Digital natives? Investigating young people's critical skills in evaluating web based information

Huw Davies, Susan Halford, Nick Gibbins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

Young people’s Web usage has been widely problematised by characterising their behaviour online in terms which demand policy interventions. The emergence and propagation of the term ‘Digital Native’ in the 2000’s epitomised this phenomenon. It suggested a generation of young people with a set of self-acquired skills and competencies who were poorly served by existing educational curricula. More recently, however, even Prensky, the progenitor of the phrase ‘Digital Native’ has written of young people’s lack of “digital wisdom” [1]. This claim that has been supported in the UK by the media regulator’s report into children’s digital literacy [2] and think tank research [3]. We are now seeing the emergence of a new paradigm that characterises young people as credulous users incapable of critical thinking who need support from the education system to develop the ability to be more ‘savvy’.

This research begins with the proposition that these polarised stereotypes are unhelpful in understanding young people’s relationship with the Web and potentially counterproductive in driving policy interventions founded on inadequate evidence. Following a discussion of the recent claims, and the evidence offered, this paper describes the findings of a qualitative study of young people’s Web practices which explored the differences and similarities between two groups of young people from contrasting socio-economic backgrounds. The findings suggest that young people’s skills and competencies are distinctly sensitive to different contextual influences including family, peers and education, and that these skills are differentiated rather than homogenous as earlier debates have implied. In theoretical terms, these different Web skills can be seen as an expression of what Bourdieu has called ‘habitus’, through which young people find ways to operate effectively within their particular structured social space or ‘field’. These findings have potentially significant implications for understanding digital literacy and for ensuring appropriate policy interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWebSci '12
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the 3rd Annual ACM Web Science Conference, 2012 : Evanston, IL, USA
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2012

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • digital native
  • digital literacy
  • critical skill
  • ethnography
  • habitus


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