Digital natives: Are schools foreign to them?

Dr. Jason Huett

Dr. Jason Huett

Technology guru and University of West Georgia professor Jason B. Huett said a frontier teacher from a century ago popped into today’s modern era would be agape at the changes she saw every place but one — the classroom.

“When she walked into a school, she would immediately know what this is, and she could pretty much swap her prairie dress for a pants suit and go right to work,” said Huett, West Georgia’s associate dean of online development and USG eCore, a multi-institution collaborative where college students can take classes online.

Huett is among the those urging schools to use technology to make schools more relevant, accessible and flexible and less like a prison sentence.

School districts are heeding that advice — to a point.

For example, DeKalb County Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson announced this week that more than 8,200 students at seven middle schools will receive netbooks in the fall loaded with all their textbooks.

“And by August of 2o14, every student — all middle schools and all high schools — will have their own device,” she said. Every teacher will be getting a laptop.

Even better, all 138 DeKalb schools will be wireless by August, she said. Now, only 38 percent of the district is wireless.

“The fact is that our students are digital natives and active learners,” said Atkinson, speaking at a DeKalb Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “The fact is, they are not limited to the classroom. The fact is, they use the laptop and not the pencil. The fact is … they can’t wait for us to catch up to their style of learning, nor should they have to.”

But are schools catching up fast enough to the realities of a world where today’s young learner will have 10 to 14 jobs by age 38?

Students will have to be flexible and adaptable to thrive in this new marketplace. Huett said, “One of the new rules: If you can be out outsourced, you will be outsourced. Are you essential?”

Huett urges a deeper rethinking of how schools function, including the entrenched notion that learning has to be delivered 180 days a year between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Education can no longer be “a cage for every age where we lock students into this planned track,” he said.

Speaking at a Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education forum earlier this year, Huett explained why he fled k-12 education after five years to teach in college: “It felt like I was beating my head into a brick wall. I don’t like to teach people who don’t want to learn.”  (Watch video of his talk here.)

He blames a factory model that puts all students on a conveyor belt set to medium speed.

“And the ones that could move ahead faster, we just tell them tough luck. You need to stay on this conveyor belt at medium speed,” Huett said. “And if you are too slow on that conveyor belt, we will take you off, retool you a bit and start you back up at the beginning. We are going to keep running you through this mass-produced system where discipline and order are emphasized above all else.”

To illustrate his point about the tedium of school, Huett shared his favorite student evaluation of a course: “If I had one hour to live, I’d spend it in this class because it feels like an eternity.”

That evaluation resonates because extreme boredom drove Huett to drop out of high school.

“I didn’t stay out for long, mostly because my mother was waking me up every morning by dumping ice cold water on me and telling me to go find a job,” he said. “I was bored to death. When I left school, I honestly did so because I really couldn’t fit in that environment. I was the kind of person who would rather have a fork stuck in my eye than sit for eight hours and listen to someone talk at me.”

Huett said schools have to change because their role has changed. Schools no longer have a monopoly on information. Kids can reach into their pockets, pull out their smart phones and get multiple lifetimes of information. Students need schools to teach them how to critically process all that information, he said.

But Huett cautions educators to avoid the two extremes — online education is going to fix everything or it’s going to ruin everything. “Real reform is almost always to be found in the middle,” he said.

And target reform where it matters. “The meat of real educational reform almost always occurs between the interaction of teacher and student,” he said. “If it isn’t clearly examining and improving that relationship, it probably isn’t going to work.”

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

174 comments Add your comment

Concerned DeKalb Mom

December 6th, 2012
5:24 pm

And how does DeKalb plan to pay for all this? More bonds? Seriously … technology is great, but this is nothing more than a well-timed distraction from the real issue at hand. Redistricting and reorganizing the schools. Again.


December 6th, 2012
5:58 pm

Oh, my God are you correct. The “Cookie Cutter” mentality of education is ruining education. It is a known fact that humans rise to expectations. If parents have no expectations, no learning. If a teacher has no expectations, no learning. If a teacher is not allowed to stray from the standards, gifted students get no incentive to excel. Who loses? EVERYONE! I retired from teaching in Gwinnett County for just this reason. The establishment is pushing for mediocrity. Until the community realizes that all students are different, nothing will ever change. Legislators do not belong in education. A vast majority of them don’t know any more about education than I know about the specific legislative processes they use. They would be ticked off if I tried to do their job. They, equally, cannot do the job of a teacher. I would have never told my mother how to be a mom.

We need much more diversity in education, not standardization. We need trade schools. We need classes that meet the needs of immigrants. We need special ed classes for delayed learners as well as behavior problem students. We need standardized classes for the average students as long as the teacher has the freedom to build their lessons to challenge appropriately. We also need gifted education for the most gifted students. Think about it. We have none of these. Why do you think so many people are interested in charter schools and private schools? Wake up and smell the roses. Our state education system is a virtual joke. Until the entire attitude of the community changes, Georgia will remain at the bottom of the heap in America.


December 6th, 2012
5:58 pm

re: “Kids can reach into their pockets, pull out their smart phones and get multiple lifetimes of information” …. since, of course, everything on the internet is true.

mountain man

December 6th, 2012
6:13 pm

Goodness! How did we SURVIVE the boredom in the sixties! I am surprized we are alive! We didn’t have i-phones or computers and we LEARNED? It is not possible!!!

Today’s students are spoiled rotten brats who get everything handed to them and must be entertained 24/7. You can’t tell them to memorize multiplication tables, or states and their capitols, or history dates because that is not FUN.

Hillbilly D

December 6th, 2012
6:14 pm

Technology is a tool. A tool is no good without knowing the basics that allow you to get the most out of whatever tool you are using. We ignore the basics at our own peril.

mountain man

December 6th, 2012
6:15 pm

“Kids can reach into their pockets, pull out their smart phones and get multiple lifetimes of information”

And if your “smart” phone is dead or not in a service area? Reminds me of students who say they don’t need to know multiplication because a calculator does it for them.


December 6th, 2012
6:27 pm

If students are not motivated in the traditional setting, how will being online motivate students?
The problem is that online courses are really glorified multimedia text books with take home exams. If we gave college level students take home exams in a traditional course, every professor I know would be horrified.
However when students collaborate online, are given 4 hours to pass an exam, are free to text and cell phone their peers taking the same exam (even though they have promised not to), no one cares perhaps because we don’t see it. The truth about online degrees is that most students don’t learn much. The environment is not conducive for learning.
A few hyper motivated students excel. Sure we will save billions of dollars and the technology is very inexpensive, no need for bonds to be issued. In the end we will be granting visas for all the science degrees so that foreigners can teach us math and chemistry.

pull my other leg

December 6th, 2012
6:32 pm

For example, DeKalb County Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson announced this week that more than 8,200 students at seven middle schools will receive netbooks in the fall loaded with all their textbooks.
This from a school district who is having financial difficulties? Are you kidding me? Do you really trust middle and high schoolers to treat netbooks with the care they need?

Private Citizen

December 6th, 2012
6:39 pm

I’ve not seen a one-to-one computing environment using laptops. The one thing I wonder is how do students power the laptops? I guess the answer is fresh batteries that last for a daytime school session and plug them in at night. As machines are made with lower power consumption, maybe OLED (organic light emitting diode) display and solid state hard drive, they will have less power consumption, plus with improved batteries, which must evolve at some point, this will be a temporary concern.

It is certainly a “reconceptualization” to think of students, 100% of them being mouse and trackpoint jockies, and print books being a novelty for personal consumption, novels and such, sort of like how typewriters or record players are now.

They should get away from Apple and Windows and lose the software fees. It’s no longer necessary. Windows-based computing is expensive and obsolete. Just ask Google,, NASA, the stuff that runs submarines, and the tech. general who did the invasion of Iraq (he said it “was not done on Windows”). Apple is expensive stuff for people who have means, like a high-end watch. I was looking online at 10″ tablet computers from my favorite shop in Shenzhen, about $130. plus shipping, Android o/s. No “windows,” no “fee for software,” which is written on a world level and released to you using Free-Open-Source licensing. My list of contemporary heroes is pretty short, Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds. Because of them I am saving about $250./year on telephone since their work has made it where I can run voice-over-IP telephone with my internet connection and port my prior land-line number. I have the same telephone number. Thank you Richard, Linus, Larry, and Sergey. You guys are buying me a lot of fuel and groceries.

To celebrate in song:

Private Citizen

December 6th, 2012
6:51 pm

Holy mackerel these guys have got the nerve. ‘talk about prescient

Private Citizen

December 6th, 2012
7:25 pm

Probably more like $500./year savings. Thanks guys. I really appreciate it, for real.

Jack ®

December 6th, 2012
7:35 pm

I suppose if the internet goes away, these digital natives can always get a job as a fry-cook.

mountain man

December 6th, 2012
8:35 pm

“When she walked into a school, she would immediately know what this is, and she could pretty much swap her prairie dress for a pants suit and go right to work,”

She also would be aghast at the changes. Children who curse their teachers. Parents who don’t back up the teachers. Students who can’t do simple reading and arithmetic in upper grades.

Attentive Parent/Invisible Serfs Collar

December 6th, 2012
8:37 pm

Hillbilly made the point I wanted to reinforce. It’s a tool. Educational about using a tool is called Vocational Training. Group Projects using a tool are social engagement.

Plus it is primarily visual so for most students school is no longer about using the thinking part of their brain. And don’t think the Schemers do not know it. Locked monopoly revenue from taxpayers while simultaneously taking out the Axemaker Mind that might have had the capability to develop a superior product.

That’s called a Win-Win for the Tech companies. is from a fairly recent document in Texas where the various school district supers were quite graphic on why they push tech so much.

Mush-brains preferred would be a succinct way to describe it.

living in an outdated ed system

December 6th, 2012
9:21 pm

Couldn’t agree more – one of the best posts I have seen on this blog – EVER. The average age of a child’s first use of a computer or game console is during or before kindergarten. We need to be teaching children using stimuli they use in their daily lives. But remember the risks of “cramming” technology into schools. It’s no good putting technology in schools if teachers aren’t trained, the technological infrastructure is not in place, and content is not tailored for the interactive nature of the medium.

Technology is not the magic bullet to save public education. It is an ENABLER. When we recognize that online learning changes the role of teacher from the sole deliverer of knowledge to the facilitator of knowledge, then reform efforts have a fighting chance at being successful.

William Casey

December 6th, 2012
9:45 pm

I’m not anti-technology, I’m anti-technology hype. Televisions didn’t revolutionize education in the ’60’s. VCR’s didn’t do it in the ’80’s either. Wirelress campuses won’t do it now. Dumb and unmotivated is dumb and unmotivated regardless of accessories/gizmos. Sorry, it’s truth.

God Bless the Teacher!

December 6th, 2012
10:26 pm

Amen, William Casey!

Tech Prof

December 6th, 2012
10:35 pm

“Digital Natives” is in your title and is mentioned by Superintendent Atkinson. Evidence is piling up to show that Marc Prensky had a gift for naming things, but that “digital natives” are not actually better at meaningful uses of technology.

Atkinson is quoted above with “style of learning”. I hope she is not talking about “learning styles”. It would be disappointing to see leaders in Education focussing on voodoo: &

It sounds like Huett had one thing many of today’s students don’t have: a mother willing to dump cold water him and tell him to get a job. She knew she was driving him back to school.


December 6th, 2012
10:59 pm

Things that pioneer schoolmarm or schoolmaster would be shocked at or overwhelmed by:
-no in school religious instruction, school prayer, or using the Bible as a primer
-that students spend as much time in school as they do, both in total duration of the school day and length of mandatory school attendance (1st grade through age 16 in most states)
-integrated schools
-that students with disabilities are expected to attend school and complete (and succeed at) the same work as their more able peers
-that students do not provide their own materials and texts, that students’ families do not transport their children, that students do not go home for lunch, and that students’ families are not expected to provide room and board for the teacher
-the lack of recess
-that teachers today are required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, often in their subject area, and complete regular continuing education/professional development coursework
-that women outnumber men as teachers in most schools
-that schools are self-contained bureaucracies rather than each school being basically on its own with a small bit of oversight by a local or state board
-mandatory state tests for even the youngest of students and mandated curricula and materials
-that teachers are not respected by the community at large
-that some teachers are responsible for over 100 students a day at the upper levels
-the breadth of K-8 curricula
-that all students, regardless of income, ethnicity or racial identity, gender, or ability, are expected to attend high school

Yeah, education really hasn’t changed. ***cough, cough, that was SARCASM***

Great article, but it misses a big point–technology, like the library, like a dictionary, like a calculator, is a tool. It is not a panacea, it is not a replacement for quality face-to-face interaction and instruction, and it is limited in its effectiveness when applied with a one-size-fits-all approach.

I use technology in my classroom every single day. Sometimes it is as simple as a youtube video that helps present what we are learning about in a different way or reinforce a concept, others it is as complex as student-created Wikis, an interactive blog, or WebQuests. I also incorporate other technology every single minute of every single class–pencils, pens, lined paper, HVAC, lighting, et cetera. All of these technologies are NOT required to reach my students (even the lighting and HVAC, as shocking as it might seem), but they are great supplements to already great instruction. I love technology and would love to incorporate more of it, but neither I nor my students are unable to do our jobs (teaching and learning) without the technology.


December 7th, 2012
5:33 am

Technology certainly has the potential to blow the doors off education as we know it. But we must put a complete infrastructure in place to suppor the deployment; train, and I mean really train, the educators on its use; train, and I mean really train, the students in its applications; and provide the time, real time, to work on the projects that technology makes available.

But before all that, we must ask ourselves exactly what we are trying to accomplish and whether more advanced technology is in fact the best way to do it. For what are we trying to educate the student and are the methods we are employing germane to that goal? Is it truly the best way to teach Johnny to be an educated and critical consumer of information?

Food for thought: If more technology in the classroom is the absolute best path, why are technology executvies purposefully choosing an education for their children that eschews technology?


December 7th, 2012
5:36 am


December 7th, 2012
6:36 am

Great article Maureen to which I laud Huett for his many cogent talking points. And to the responders above who wonder how all this technology might be paid for, I would answer “how can we afford not to if our goal is to serve our students and society as they both already exist today?”

drew (former teacher)

December 7th, 2012
7:14 am

“Dumb and unmotivated is dumb and unmotivated regardless of accessories/gizmos.” Another amen to Mr Casey’s observation.

My experience is that if you give students technology, they will find a way to “entertain” themselves with it. In their minds, that’s what it’s there for…to entertain. And lord knows, young people LOVE to be entertained. Learning though…not so much. Give 30 students computers to research an issue, and within a few minutes 25 of them will be checking Facebook, playing games, listening to music, watching videos, etc.. Hell, put 30 ADULT students in the same situation and you’d probably get the same result.

There’s only one problem with reforming schools…schools can’t be reformed. You can dress it up, put lipstick on it, introduce new programs here and there, but the huge bureaucracy that comprises education, the status quo, is simply too big and too entrenched to reform. You could blow it up, and completely redesign it, but I don’t see that happening either. Maybe charters can make a dent here and there, but the status quo remains.

And the unfortunate reality is that getting technology into the hands of students is usually more about selling technology than it is about learning.


December 7th, 2012
7:31 am

There is always technology that revolutionizes education; chalk to pencil, abacus to calculator. We have our heads in the sand if we believe that the most transforming technology ever to exist does not impact the classroom. Kids are not educated in the same society as we were and have new desires, priorities, and opportunities. I applaud Dr. Huett for speaking for many educators. We must always adapt or become obsolete. That might sound extreme but if you do not believe, watch the traditional school fade away. It is already happening.

Truth in Moderation

December 7th, 2012
8:21 am

“Technology certainly has the potential to blow the doors off education as we know it. But we must put a complete infrastructure in place to suppor the deployment; train, and I mean really train, the educators on its use; train, and I mean really train, the students in its applications; and provide the time, real time, to work on the projects that technology makes available.”

You are exactly right. One Georgia school where this is being successfully applied is the Gwinnett School of Math Science and Technology. ED WEEK did an article on the topic of “flip model” instruction (which depends on technology rather than traditional books) and featured GSMST’s successful model. Read the details here:


December 7th, 2012
8:30 am

This sort of change will cost a great deal of money.

People today want more and more Govt. services and less and less taxation.

This sort of adolesent thinking means you can forget any major changes in school teaching policies.

Truth in Moderation

December 7th, 2012
8:52 am

Gwinnett School of Math, Science, and Technology ranked #11 in the South by THE WASHINGTON POST 2012 High School Challenge! It is the only school from Georgia in the top 20.


December 7th, 2012
9:02 am

As the discussions of the last 2 weeks indicate, what they really need is the BASICS that the teacher of 100 years ago would have taught them.

Truth in Moderation

December 7th, 2012
9:04 am

GSMST ranked #18 NATIONALLY by the THE WASHINGTON POST 2012 High School Challenge.

Sk8ing Momma

December 7th, 2012
9:15 am

Hmmm….I’m in the middle: Old school methods need to mix with current technology. Abraham Lincoln is my education hero and proof that all one *really* needs is books and life experience. Any well-read person who is capable of critical thinking can learn technology, IMO.

Hey Teacher

December 7th, 2012
9:50 am

Technology breaks. Books do not. I hesitate to rely exclusively on anything that requires so much maintenance — every time I plan a great lesson in a computer lab, the internet goes down. I ALWAYS have a paper back-up plan of some sort. A little of this goes a long way IMHO.


December 7th, 2012
9:59 am

People have short memories. Kids were turds when I was in school.

I remember my mom (taught 8th grade for 30 years) called a parent in the mid-80’s because his son was acting up and could not be controlled in the classroom. The response on the phone, “Is that all? Don’t ever call me at work ever again.”

I had kids talking back to teachers all of the way through school. I remember two girls getting in a fight when one of them cut the other with a razor blade. I even had a student punch my theater teacher in the stomach in the 9th grade (woman teacher) when she broke up a fight in the classroom.

The “geeks” were tormented horrendously. Daily beatings in middle school for no reason was a norm. I suppose this would be called bullying these days.

I went to very good upper middle class school that was 99.9% white at the time (Parkview High and its feeders). When we played Cedar Shoals in basketball in the early 90’s stands chanted “Shakka Zulu”.

OK? There have always been turds.


December 7th, 2012
9:59 am

This is why we homeschool! This describes our experience with public school perfectly!

living in an outdated ed system

December 7th, 2012
10:00 am

Books are outdated. Do we want our kids reading science books that still show Pluto as a planet?? Digital tools save trees and are more easily updated. Books will not go away, but textbooks absolutely should. I don’t want my children carrying 50+ lbs of books in their backpacks. No need to do that!

Truth in Moderation

December 7th, 2012
10:14 am

GSMST had the highest SAT average in Georgia for the class of 2012:
“The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology had the highest three-section score in the state, 1941 out of a possible 2400.”

GSMST wins the First Annual STEM Education Award, awarded by Technology Association of Georgia.


December 7th, 2012
10:15 am

By 2020, 7 of the top 10 jobs have not even been created yet.The number 1 job skill at that point will be creativity and innovation.


December 7th, 2012
10:23 am

@BT, what is a top job?


December 7th, 2012
10:29 am

Here is a list of the current highest paying jobs.

All have been around for a loooooong time.

Hillbilly D

December 7th, 2012
10:31 am

The number one job skill is always creativity and innovation. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. Every generation thinks the world started anew with them.

V for Vendetta

December 7th, 2012
10:48 am


You’re number one point is a positive. We’ve worked hard over the years to get religion out of schools. That way, we can focus on things like facts. You know, things that are real.


You are correct praise the Gwinnett school of Math and Science. What they are doing is the closest thing to proper technology integration I have heard yet. For a future model of what learning CAN become, I would point people towards the Khan Academy or Ted Talks. Of course, in order to learn from those sources, you have to be self motivated and understand the value of education.

V for Vendetta

December 7th, 2012
10:50 am


I believe it was a pocket knife. I remember that. It was at lunch, and I was in ninth grade at the time. The cops hauled her right past my Math class on the way out of the school.

10:10 am

December 7th, 2012
11:14 am

The teachers’ union, on the other hand, is more concerned with fighting partisan battles in Washington, on behalf of their clients the Democrats:

… in case any naive young members of the Georgia Association of Educators wonder where that extra yearly $168 they shell out to the “non-partisan” NEA ends up.

Private Citizen

December 7th, 2012
11:19 am

Truth in Moderation, Good overview article that you posted describing both the “how” and “why.”

Private Citizen

December 7th, 2012
11:23 am

I wish they would do the same type instruction with economics, art history, and philosophy. -if it is even possible to honestly do so from a U. S. perspective. Business school is taught differently inside / outside of the U. S.

Private Citizen

December 7th, 2012
11:26 am

10:10 Labor unions are supposed to defend good working conditions for labor. That is the core of what they do. In industry, it is for safety reasons. There has to be some regulation somewhere. This point is sorely lacking in Georgia, where the government does not regulate bureaucracy and at the same time has prohibited unions. It allows petty bureaucrats to use people. That’s basically Georgia in a nutshell.

Maureen Downey

December 7th, 2012
11:40 am

@V, Glad to see your post. Wondering where you have been of late.

bootney farnsworth

December 7th, 2012
11:42 am

God save me from evangelists of any kind. they are often more determined to validate their convictions than see if they work. while there is a lot of truth in this, there is also a fair dose of personal propaganda. fine, but be up front about it.

digital natives are not opposed to the classroom, nor is it damaging to them (they certainly need the social interaction). the assumption seems to be just because they are digital natives, they all have the same talents and interest.

teaching, like students, evolves. the long term reality is be it chalkboard or laptops, there is no one size fits all solution.

bootney farnsworth

December 7th, 2012
11:44 am

@ 10:10

you need a new act.

Looking for the truth

December 7th, 2012
11:46 am

While I agree that cookie cutter schools are boring and tedious, where else are kids going to learn that not everything in life is exciting 24/7? Many jobs are boring and routine most of the time. Even “exciting” jobs have times that are hard to get through!

bootney farnsworth

December 7th, 2012
11:46 am

books are outdated?

what an ignorant statement. red meat Fran teach you that?