Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Report Concludes Generation Not the Issue

The Phase 1 report of the Digital Learners in Higher Education research project concludes that most of the net generation claims are not based on sound research and that discussions of technology in higher education need to move beyond generation. "The study revealed that while some of the descriptors of Net Generation learners are evident in BCIT learners, there is not a clear difference between generations of learners. In other words, generation does not help explain differences in how BCIT learners approach their studies, or how they learn, communicate and use technology. We suggest that it is more useful to look at the type of program and discipline as factors that influence use of ICTs."

Read the full report.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Generational Stereotyping a Thriving Industry

In The Millennial Muddle, Eric Hoover argues that using generational stereotyping to explain the net generation is part of a thriving industry. But the characteristics assigned to this generation, he says, are often based only on "on a hodgepodge of anecdotes, statistics, and pop-culture references". In the case of Howe & Strauss' Millennials Rising, he makes the same observations we made in an earlier posting. The "core traits" that Howe & Strauss identify: special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving are based on "surveys of teachers and about 600 high-school seniors in Fairfax County, Va., which in 2007 became the first county in the nation to have a median household income of more than $100,000, about twice the national average."

The Millennial label, Hoover says, " tends not to appear in renderings of teenagers who happen to be minorities, or poor, or who have never won a spelling bee. Nor does the term often refer to students from big cities and small towns that are nothing like Fairfax County, Va. Or who lack technological know-how. Or who struggle to complete high school. Or who never even consider college. Or who commit crimes. Or who suffer from too little parental support. Or who drop out of college."

Hoover observes: "To accept generational thinking, one must find a way to swallow two large assumptions. That tens of millions of people, born over about 20 years, are fundamentally different from people of other age groups—and that those tens of millions of people are similar to each other in meaningful ways. This idea is the underpinning of Mr. Howe's conclusion that each generation turns a historical corner, breaking sharply with the previous generation's traits and values."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Exposing the Shaky Foundations of the Net Gen Discourse

It is always reassuring when your thinking is confirmed by others. It is a particularly reassuring when somebody as articulate as Neil Selwyn does it. In The Digital Native: Myth and Reality, Selwyn adds to the growing body of literature that is exposing the shaky or non-existent foundations of the popular discourse on the net generation. In doing so, he sums up our views precisely but more articulately. Selwyn reviews the literature on young people and digital technology in information sciences, education studies and communication/media studies and concludes that: "young people's engagements with digital technologies are varied and often unspectacular - in stark contrast to popular portrayals of the digital native."

But more than that, he sums up exactly what is wrong with the current net generation discourse:

"Whilst often compelling and persuasive, the overall tenor of these discursive constructions of young people and technology tends towards exaggeration and inconsistency. The digital native discourse as articulated currently cannot be said to provide an especially accurate or objective account of young people and technology. A we shall go on to discuss in further detail, claims, for instance, over the innate skills and abilities of young people are grounded rarely, if at all, in rigorous, objective empirical studies conducted with representative samples. At best the “evidence base" for much of the digital native literature is rooted in informal observation and anecdote. Within many of the accounts outlined above, the use of actual evidence or objective analysis appears not to be a major consideration as long as a persuasive case can be. Thus, at best the digital native literature tends to adopt a legalistic rather than social scientific notion of “evidence” in terms of helping establish a particular case or point of view regardless of contradictory findings (Gorard, 2002)."