Science & Tech

‘Digital immigrants’ teaching ‘digital natives’

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Berkman conference ponders universities’ digital future

Students coming into universities today are ‘digital natives’ and fundamentally different in their use of technology than the ‘digital immigrants’ who teach them, according to John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Palfrey said that students today have always had technology around them and they are comfortable with an ‘always on’ lifestyle. They are aided by an array of digital gadgets that keep them connected to the Internet and to each other. They are also more comfortable expressing themselves digitally and have become creators as well as consumers of digital content, a major change from earlier generations.

Charles Ogletree Jr., the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and conference co-chair, introduced the conference events with a look back at past conferences held by the Berkman Center. The first, in 1998, took place in a very different technological world. Though society’s reliance on the Internet and on digital information has grown rapidly since then, Ogletree said, some of the same issues remain, such as unequal access to the Internet and digital information.

The conference’s other co-chair and Berkman Center founder Charles Nesson, Weld Professor of Law, was unable to attend personally and delivered a video welcome to participants. In his welcome, Nesson said that the idea of a university is a concept as much as a place and he hoped the conference would explore the university’s roles as knowledge-generator, as teacher, and as fair broker where divergent ideas could find common ground.