Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Net Gen Skeptic Message and the Media

It has taken over two years but it finally feels like our message is getting through and that educators are starting to seriously question the prevailing myth about the uniqueness of the net generation and all that supposedly implies. I have been encouraged by the frequent requests to speak on this issue from all over the world. Perhaps it's only because the organizers can't afford the high fees of the net gen myth generators, but I have had the opportunity to present at a number of educational conferences over the past two years, events that normally would have invited somebody to present the net gen perspective.

Also encouraging is that the mainstream media is paying attention. I was interviewed on the morning CBC Radio program in Prince George earlier in the month and then on the national CBC News Network.  My experience with these two interviews reveals a lot about the pervasiveness of the net gen myth and the difficulty in presenting a complex issue in the mainstream media. It also reminds me of one of the reasons I got out of television news over 30 years ago.

I first got a request from the CBC Radio afternoon program in Prince George but after explaining my perspective to the producer in a pre-interview she confessed that this wasn't what they were expecting and they would have to get back to me. They never did and I suspect the reason is they were looking for somebody to present the same old story about how the net generation is changing the world. It was reassuring then when a few days later the CBC morning show called and after listening to me explain my point of view agreed to interview me. I was somewhat put off as I sat listening to the lead-in to my interview at 7:40 am and heard the announcer say, "Coming up, an interview with a BCIT professor who doesn't believe in technology in the classroom." Where did this come from? I have never expressed that position so I began my interview by correcting that misrepresentation. After that I thought things went pretty well. The interviewer, Wil Fundal, asked some excellent questions that actually allowed me to speak to some of the key findings of our research.

Contrast this with my experience with CBC News Network later in the week. I was initially asked to be part of a panel discussion with Don Tapscott but he had to withdraw due to an emergency so I was left with a one on one interview with the host Dianne Buckner. Despite spending over 30 minutes giving the background to the associate producer, the questions in the four minute interview ended up being something like, "So, is there a place for technology in the classroom?" and "So, is technology making our students stupid?" and "What are some of the concerns about using technology in the classroom?" In other words, questions clearly informed by the simplistic technology is good or bad discourse. I struggled to redirect the conversation to my point which is this is not a matter of technology good or bad, but using technology appropriately that takes into account the context and is not driven by superficial, simplistic and unfounded notions of generation. I think I got my point across but it wasn't easy. It didn't help that it was 7:45 am on a Sunday and I was speaking to a camera. Diane Buckner thanked me and moved on to the next weighty issue on the show, how to manage expectations of children when doing back to school shopping.

So I think the net gen skeptic message is gaining traction but it is a struggle. The simplistic net gen myth clearly is an easier sell than our message and the mainstream media doesn't handle complexity well.

Two interesting postscripts: CBC Radio obliged my request and sent me an mp3 copy of my interview, but only on the condition that I not post it on a website. CBC News Network said they would send me a DVD of my interview but it would take about two weeks!. Apparently they can't send me a digital file.


Graaaaaargh! said...

This blog is indispensable to anyone seriously interested in the future of education, and I thank you for all the work you put into it. I just cited NGS in a post about Levine's article in Inside Higher Ed:

We may not agree about his proposals, which I think are misguided, but we do agree that it's dangerous to base *any* proposals/policies on unfounded assumptions about entire generations.

Thanks again!

Mark Bullen said...

Thanks Kelly!