Though Net Generation Concerns Over-hyped, Integrating Technology the Right Step
In our prior two posts, Digital Immigrants Teaching the Net Generation – Much Ado About Nothing? and Net Generation Nonsense – Mark Bullen Discusses Teaching and Learning, we spent some time examining some of the current assumptions regarding the net generation. In particular, we honed in on the notion that the digital native generation, having grown up with access to technology at a very early age, is so unique that fundamental changes to our educational systems are warranted.
We pointed to several research studies that contradicted many of the current assumptions in place regarding the net generation and we cited the work of Mark Bullen, the Associate Dean of the Learning & Teaching Centre at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, who has publicly called for additional hard research before deciding that fundamental changes in education are warranted. We also shared with readers the results of a major study from across the pond that totally contradicted the notion that the net generation was any more tech savvy than any other generation.
At the same time, we at OpenEducation.net have been a strong proponent of bringing technology to the classroom. We maintain our position even within the midst of the concerns expressed in the last two posts.
While we may have given today’s youngsters too much credit for their technology aptitude, we still believe that technology has the potential to reinvent public education as we know it. More importantly, in an age where streams of information are endless and knowledge travels at the speed of light, it is imperative that educators recognize the importance of bringing technology into the day-to-day elements of the classroom.
Cool the Net Generation, Digital Native Nonsense
However, even though we will continue our push to integrate technology at every grade and age level, we think it is time to put a temporary hold on the reverence that attends the “net generation” moniker. It seems that we need to rethink the notion that this generation of learners is so unique that fundamental changes to our educational systems are necessary.
Here we align ourselves with the comments of Dean Bullen who notes: “Some of the claims (about this generation) are the same or very similar to claims that have been made about every generation of young people: impatient, social, prefer to learn by doing, and goal oriented.”
However, Bullen does not contend that the current generation of learners matches that of prior students. “I don’t dispute that this generation is different than previous generations,” states Bullen. “Every generation differs from the previous in some way. The social, political and technological context changes so this is bound to have an impact on the people growing up at that time.”
But as for the impact on teacher pedagogy, that is where Bullen draws a firm line. The anecdotal evidence being tossed around simply doesn’t cut it for him, particularly since this group of learners may not actually have a stranglehold on uniqueness.
“Before we start making radical changes to the way to do things in education we need some evidence,” states Bullen. “There is an assumption that because this generation is much more immersed in digital technologies for primarily social and recreational purposes that they a) want to use them for educational purposes and b) will be skilled at using these technologies for educational purposes. I have yet to see any evidence to support these assumptions.”
Two Definitive Fallacies
In addition to questioning the notion that this generation has a monopoly on uniqueness, there are two assertions that certainly seem to lack merit based on our current assessment.
First, not all children are technology experts. While some have indeed developed extensive tech skills, a like number seem oblivious to the current technology rush. Clearly, the information from Bullen and his colleagues, combined with the insights from the three studies mentioned in our prior post, provide readers an exceptionally different viewpoint. As we noted once before, today’s students are anything but masters of technology.
Even within the fundamental areas of social networking and gaming, there appear to be enormous skill set differences among children. In sum total, there is simply no evidence to support the assumption that “digital natives” as a collective group are tech experts, and any teacher assuming his or her students are technology wizards is in for a rude awakening.
However, that also means that we can stop wasting our time debating the digital classroom divide issue. Our teachers, the so-called generation of “digital immigrants,” are not quite as far from the skills of the “digital natives” generation as many experts make them out to be.
A second assumption that must be categorically reconsidered relates to the use of technology for learning. Children do like technology for recreational purposes, but just because they like using technology, teachers cannot assume they will in turn want to use technology to enhance their learning. According to Bullen and Doherty, students do not always seem willing to mix business with pleasure. Therefore, any teachers making the assumption that such a transition will be a snap with students appear likely to find rough sledding.
Technology Applications Have Much to Offer
But when it comes to the public school classroom, it is extremely important that every educator acknowledge that engaging students is the first step towards a vibrant and learning-packed environment. Technology, with its fundamental ability to be interactive, represents one of the best methods for creating an engaged student body.
While no teacher should look the other way and allow students unsupervised access to social networking sites or video games, teachers can and should look for ways to use these preferred student applications to enhance the learning environment in the classroom. We stand behind our prior posts and tend to slide away from Dean Bullen at this point. At OpenEducation.net, we advocate that teachers use Web 2.0 tools whenever possible.
In the words of CoolCatTeacher, an educator who honored us a while back by linking to our comic book posts:
“To me, the important point to remember is that just about anything can be used to teach; however, when you use something that kids like, you have an edge and it is magnetic (cool tools, technology, excited teachers).
“We should not be opposed to the use of just about any tool… we should be opposed to bad teaching. Teachers who don’t want to be there, don’t have their heart in it, and don’t take the time to plan and make their classrooms a center for learning excellence.”
We agree with CoolCatTeacher. Good teachers see the potential learning in every experience. They also recognize the need for in-depth planning so that the learning potential embedded in each experience is maximized.
Most importantly, they also understand the need for engagement and therefore are more than willing to meet students halfway. Using Web 2.0 technology tools is one method for meeting students on their turf.
Confident of Our Suggestions
Given this sentiment, we feel confident about our various posts related to teaching digital natives, even if these students are not as unique as most make them out to be. Technology may be melded into the learning environment at every grade level and within each subject, providing opportunities to greater individualize learning even as it enhances student engagement in the classroom.
Anyone confused about how to do so should turn to our post, Award-Winning Teacher Utilizes a Wealth of Classroom Technology. Mr. Thompson provides many concrete examples of how to make a classroom come alive with technology applications.
For us that is the key, the classroom must come alive. The members of the current generation that have been exposed to technology are used to higher levels of sensory input and greater control of those inputs. Students heading to a classroom devoid of similar controls and without high levels of such input will render that environment less inviting for them.
Students learn best when they are excited and engaged. Even those who have not been exposed to technology and high levels of sensory input will respond extremely well to classrooms that are stimulating for learners. Ultimately, we believe that teachers should look for every opportunity to produce a classroom that inspires children and technology is one of the best ways to create such a classroom.
It is time to drop the digital natives’ hype and recognize that the debate should not be about digital natives versus digital immigrants. The debate should be about how to use technology to effectively enhance the learning experience for students.