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)."


Background: said...

I, too, appreciate Selwyn's thoughtfulness. However, as someone who studies generational differences with a focus on their use of technology, multitasking, etc., I do think it is important to recognize that the kids in school now (what I call the iGeneration) are different and do need a different model of education. I think it is great that your goal is to help educators move toward using Web 2.0 tools. I think that my research and that of my colleagues can be helpful in making an assessment of this generation. Nobody is saying that they are ALL like this, but our research shows how much they use technology, the difference in their choices of tools to multitask, and, of course, their love of electronic communication tools such as wireless mobile devices. In my new book (Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn) which comes out in early 2010, I talk about how these kids are -- in general -- different and need different teaching tools that I hope you and others will develop. I give many examples of the great tools that have been introduced and the clever ways that educators are using cell phones, social networks, 3-D virtual websites, and more to engage and motivate this tech-savvy generation of kids. Just one quick glance at the Nielsen Mobile figures showing that in a short two years teens have gone from nearly equal amounts of phone calls and texts to nearly 30 times the number of monthly texts, indicates that their world is drastically different.

Mark Bullen said...

Thanks for your comment Larry. We are not denying the fact that young people are using technology. What we take issue with are the gross and unsubstantiated generalizations about the impact of technology on this generation. If you read our work and the work of Selwyn and others you will see that most of the key claims are not supported by research. I'm talking about claims by people like Prensky and Tapscott who argue that because this generation is immersed in technology, they have become among other things, critical thinkers, that they are no longer passive consumers of information but active producers, that they multitask effectively. If you have evidence to support this, I'd like to see it.

Basically, we think that treating this as a generational issue is simplistic and ultimately not very useful. Technology is having an impact on all of us. Some are using it more than others. We need to understand those impacts, regardless of age.