Digital Immigrants Teaching the Net Generation – Much Ado About Nothing?
Over the past few months we have done several posts regarding the net generation, the so-called group of school children dubbed “digital natives.”
Many experts within, as well as from outside the field of education believe that the current crop of students entering our schools present a unique set of challenges for teachers. The belief is that many are used to the multi-sensory world that technology provides that 21st century classrooms must be adjusted to accommodate that development. In addition, because this generation of students has grown up with computers, video games and social networking opportunities, many of those same experts are of the ilk that today’s students are more computer savvy than their teachers and their parents.
At OpenEducation.net, we too have jumped on the digital natives, net generation, bandwagon.
- Of Digital Immigrants, Power Browsing, and Bouncing Out
- Video Games in the Classroom – Teaching the Scientific Method to Digital Natives
- Social Media – FaceBook and MySpace as University Curricula
- Of Trashing Teens, The Impact of Generation Y, and Extraordinary Talents
- Virtual Worlds – Westminster Professors Discuss Research
- Higher Education – Dangerously Close to Becoming Irrelevant
We also provided our readers a link to Michael Wesch’s provocative YouTube video in our post, If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – More on the Digital Divide?
At the same time, we reviewed a very interesting report out of Europe that contradicted the viewpoint that this generation of learners is extremely adept at using technology. Our summary, Student Shortcomings – Anything but Masters of Technology, highlighted several very interesting misconceptions.
For example, the report indicated that this new generation of tech users were anything but “expert searchers.” In fact, the researchers found that most “digital natives” had real difficulty choosing good search terms.
The report did reveal another weakness created by having access to interactive devices. Because students really like activity, they love to cut-and-paste. The report goes on to note, “There is a lot of anecdotal evidence and plagiarism is a serious issue.”
At the same time, there were two major surprises. One related to the growing belief that technology was ultimately making students more impatient and adding to their need for instant gratification. To the complete shock of many, the report indicated that young people demonstrated no higher levels of impatience than did adults.
The second surprise was in regards to the critical assumption that digital natives were more tech savvy than adults. No evidence could be found that teens, in total as a group, were more adept at using technology, than were older adults.
Then, less than a week ago, at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Siva Vaidhyanathan authored a similar piece entitled, Generational Myth, Not All Young People Are Tech-savvy. We give deference to paraphrasing and provide two noteworthy segments from the article directly:
College students in America are not as “digital” as we might wish to pretend. All this mystical talk about a generational shift and all the claims that kids won’t read books are just not true. Our students read books when books work for them (and when I tell them to). And they all (I mean all) tell me that they prefer the technology of the bound book to the PDF or Web page.
Yes, he insists that students prefer the technology of the bound book to that of a web page!
Talk of a “digital generation” or people who are “born digital” willfully ignores the vast range of skills, knowledge, and experience of many segments of society. It ignores the needs and perspectives of those young people who are not socially or financially privileged. It presumes a level playing field and equal access to time, knowledge, skills, and technologies. The ethnic, national, gender, and class biases of any sort of generation talk are troubling. And they could not be more obvious than when discussing assumptions about digital media.
While Vaidhyanathan dwells a bit too hard on the privilege piece, citing it as a delineation, his point about mass assumptions is consistent with the findings from the European study. The bottom line,it seems, is that not all “digital natives” are tech savvy.
Empirical Evidence Appears to Be Lacking
In our constant search for news on technology and its impact on teaching and learning, we came across a blog with an extremely provocative title, Net Gen NonSense. The site, featuring four contributors, Mark Bullen, Crogoza, Iain Doherty and Tannis, is “dedicated to debunking the myth of the net generation, particularly as it relates to learning, teaching and the use of technology.”
On the Net Gen NonSense site is yet another link to an article questioning the current assumptions, a piece authored by three Australian researchers, Sue Bennett, Karl Maton and Lisa Kervin. Their review of current data questions the ongoing claims that fundamental changes to our educational institutions are necessary because of the unique needs of the current generation of learners.
The researchers insist that such claims have not been subjected to enough scrutiny. In very strong terms, they call the current debate an academic form of ‘moral panic.’
In total, these three scholarly articles indicate we are in fact making some major assumptions about the current generation of learners. Are they truly that unique or have we exaggerated the belief? We began wondering, is all of the hullabaloo regarding teaching the net generation simply much ado about nothing?
Next, in an attempt to answer our questions, we talk with Mark Bullen, one of the founders of the blog, NetGenNonsense, to determine the specific net generation myths he is seeking to debunk.