Crossing the Digital Culture Divide


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This week as I read through Blooms Revised Digital Taxonomy,  I stumbled upon unfamiliar words that didn’t compute. Words like Boolean searching, reverse-engineering, mashing, wiki-ing. What do they mean?  I am not native to this digital language and culture and as an outsider trying to come in, it feels stressful.

But, there is hope because just as I have been able to navigate living in different cultures over the past 20 years, I know that if I employ some of the same cross cultural strategies I have learned, I will be able to become more like the digital natives.

I grew up in the metropolitan city of Los Angeles. I lived for over ten years in a rural town in southern Krygyzstan, down the street from a mosque, speaking Russian with my Uzbek neighbors. I’ve navigated the the densely populated, urban sprawl of Hanoi by motorbike, struggling to communicate in a language where mạ, má, mà, mã, ma, and mả, all have different meanings. But because I was willing to put in the hard work, I was able to learn the language, make relationships and navigate those cultures effectively. Here’s what I know about crossing cultures.

Culture and the iceberg principle: 


Edward T. Hall in his book Beyond Culture explains culture in terms of an iceberg. 10% of the culture are things that we as outsiders can observe on the surface, such as food, dress, language, and behavior. However below the surface is the 90% that we can’t see immediately (values, beliefs, attitudes) and require much time, effort and immersion.

The same principal is probably true as I try to navigate the waters of the digital culture. The following are four practical ways that I can take steps to become digitally literate:



Make an effort to understand the language of digital natives

While knowing and using the technology lingo is only a small part of becoming digitally literate, it is important. When I come across terms and phrases that make no sense, I have the opportunity to do what I tell my students to do: go look it up or talk to someone who knows about it. It’s a learning opportunity. So this week, I need to figure out what mashing and reverse-engineering are and what implications, if any, they have in the third grade classroom.

Make an effort to understand the mindset of digital natives

This is the 90% that is below the surface. Mimi Ito and her team of researchers in Living with New Media, decided to get into the mindset of youth and understand the digital culture from their perspective. She discovered that while we as educators and parents largely view kids’ “messing around” and “geeking out” as wasting time, these areas actually have the potential for intellectual development, civic engagement, and personal development. Without getting into the minds of the youth, we would not know that. This week I need to interview my students and talk with them about their digital lives. I must find out what they are interested in learning and how they are going about learning what they want to learn.

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Find some cultural insiders to guide you

A cultural insider is anyone who is is a native to that culture who is willing to help you understand the 90% that is below the surface. This is where my PLN becomes an important asset to me. When I don’t understand, I need to swallow my pride and ask people who know more than I do. I can also take time to talk more purposely with my own children (aged 21, 20, 18, and 16) about how technology has shaped their learning. I have seen them use their computers to learn guitar, piano, yo-yoing and drawing. According to George Siemens and his collectivism theory of learning, we derive our competency from forming collections. We collect friends to collect knowledge. This means that even more important than learning content, is my ability to know what I need to learn and form relationships with others who are experts.

Use common sense and discernment

Of course all of this must be done in a context of the big picture and with common sense. The big picture is enhancement of student learning. I need to remember “why” I am trying to learn this culture. As I delve deep into the digital culture I need balance, wisdom and discernment. Is it worth my time and energy? Will it improve student learning? Does it develop my students as whole people?











5 thoughts on “Crossing the Digital Culture Divide

  1. Hi Michelle!
    What an open, honest post. I too have found it overwhelming when I come across a post and I don’t understand all the techy lingo or references. Bravo to you for realizing the gaps in your understanding, and outlining a plan to tackle them! I especially like how you took the familiar context of navigating and unfamiliar culture, and related it to the sometimes unfamiliar tech world. I also like your ‘why’ in the end of your post. We are doing all of this hard work because we know it will benefit our students and their learning.
    Hey- as a quick resource, I found this glossary of Web 2.0/techy terms that maybe you’ll be able to use as a dictionary- link to

    In reply to your comment on my blog- I would love love love to connect our classes. We haven’t set up our blogs yet- but I’m hoping to in the next week or so. I will send you the link as soon as we are up and running! You can follow us on Twitter @MsRaseman if you use that platform! Happy Learning :-) Jackie

    • Hi Jackie!
      Thanks for your kind words and for the link to the dictionary. That will definitely come in handy. I would love to connect our classes. This would be my first time doing something like this so I’m sure my learning curve will be steep, but it will totally be worth it. I have my own twitter account but it seems like it might be a good idea to set up a class twitter. I really look forward to collaborating!
      Have a great evening!

  2. Hi Michelle,

    Your honesty and vulnerability was refreshing. It was also comforting. As I read your post I wrote down words I connected with: stress, unfamiliar, swallow, pride… I am in awe of everyone’s work and realized to meet the bar I will have to ask for help from colleagues and my PLN. Yet, I am drawn to Edtech & Coetail because of educators like you who inspire and continue to question, learn and share. Keep up the great work! I look forward to sharing it with my teachers here in Vietnam.

    • Hi Debra,

      Thanks for your feedback. I know that I have so much to learn so right now the only way forward for me is to keep asking for help.

  3. Hi Michelle,

    I really like how you phrased this, “But, there is hope because just as I have been able to navigate living in different cultures over the past 20 years, I know that if I employ some of the same cross cultural strategies I have learned, I will be able to become more like the digital natives.”

    Considering most of us are working in international education, it’s an excellent way to help relate to the initial feelings we experience when learning something entirely new. I’ll have to keep that snippet for future reference!


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