Friday, May 23, 2008

Growing Up Digital: Leading the Way in Net Gen Hype

Don Tapscott was one of the first writers to stake a claim in the net generation gold rush. In 1998 he published Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. Tapscott doesn't waste any time getting to the point and he doesn't hold back on the bold claims. On page 1: "For the first time in history, children are more comfortable, knowledgeable, and literate than their parents about an innovation central to society. And it is through the use of the digital media that the N-Generation will develop and superimpose its culture on the rest of society. Boomers stand back. Already these kids are learning, playing, communicating, working, and creating communites very differently than their parents. They are a force for social transformation" (pp.1-2). Later he gets more specific, claiming that access to interactive, digital technologies is creating a generation of critical thinkers: "They accept little at face value...unlike the TV generation which had no viable means to interact with media content, The N-Generation has the tools to challenge ideas, people, statements - anything. These youth love to argue and debate..they are also learning to think critically as well" (p. 88).

What is the empirical basis for Growing Up Digital? On the surface, it sounds solid: discussions with about 300 children ranging in age from 4 to 20, balanced in terms of gender, geography and socio-economic status. However no details are provided as to how these participants were recruited, how the balance was achieved, and to what degree the sample is representative. Furthermore, all the discussions were held in an online discussion forum which would tend to skew the sample to participants who were already predisposed to use online communication technologies.


crogoza said...

It find it amazing that the rhetoric propounds that in the short span of less than 30 years the brains of the Net Generation have apparently changed. Tapscott tells us that this is so because of their persistent interaction with technology. Hence the NetGeners’ way of learning is different than that of previous generations because their cognitive processing has adapted to a changed brain. It now behooves educators to respond to this phenomenon. The logic seems to look like this:

NetGeners are using technology persistently.
This persistent use is changing their brains to process differently.
Therefore, educators must adapt their instructional strategies to this “new brain”.

Despite the problems with these assumptions, faculty are increasingly pressured to integrate technology into their curriculum using the tools that the students apparently use on a daily basis such as email, text messaging, blogs, and podcasts. The rhetoric abounds with directives like, “Change your teaching style. Make blogs, iPods, and video games part of your pedagogy. And learn to accept divided attention spans. A new generation of students has arrived ¬and sorry, but they may not want to hear you lecture for an hour." (Carlson, 2005, p. A34)

However this seems to fly in the face of the Educause (2006) survey of 29,900 freshman and senior students at 96 higher education institutions in which 56.2% of students responded that they preferred a moderate amount of technology in their coursework. Younger students indicated an even lower preference for technology than older students.

As Bullen points out, there are many examples of the lack of empirical substantiation of the rhetoric to use technologies, in particular social networking technologies in our classrooms. But alas we are warned that “The revolution has begun, and it can't be stopped. So rather than being beaten down by the technology, teachers must use it, use it, use it, and use it again to do what school is supposed to be about, learning about life and the world around us.“ (Regan, 2002 p.25)

Carlson, S. (2005). The net generation goes to college. The Chronicle of Higher Education 52(7), A34

Educause. (2006). The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information
Technology, 2006. Retrieved October 15, 2007, from

Regan, T. (2002). Net savvy students to teachers: You just don't get it! CS Monitor. Retrieved April 12, 2008 from

tannis said...

I haven't read them yet but am parking them here: a 2008 dissertation that suggests that the Millennial description is true at Texas AM

Something about millennial teachers

Nichthus said...

Hi there Mark, Iain et al,

I've been blogging on Net Gen issues for a while (see

Sorry that the posts are conglomerates of ideas, but a text search for Net Gen will reveal some additional reports and reflections that may be of assistance. Funny how small the eWorld is - Iain, met you last year, Mark, we recently interacted in the SCoPE event (thanks again for the reference, it's in my thesis).


Mark Nichols.

Jedd said...

While I was watching sport, using twitter and talking to friends I came across this article in Innovate online journal on "whether and how students would perceive a benefit from podcasting as a pedagogical tool."
cheers, Jedd (56yrs)

Anoush said...

A roader, interdisciplinary perspective on this issue might be useful. So-called "generational reversal" in expertise is a well-known phenomenon, that was first noted by ethnographer Margaret Mead in her classic study "Coming of Age in Samoa". Generational reversal often occurs in the face of rapid societal changes, such as emergence of new technologies that transform the ways we can connect to knowledge and each other. See for example Beach, K. (2003). Consequential transitions. in Tuomi-Groenh, and Engestroem (Eds). Between school and work: New perspectives on transfer and boundary-crossing. Pergamon.

I agree with George Siemens that education should change not becasue of the "new brains" (which may or may not be the case) but because of the new ways of connecting and contributing that that the new technologies afford

Peter said...

A 2006 JISC LXP Student experiences of technologies report, which combines both quantitative and qaulitative data identifies eight factors that emerge from the way students are working. Although 1 to 7 are interesting, it was number 8 that struck me. It reads:
"Changing working patterns: New working practices using an integrated range of tools are
emerging. The use of these tools is changing the way they gather, use and create knowledge. There is a shift in the nature of the basic skills with a shift from lower to
higher levels of Blooms’ taxonomy, necessary to make sense of their complex technologically enriched learning environment."

Chris said...


I've been reading Tapscott's Growing Up Digital and just haven't encountered the egregiously exaggerated technological skill of the Net Generation Learner.

Is it possible that with others - who have overstated and overgeneralized to a much greater extent - citing or quoting Tapscott, the net generation skeptic literature has misattributed much of the exxageration to Tapscott?

Palfrey & Gasser (2008) wrote:

"All of them are 'Digital Natives.' There were all born after 1980, when social digital technologies, such as Usenet and bulletin board systems came online. They all have access to networked digital technologies. and, they all have the skills to use those technologies. (Except for the baby - but she'll learn soon enough." (1)

Palfrey & Gasser also noted that Net Generation Learners:
* can learn how to use new software in a snap (6)
* take, upload and edit pictures to share with friends online in their sleep (6)
* are creating parallel worlds on sites like Second Life (6)
* can rework media, using off-the-shelf computer programs (6)

I didn't encounter that kind of sweeping over-generalization in Tapscott's work.

AND, equally significant, I agree entirely with several of Tapscott's suggestions as to how digital media can enhance teaching and learning.