paulo or Edinburgh will in many ways be different. But that said all those young people will also have many common attributes, not least is being digitally connected and able to take charge of their learning with the digital lifelong – albeit in their respective cultures, outside the classroom.

The global variability, the continual evolution, and the individualised and highly integrated nature of being digital should quash any moves by education authorities to try and assess the capability, and particularly to try and compare student attainment nationally and internationally. But let us be clear and affirm that the billion plus digitally connected young have never had need for their being digital to be formally assessed (Lee and Broadie, 2018) and that it would be educationally invalid, inappropriate and unnecessary to do so.

Rather let’s recognise what being digital is, and appreciate that in many respects it mirrors the development, importance and the way schools handle children’s ability to speak.

They both grow naturally from birth onwards, if not earlier.

Both likely build on inherent capabilities. With speech those inherent capabilities have been obvious for thousands of years.  Being digital draws extensively, particularly with the very young, upon what has been for centuries a largely dormant visual intelligence (Strom and Strom, 2009) that was most obviously brought into play from 2007 and the release of the various touchscreen technologies. While employed increasingly from the 90’s the visuals controls of the iPhone were a game changer, allowing all the young, and not just the teens to readily use and learn with the technology (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

The visual cues on the touchscreen suddenly made it simple for those in the first year of life to mimic their parents and siblings use of the technology, and by the age of three to largely establish the approach to learning with the digital they would use lifelong. By three most children born into digitally connected families will have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital, to the extent its use is so natural as to be invisible.

Both are of critical educational importance in a digital economy, and need to underpin all learning.

Tellingly both have been naturally grown by the family, with government and its pre- schools and schools playing a limited or no part, except with children who have difficulties.

Tellingly – but invariably forgotten – in an era where the focus is on the basics and testing the young’s ability to speak has rarely been rarely formally assessed. The development has been left to the family.

The big difference between the two vital capabilities is that while the importance of speaking has been understood for literally thousands of years the educational centrality of being digital is a long way from being fully appreciated by most in authority.

Most governments and schools worldwide have over the last twenty to thirty years have tinkered with aspects of learning with the digital. They have focussed on some of the parts and never the totality of being digital. They have toyed with programming, web design, learning to use Office, cyber safety and more recently coding, but only ever within the school walls, always deciding which aspects of being digital are appropriate to be taught and assessed – and which should not.

It is difficult to find schools that have naturally grown Negroponte’s concept of being digital.

It is similarly difficult to find schools or education authorities who recognise being digital is a state of mind, with immediate access to an integrated suite of digitally based capabilities, coupled with the facility to use any of the capabilities and the understanding of how to learn when desired 24/7/365. They seem not to have grasped that the suite has evolved naturally, been individually shaped and can’t – like the facility to speak – be validly measured.

They most assuredly haven’t been formally recognised in their teaching, assessment or resourcing the young’s being digital outside the school walls, or the central role the digitally connected families of the world have played over the last twenty plus years (Lee and Broadie, 2018) in facilitating and supporting the growth of that development.

It is time this critical capability is seen, understood and accorded the kind of recognition given the ability to speak, and the educational, social, economic and logistical implications of being digital addressed as part of a wider contemporary education.

The latter we’ll tackle in a follow up article.

With the advantage of hindsight and historical analysis (Lee and Broadie, 2018) there might be value in pursuing the reading example further, accepting with being digital that the die will be largely cast by the age of three, that the young of the world will lifelong employ in their use of and learning with the digital the suite of attributes associated with being digital – regardless of what government of schools might desire – and leave the core digitally based education to the families.

It is a radical thought, with immense implications, but there is much to be said for formal education complementing and adding value to the work of the digitally connected families, and ceasing senselessly trying to compete with the families in growing the young’s ‘being digital’.

Conclusion

At this point in history ask any digitally aware parent or grandparent what they understand by ‘being digital’ and they’ll likely quickly grasp the concept, but initially only at a rudimentary level, and that it will likely be only when prompted will they appreciate the many linked universal elements and their significance.

The same folk will likely also pick up the reality that they – like the other 3.65 billion plus digitally connected of all ages are also ‘being digital’. While the strength will vary let’s remember there will be seventy year olds who have played a lead role in using and learning with the digital since the 1970’s who in their thinking and actions have long ‘being digital’.

The new but largely unrecognised reality is that in the twenty plus years since Negroponte postulated being digital the world’s digitally connected peoples have become so.

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Negroponte, N (1995) Being Digital Sydney Hodder and Stoughton
  • Strom, P and Strom, R.D (2009) Adolescents in the Internet Age Charlotte, Information Age Publishing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-Primary Digital Normalisation

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

[ Sitting beside us at a restaurant last Friday night a two year old was very happily immersed in the Australian Play School app]

Largely unseen, the digitally connected families of the world have over the last four to five years taken a lead role in providing their pre-primary children, from the first year of life onwards, the start of a quality 24/7/365 lifelong digital education.

Critically they have employed the same naturally evolving, highly individualised laissez faire model of teaching used so successfully by the digitally connected families of the world in providing millions upon millions of their older children the desired education.

It is a success that should be proclaimed universally and the parents commended for their success in contending with a rapidly evolving, uncertain digital environment.

The very real challenge for pre-primary parents worldwide will be to build upon that model, to proclaim its success and prevent bureaucrats and educators – no matter how well intentioned – from instituting the stultifying structured approach found so wanting within the schools.

The pre-primary children of the developed, and increasingly the underdeveloped world, are on track to begin formal schooling having normalised the astute use of the digital, and for the digital to play a central role in their upbringing, lives and learning.

The implications of the pre-primary digital normalisation are immense and are only now becoming apparent.  They will impact on every facet of the children’s vital early childhood upbringing and education, whether governments desire it or not.

It is a development all need to better understand if it is to be used astutely and enhanced.

Evolution of pre-primary digital normalisation

The origins of the development are to be found soon after the emergence of the WWW in 1993, in the historic change to the nature of youth, and youth education, that flowed from the digital empowerment of the world’s young, the evolution of the digitally connected families and the introduction of digital touch screen technologies.

The move by parents globally twenty plus years ago to empower the young outside the school and provide them with largely unfettered use of the online and the digital has as mentioned had profound implications.

By the early 2000’s the adolescents of the developed and increasingly the developing world had with the vital support of their families normalised the use of the digital, albeit outside the school walls.

As indicated by around 2007 – 2009 the digitally connected family had become the norm across the developed and increasingly the developing world, with the digitally empowered parents taking a greater lead role in their children’s 24/7/365 digital education.

It bears remembering that until the mid 2000’s digital usage by the world’s young was primarily by the teens, and while much younger children used the technology the keyboard and the mouse were not exactly child friendly.

The release of all manner of touchscreen technologies in the 2007 – 2010 period – the iPhone, the iPod Touch, the Android mobile operating system, Apple’s App store, the iPad and the Android based tablets– changed the scene irrevocably overnight.

Very quickly the age of those of using the mobile technologies plummeted. Devices like the iPod Touch and the iPad became very popular with the young, with many a young child also accessing mum and dad’s smartphone.

By 2012 – 2014 children as young as two or three were readily using iPads and the various Android tablets, with the parents having to contend with the development.

They, like the digitally connected families before them, moved naturally to using an informal, non-linear, highly fluid, self-directed, individualised, play based, parent or older sibling guided model of learning. Any who have sat and observed the very young at play on an iPad will have soon noted the children’s excitement, the use of the visual – and rarely the verbal –  intelligence in navigating the device, the integrated approach, the speed of learning but also the vital role the family members play in assisting the children over hurdles, and bringing the usage to an end.

The digital connected families of the world have – largely of their own volition –  accommodated the surge in pre-primary use very well.  A read of the European Commission’s study (Chaubron, 2015) of 0-8 digital learning in eleven European countries or the Erikson (2016) study of US families reveals the common sense, the balance and networked learning brought to play by the parents, and the limited contribution made by educators.

It bears noting that the UK Ofcom (Ofcom, 2016) reported that 37% of 3-4 year olds accessed YouTube from a mobile device in 2016.

We suspect every parent with a pre-primary child would appreciate some support and direction in the use of the digital, but the vital message should be one of commendation for their success in a period of rapid, accelerating and uncertain digital evolution and transformation, where few experts globally have much more insight into the path ahead.

In many respects the success should not come as a surprise. The current digitally connected families are among the most educated in their nation’s history, who have long normalised the everyday use of the digital. They have, particularly in the last decade, grown their ability to lead the out of school 24/7/365 digital education of the young and to use a learning model that continually delivers in an era of rapid uncertain digital evolution and societal transformation.

The Way Forward

In looking forward and providing advice to the parents of pre-primary children we’d suggest they

  • approach the role with confidence, and as a digitally connected family
  • continue using common sense, and treat each child as a unique individual
  • continually look forward, and not seek answers or ‘best practise’ from an analogue mode
  • reject all moves to structure and assess the learning except where this is part of the child’s delight in gaining mastery
  • continue drawing upon the emerging global research on pre-primary digital education
  • appreciate the pre-primary children’s application of their visual intelligence to their digitally based learning will likely over time occasion a reworking of at least sections of the Piagetian base upon which educator’s work.
  • become intolerant of schools that continue to refuse to recognise the very valid and important learning that happens in the out-of-school and in the family environment.

Appreciate as part of a digitally connected family parents are embarking upon a lifelong education, that will invariably entail all continually making the best use and application of an ever evolving, increasingly powerful, sophisticated and integrating suite of digital technologies.

One most assuredly is not on a short sprint where the parents will hand all digital education over to the school. Schools that do not collaborate with their families and listen to their pupils on the digital will not only fail their societal remit but will educationally, socially and economically disadvantage their students.

If very fortunate the children will attend a digitally mature school which will respect and build the children’s learning and genuinely collaborate. Sadly most schools won’t be interested and will expect the children to conform with the traditional one size fits all highly structured teaching program.

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