S. Balli1, T. Dietrich2

1La Sierra University (UNITED STATES)
2John Adams Elementary School (UNITED STATES)
This qualitative study examined digital native fifth-grade students’ engagement with classroom lessons. Prensky (2001; 2006) defined “digital natives” as students who have “spent their entire lives surrounded by…the toys and tools of the digital age … and therefore are native speakers of a digital language” (2001, p.1). Consequently, teachers are encouraged to engage students with digital tools, but to what extent does engagement with technology translate into engagement with learning?

To explore this question, thirty four fifth-grade students from six classrooms in three elementary schools were interviewed about classroom learning and technology. Each classroom teacher had a minimum of three years experience teaching fifth grade, and each used technology devices in the classroom. Each classroom met minimum technology requirements of computer access, an LCD projector, and an interactive white board like a SMART Board™ or Mimio®, and one classroom had the additional use of iPads. Interviews were analyzed using NVivo9, computer software designed for hierarchical categorizing of text-based data. Data were considered through Schlechty’s (2002; 2011) levels of engagement theoretical framework to explore students’ authentic or ritualistic lesson engagement when using technology.

Authentic engagement occurred when students discussed the value of the information being taught while using technology as a learning tool. Ritualistic engagement occurred when students described the technology itself with little or no mention of the lesson content; although, according to Schlechty (2002; 2011), both authentic and ritualistic engagement can elicit student learning. Additional results suggested growing student boredom when one student used the technology leaving the remainder of students as bystanders. Students expressed interest in lessons particularly when they had personal control of the technology and were offered choices for how they demonstrated content learning using technology tools. Control and choices inherent in the learning task supported authentic engagement with content more than did technology alone. Results of this study add to the research about engaging digital native students in 21st century classroom learning.

Prensky, M. (2001, October 1). Digital natives, digital immigrants. MCB University Press, 9(5), 1-6.
Prensky, M. (2006, January 1). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 8-13.
Schlechty, P. C. (2002). Working on the work: An action plan for teachers, principals, and superintendents. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Schlechty, P. C. (2011). Engaging students: The next level of working on the work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.