Educating Digital Natives about Being Digital

As we near the end of my Digital Rhetoric course, I’ve started reflecting on what I hoped students learned this semester. I realized about halfway through the semester that we haven’t spent a lot of time learning how to write for the per se. In other words, while we talked about the power of social media and rhetorical velocity, we did not discuss how to craft the perfect Tweet or leverage Facebook for a marketing strategy.

Rather, we’ve spent most of our time talking about what the interwebs are. We discussed remediation, the consequences of collaborative writing, how genres have social action, how social inequalities persist online, and how truth is created and maintained. In other words, we talked about how the interwebs shapes our world and our perceptions.

I had a moment in which I felt guilty about not spending more time discussing the hows of digital rhetoric until I read this article in The Atlantic. Marcio Jose Sanchez suggests that students use the web all of the time, but that they don’t fully appreciate what being digital means. When we call current students digital natives we may be doing them a disservice because this moniker “falsely assumes that today’s students intrinsically understand the nuanced ways in which technologies shape the human experience—how they influence an individual’s identity, for example, or how they advance and stymie social progress—as well as the means by which information spreads thanks to phenomena such as algorithms and advertising.”

Digital natives need to learn how online environments shape the way we understand the world. Teaching them how the interwebs work will make them better writers, thinkers, creators, and appreciators of digital media.

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