Monday, December 15, 2008

We Still Need to Change

One point I don't make frequently enough is that I am not anti-technology. My critique of the net gen, digital native discourse is not meant to support the status quo but rather it is motivated by a desire to ensure that our decisions are based on evidence, not hype. We do need to change and adapt to the new technologies but we need to be sure we are making appropriate changes and not changes that are driven by a naïve view of who our learners are and what their needs are.

Anoush and Littlejohn make the case for change:

"As students look to their lecturers for clues as to how to use technology tools for learning, many lecturers are unaware of the potential of these tools, since they themselves are not using emergent technologies for their own learning and work. While some lecturers recognise the educational value of some emergent technologies, others view these as ‘fads’. This situation could become exceedingly problematic as many social technologies such as blogs, wikis, and virtual worlds are progressively adopted by organisations, where employees are required to use them regularly for knowledge sharing and communication. This raises the question as to how well universities are preparing students for employment if they continue to dismiss these tools and more importantly the processes and philosophies of learning and collective knowledge creation underpinning these tools. " (pp. 22-23)

Study questions the digital native discourse

Anoush Margaryan and Allison Littlejohn have released the full draft of the paper that reports on their study of student use of technology in two British universities. As reported earlier, their findings tend to contradict the prevailing view of the "digital native" as a sophisticated user of technology who has a fundamentally different approach to learning. For me, one of the most interesting findings is on student attitudes towards learning:

"students’ attitudes to learning appear to be influenced by the teaching approaches adopted by their lecturers. Far from demanding lecturers change their practice, students appear to conform to fairly traditional pedagogies, albeit with minor uses of technology tools that deliver content."

Other key findings:

"students use a limited range of technologies for both learning and socialisation. For learning, mainly established ICTs are used- institutional VLE, Google and Wikipedia and mobile phones. Students make limited, recreational use of social technologies such as media sharing tools and social networking sites...the findings point to a low level of use of and familiarity with collaborative knowledge creation tools, virtual worlds, personal web publishing, and other emergent social technologies."

Margaryan and Littlejohn conclude:

"The outcomes suggest that although the calls for radical transformations in educational approaches may be legitimate it would be misleading to ground the arguments for such change solely in students’ shifting expectations and patterns of learning and technology use."

Friday, November 28, 2008

More Mythbusting Evidence

Two British researchers have just completed a study of undergraduate students that found "many young students are far from being the epitomic global, connected, socially-networked technologically-fluent digital native who has little patience for passive and linear forms of learning." Instead, the study found that students use a limited range of technologies for both formal and informal learning and that there is a "very low level of use and familiarity with collaborative knowledge creation tools such as wikis, virtual worlds, personal web publishing, and other emergent social technologies."

The study was conducted by Anoush Margaryan and Allison Littlejohn at Glasgow Caledonian and Strathclyde Universities in the UK. Here is a summary of their findings. A full article is in the works.

This study investigated the extent and nature of use of technologies – primarily communication technologies, social software and mobile devices – by undergraduate students in two disciplines, social work and education, in Glasgow Caledonian and Strathclyde Universities in the UK. The study included a questionnaire survey of 160 students, followed up by in-depth interviews with 8 students and 8 staff members at both institutions. The findings show that many young students are far from being the epitomic global, connected, socially-networked technologically-fluent digital native who has little patience for passive and linear forms of learning. Students use a limited range of technologies for formal and informal learning. These are mainly established ICTs - institutional VLE, Google and Wikipedia and mobile phones. Students make limited, recreational use of social technologies such as media sharing tools and social networking. Findings point to a very low level of use and familiarity with collaborative knowledge creation tools such as wikis, virtual worlds, personal web publishing, and other emergent social technologies. The study did not find evidence to support the claims regarding students adopting radically different patterns of knowledge creation and sharing suggested by some previous studies. This study reveals that students’ attitudes to learning appear to be influenced by the approaches adopted by their lecturers. Far from demanding lecturers change their practice, students appear to conform to fairly traditional pedagogies, albeit with minor uses of technology tools that deliver content. In fact their expectations were that they would be “taught” in traditional ways – even though many of these students were engaged in courses that are viewed by these Universities as adopting innovative approaches to technology-enhanced learning. The study didn’t find age differences in patterns of technology use – the young students were just as likely to be conservative in the extent and nature of technology use as the older ones. Margaryan, A., & Littlejohn, A. (2008). The myth of the digital native: Students’ use of technologies. Presentation at an Academy Horizons Seminar, Caledonian Academy, Glasgow Caledonian University. Available online at

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: digital_natives seminars)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tapscott Strikes Again

Don Tapscott who was largely responsible for starting the "net gen" hype back in 1998 with the release of his book, Growing Up Digital, has followed that up with Grown-Up Digital. I haven't read this book but I did give my assessment of Growing Up Digital in an earlier posting. Judging by the jacket cover hype for this new work, the techno-utopic viewpoint is much the same:

"Grown Up Digital reveals:.

  • How the brain of the Net Generation processes information .
  • Seven ways to attract and engage young talent in the workforce.
  • Seven guidelines for educators to tap the Net Gen potential.
  • Parenting 2.0: There's no place like the new home .
  • Citizen Net: How young people and the Internet are transforming democracy.

Today's young people are using technology in ways you could never imagine. Instead of passively watching television, the Net Geners are actively participating in the distribution of entertainment and information. For the first time in history, youth are the authorities on something really important. And they're changing every aspect of our society-from the workplace to the marketplace, from the classroom to the living room, from the voting booth to the Oval Office."

This book is based on a $4 million private research study that involved a survey of over 11,000 young people so one hopes it is more credible than the first book but it's hard to take a publication seriously when the hype is so over the top and at odds with the other research that has been done on this topic.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Open Education Furthers the Discussion

It is heartening to see that the concerns expressed in this blog about Net Gen hype have been taken up by Tom Hanson and his Open Education blog. Tom has posted a three-part series that features the critiques mentioned here. He concludes:

"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."

And I would add that, in doing this, we need to be sure we understand who are learners are and that our use of technology meets their needs, and is not based on a preconceived and inaccurate notion of an entire generation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Eloquent Critique of Generational Stereotyping

"Talk of a "digital generation" or people who are "born digital" willfully ignores the vast range of skills, knowledge, and experience of many segments of society. It ignores the needs and perspectives of those young people who are not socially or financially privileged. It presumes a level playing field and equal access to time, knowledge, skills, and technologies. The ethnic, national, gender, and class biases of any sort of generation talk are troubling. And they could not be more obvious than when discussing assumptions about digital media."

Read the full article from Siva Vaidhyanatha.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Todays Teens: Anything But Masters of Technology

Once again, the strong research seems to contradict the prevailing view of the digitally-literate Net generation. I came across this study out of Great Britain, thanks to Tom Hanson at Open which casts doubt on the idea that teens are better with technology than adults.

"The study sought to determine just how good young people were with information technology and thereby determine what schools and libraries should in turn focus on when teaching students. To make their determinations, a log of British Library web sites and search tools was analyzed along with a “virtual” longitudinal study based on literature reviews from the past 30 years."

Read the Open
posting on the study or download the full study.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Net Gen No Sense

We just completed surveying staff and students at the on the use use of technologies for teaching and learning. We had over 400 student responses (out of 3000 full time equivalent students) and the picture was very clear. They are not making use of the web 2.0 tools in any great way in their personal lives. Interestingly we had one student ask a question along the lines of a question example given in a previous post. "What's a Wiki?".

This is a blog so I can be a bit lazy! Students are using technologies in their daily lives with texting obviously being at the top of the list. They use other technologies that make their lives easier; booking tickets online; booking travel online; internet banking; shopping online. Oh, and they're not all social networking with a number of students saying that it was a waste of their time. I thought that I detected something along the lines of contempt for the social networking scene from some students. It was almost as if social networking was for those with nothing better to do with their lives.

No, it wasn't a rigorous three year study but it did provide a very good snapshot of where our students sit in relation to Web 2.0. The interesting question then concerns what the findings mean. Perhaps it's a good thing that they're not using Web 2.0 in their daily lives because that lack of use might provide an opportunity to use Web 2.0 in education without students coming to the tools with a whole load of pre-conceived notions about their purpose (social rather than educational). However, teaching and learning must determine the choice of the tool (or not if a tool is not needed).

Check out the representation of a personal learning environment form a PhD student

Take a good look because there's some serious learning at the center with the technologies etc. situated around the core activity of learning.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Born Digital

Yet another book has been published that addresses the so called "digital generation gap".

Here's the publisher's description of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser:

"The most enduring change wrought by the digital revolution is neither the new business models nor the new search algorithms, but rather the massive generation gap between those who were born digital and those who were not. The first generation of “digital natives”-children who were born into and raised in the digital world-is now coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our cultural life, even the shape of our family life will be forever transformed. But who are these digital natives? How are they different from older generations, and what is the world they’re creating going to look like? In Born Digital, leading Internet and technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser offer a sociological portrait of this exotic tribe of young people who can seem, even to those merely a generation older, both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow. Based on original research and advancing new theories, Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues? Or is privacy even a relevant value for digital natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world? Is “stranger-danger” a real problem, or a red herring? A smart, practical guide to a brave new world and its complex inhabitants, Born Digital will be essential reading for parents, teachers, and the myriad of confused adults who want to understand the digital present-and shape the digital future."

Now, I haven't read this book so perhaps I should withhold my comments but the language in this description suggests its more of the same: sweeping unsubstantiated generalizations about an entire generation.

However, somebody who has read the book suggests otherwise. Dana Boyd writes:

"If you're an academic and you choose to pick up this book - and I strongly encourage you to do so - try to read it in context. Because it is deeply grounded in research, it might be tempting to see it as an academic book with too few citations. I'd encourage you to resist the critical reflex that comes with being piled higher and deeper and appreciate the ways in which scholarly work is being leveraged as a tool for cultural intervention. I think that JP and Urs have done an astonishing job and believe that they deserve our deepest gratitude. I for one am VERY thankful of their efforts to make change based on what we know instead of what we fear."

I certainly agree with making change based on evidence but that is the problem with the net generation discourse. It argues for radical change based on flimsy evidence. If Palfrey and Gasser do have the evidence then we're moving in the right direction but I'm not sure what to make of this part of Boyd's recommendation for this book:

"Combatting pre-existing images requires more than accuracy, more than nuance. It requires either a new more-sticky image or a reworking of the original image. By working inside the frame of "digital natives," JP and Urs seek to ground that concept through a realistic image of practice. Reclaiming a term does not relieve it of all of its baggage, but it is a service to discourse if you can accept that the term won't just disappear by ignoring it. Once it's grounded, nuance becomes possible in entirely new ways."

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Critical Review of the Net Gen Evidence

According to three Australian researchers, our skepticism of the grand claims made about the "net generation" and the supposed impact on education is well-founded. According to Sue Bennett, Karl Maton and Lisa Kervin, the claims that this generation of learners is so different from previous generations that a fundamental change to our educational systems is needed "have been subjected to little critical scrutiny, are undertheorised, and lack a sound empirical basis"(p. 776).

In their article in the latest issue of the British Journal of Educational Technology (Vol. 39, No. 5, 775-786). The three researchers from the University of Wollongong and the University of Sydney review the evidence and analyze the debate. They conclude that "...rather than being empirically and theoretically informed, the debate can be likened to an academic form of a 'moral panic'" (p. 775).

The idea that a new generation of students is entering the education system has excited recent attention among educators and education commentators. Termed `digital natives' or the `Net generation', these young people are said to have been immersed in technology all their lives, imbuing them with sophisticated technical skills and learning preferences for which traditional education is unprepared. Grand claims are being made about the nature of this generational change and about the urgent necessity for educational reform in response. A sense of impending crisis pervades this debate. However, the actual situation is far from clear. In this paper, the authors draw on the fields of education and sociology to analyse the digital natives debate. The paper presents and questions the main claims made about digital natives and analyses the nature of the debate itself. We argue that rather than being empirically and theoretically informed, the debate can be likened to an academic form of a `moral panic'. We propose that a more measured and disinterested approach is now required to investigate `digital natives' and their implications for education.

The full article is accessible online through library e-journal databases.

Thanks to George Siemens for alerting me to this article.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Goodbye Net Gens, Hello First Globals

When a product is no longer selling, businesses will often "re-brand". Take the same thing and call it something different. Does the same thing happen with ideas? Say goodbye to Net Gens and hello to.....First Globals.

In a newly-released book (The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream) John Zogby highlights the emerging influence of the First Globals, whom his book calls "the most outward-looking and accepting generation in American history." First Globals, he says, are more socially tolerant and internationally aware.

According to Zogby the First Globals are causing a "fundamental reorientation of the American character away from wanton consumption and toward a new global citizenry in an age of limited resources."

And of course, there are implications for higher education. According to an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, "these days...students are much more likely to have experienced other cultures firsthand, either as tourists or because they have immigrated from someplace else. Whether college for them is a traditional complex of buildings or an interactive online message board, said Mr. Zogby, there is a different student on campus."

Now, I haven't read this book but I'm always skeptical when I hear sweeping claims being made about paradigm shifts at "lightning speed", "transcendent change" and when educational innovation is compared to microbrewed beer, automobile sharing, and DVD rentals by mail.

Zogby's claims are based on data from polls conducted in 2007 of several thousand Americans.

Read the Chronicle of Higher Education review of the book.

The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Net Generation and Web 2.0 Technologies

Research conducted at three Australian universities suggests that the Net Generation are not big users of Web 2.0 technologies, or were not, in 2006. Gregor Kennedy and his colleagues surveyed over 2500 first year students at the University of Melbourne, University of Wollongong, and Charles Sturt University in 2006. As well, follow-up focus group interviews were held with 46 students.

The results show that these Australian students were infrequent users of Web 2.0 technologies. More than 80% had never produced a podcast or contributed to a Wiki. More than 70% and never kept their own blog and more than 50% had never used a social networking site, read someone else's blog or downloaded a podcast.

Furthermore, the focus group interview revealed a considerable level of ignorance about these technologies. "For example, when one student was asked how a blog could usefully support her studies, she responded by saying: 'What’s a blog? I don’t know what it is'. Similarly, in focus group discussions about podcasting, two students from separate focus groups reported being unfamiliar with any such technology or service" (p. 522).

The authors conclude, "these research results indicate that we must be wary of overgeneralising the distinctive features of this generation, as individuals or as a group, their lifestyles or their learning styles based on assumptions about technology use or preferences" (p. 522).

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Contributors Wanted

When I started this blog back in May during the CNIE (Canadian Network for Innovation in Education) conference, my intention was for it to become a forum for sharing ideas, research, resources and perspectives on the net generation theme. I did not want this to be just my personal soapbox. So far that has not been very successful. While my postings have generated some comments, there are virtually no postings from the other contributors I have invited. So I am throwing open the invitation. If you having something to say and share about the net generation, I invite you to become a contributor to this blog. Just send me your e-mail address and I'll set you up.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Finally Some Evidence

There is so much irresponsible use of shoddy "research" to support claims about the net generation (often by researchers and academics who should know better) that when I stumble on research that actually is based on solid data, I am delighted. Actually, I didn't stumble on this, my colleague (co-skeptic) Tannis Morgan did.

Kevin Ramey (2008) studied undegraduate students at Texas Tech University and found that there was relatively high agreement with all but two of the seven characteristics of the millenial generation identified by Howe & Strauss (2003): special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving.

But hang on. It's too early to start the "I told you so" chorus. While this study is well-done and the conclusions are based on real data, not speculation and anecdotal evidence, a couple of things are worth highlighting.

First, this was a sample of convenience and Ramey states clearly that the results "cannot be generalized to a greater population". (One of the strengths of graduate research is that these limitations have to be spelled out. Not so with the punditry and speculation that is passed off as research and that gets a much higher profile.)

But, more importantly, the generational characteristics that were used as the basis for this study are quite different than the ones that are most frequently used to describe this generation. In fact all of them, except perhaps team-oriented, are not that remarkable or distinguishing and certainly have little obvious connection to the notion that this generation has been profoundly affected by its immersion in a net-connected, technological world. Interestingly, the one characteristic that is most closely connected to the use of Internet technology (team-oriented) is the one for which students had the lowest level of agreement (less than half agreed with this).

It is also important to note that these data are based on student self-perceptions, not objective evidence of the existence of these characteristics. Now, self-perception is important and I'm not dismissing it, but often there is no connection between the kind of person I think I am and the kind of person I really am, or for that matter, the kind of person that other people think I am.

And that brings me to my final point. Ramey not only asked students for their self-perception of these seven characteristics but their perception of their peers on the same characteristics and he found significant differences between self and peer perceptions. For some characteristics (confident, pressured, achieving, conventional), students rated themselves higher than their peers. For the characteristic of special, they rated their peers significantly higher. What this highlights is the weakness of relying solely on perceptions.

This study is better than most that have been done on this topic but we need to go beyond self-perception if we are to get an accurate reading of what this generation is really like.

Howe, N. & Strauss, W. (2003). Millenials Go To College: Strategies For A New Generation On Campus. Washington DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Ramey, K. (2008). Undergraduate Perceptions of Characteristics Attributed to Millenial Generation College Students and Implications for University Recruitment and Retention. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Texas Tech University.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Net Gen Blog Generates Interest

We're now read in 32 countries and the message seems to be striking a chord with people.

Stephen Downes writes, "the title of the blog, Net-gen Nonsense, doesn't exactly endear itself to potential readers expecting a considered view. But the author's promise to 'attempt to place e-learning in a broad educational context [and] establish principle of consistency and contingency in theory' is at least worth a look." Gee, thanks Stephen. A bit confusing since that quote is from Mark Nichols who I quote in the blog... not me.

But Downes does usefully point out that Norm Friesen was taking a critical look at the net gen hype back in 2006: "Given the evidence, the matter of addressing the digital divide within the so-called net gen is at least as important (if not more so) than any imperative to blindly adapt to the technological orientation that is said to define them."

Our critical stance sits well with Janice Clarey who says, "I really do think there are many conversations about innovations in education in the edublogosphere that are not scrutinized to the extent they should be. One case study or interview is not a reliable indicator. Go ahead and challenge when you’re wondering…’oh yeah, who says?’ or ‘got any proof on that?’"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A More Considered Perspective

Finally a Net Gen perspective that isn't brimming with hype. Chris Dede in Planning for Neomillenial Styles argues for the notion of "millenial learning styles" but suggests,

"Overall, the Internet-based learning styles ascribed to "Millennial" students —those born after 1982—increasingly apply for many people across a wide range of ages, driven by the tools and media they use every day."

This makes sense but we still need to be careful about the evidence. Dede relies on some of the usual suspects: Howe & Strauss, Tapscott and Rheingold. And the neomillenial learning styles he describes are:
  • Fluency in multiple media and in simulation-based virtual settings
  • Communal learning involving diverse, tacit, situated experience, with knowledge distributed across a community and a context as well as within an individual
  • A balance among experiential learning, guided mentoring, and collective reflection
  • Expression through nonlinear, associational webs of representations
  • Co-design of learning experiences personalized to individual needs and preferences
I haven't seen any compelling evidence to suggest these learning styles are widespread and Dede doesn't offer any. Instead, like most of the Net Gen literature, the claim is based on argument: the technologies have certain characteristics, people are using these technologies extensively; this use must be having an impact.

Read the full article.

Net Gen Skepticism Not New

I stumbled on some interesting postings in 2007 by Charles Nelson in his Explorations in Learning blog. In Myths of the Digital Generation and Myths of the Digital General Part II, Nelson takes aim at some of the same unsubstantiated claims and sloppy research that Net Generation Nonsense does:

On multitasking
"Yes, youngsters multitask faster, but it's not new. And I would expect them to do it faster even if they hadn't grown up with it. After all, multitasking, like other physical and mental abilities, is age-related: it declines with age. The fact that "digital natives" multi-task "well" is a factor of age as well as being "digital.""

"The fact that youngsters like to multitask and that they can do it better than oldsters says little about well they learn while multitasking. And the research says otherwise."

On technology-induced changes to the brain
"Prensky's interpretations are speculative extrapolations from research findings that the brain continues to adapt and is malleable, and that people think differently according to their experiences."

Read more.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Net Gen Hype Found in Online Learning Book

In an earlier post I noted that the second edition of Terry Anderson's, The Theory and Practice of Online Learning contains a chapter that relies on net gen hype. Now Mark Nichols finds even more:

"I noted that in Anderson's own chapter "Towards a theory of online learning", that is, in the very first chapter...

Prensky is cited... *WARNING!*... as an authority on how students learn.

Prensky! Never mind the far more authoritative and - dare I say it - scholarly (and contrary) voices of, say, Knowles, Ramsden and Mezirow! For me, this is further evidence of how edubloggers and e-learning theorists have become a very cloistered bunch who believe that everything is new and are suspicious of anything published before the year 1995!"

Read the full posting here.

Net gen skepticism bashed

Net Gen skepticism is generating a backlash. Chris Lott writes:

"The only Net Gen nonsense is coming from those who spend their time worrying about a research basis for a phenomenon that is easily observable in any classroom...The remonstrations about the evidence remind me of scientists concluding that bumblebees can’t fly and philosophers concluding that there is no physical reality. Like Berkeley, I refute you thus, with the students I teach every term… but I will refrain from kicking them as proof!"

Well, I didn't know that scientists claimed that bumblebees couldn't fly. If they did, this is all the more reason to examine claims critically. I do not doubt that the current generation is different from the previous. All generations differ from each other in some ways. It would be foolish to argue otherwise. Social, economic and technological conditions change and these shape who we are and how we think and behave.

What I take issue with is are the sweeping, apparently unsubstantiated, claims that are made:
a) about the defining characteristics of this generation and,
b) the implications these have for how we teach.

I do not dismiss practitioner knowledge. All teachers should be adjusting what they do based on what they observe in their classrooms. But to generalize that to an entire generation and then propose and make widespread institutional changes based on these anecdotal observations is irresponsible. It is also irresponsible for educators to continue to blindly accept these claims without examining the evidence.

As George Siemens points out in his response to Chris Lott, I am not refuting the claims, I am only saying the evidence doesn't support the claims. And as I have said in my presentations, I am not saying we shouldn't be critically examining how we teach and responding appropriately to our learners, but this should be based on evidence not on techno-utopian net gen hype.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Netgen Nonsense presentation

Here's a presentation I made to a University of Manitoba summer institute workshop last week organized by George Siemens.

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.

Online Learning Book Chapter Relies on Net Gen Hype

The second edition of the widely distributed book, The Theory and Practice of Online Learning (edited by Terry Anderson) has now been released and is available for free download.

I was disappointed to see that Chapter 8, "In-Your-Pocket and On-The-Fly: Meeting the Needs of Today's New Generation of Online Learners with Mobile Learning Technology" relies on the same old net gen hype to support the argument for the increased use of mobile learning technology. According to Maureen Hutchison, Tony Tin and Yang Cao, todays learners are, guess what, "tech-savvy, accustomed to multi-tasking, and expect control what, when and how they learn" (p. 203). And just in case that didn't sink in, later in the same paragraph they claim: "This new generation of learners is smart but impatient, creative, expecting results immediately, customizing the things they choose, very focused on themselves" (p. 203). And who do they cite to support these claims? An article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that reports on an interview (one interview!) with a librarian at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Oblinger & Oblinger (2005) (see earlier posts on this) and Don Tapscott's 1998 Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Teaching and Learning with the Net Generation

Here's an article that makes some effort to provide a balanced look at this issue but ends up relying on many of the familiar unsubstantiated claims about the Net Generation to argue that we need to adjust our approaches to teaching to accommodate the unique learning styles of this generation.

Teaching and Learning with the Net Generation

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Net Gen Hype Gets in the Way

In chapter 14 of Educating the Net Generation, Carole Barone makes a a powerful case for significant institutional change in higher education to address the changing social and economic realities. She argues that technology and pedagogy are converging and in the process challenging "the structure, governance, power relationships, and cultural values of the traditional campus. Efforts to transform higher education face deeply entrenched cultural, behavioral, and philosophical resistance" (p. 14-1).

She calls for the creation of a "new academy" that is founded on five characteristics:
  • The interplay of culture and technology (the socio-technological context)
  • A multidimensional framework for action
  • New cultural values
  • A new style of leadership
  • The relationship of learning to space
But one of her main arguments for this change is based on the net generation hype:

"The arrival of the Net Generation on campus is causing unrest in the classroom.1 A wave of young people empowered to create knowledge, not merely absorb it, now flows in and out of the classroom, calling into question the convictions and processes that have served as the foundation of traditional higher education. It remains to be seen whether traditional higher education will adjust sufficiently to truly engage the Net Generation."

And on what does she base this claim of the net generation revolution ? Two articles. One by Jason Frand, The Information-Age Mindset: Changes in Students and Implications for Higher Education that is based entirely on the author's personal observations of students at his institution, but no solid empirical research. The other, a thoughtful and interesting article by Gary Brown, that discusses what he sees as the growing disengagement of students from learning in higher education and the sense that higher education and what happens in the real world are two different things. Neither of these provide the evidence of the the Net Generation revolution that Barone speaks of.

A strong case can be made for institutional change in higher education without resorting to unsubstantiated claims about the Net Generation.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Millenial Mythology

Here's an interesting presentation from the University of Guelph that throws more cold water on the millenial hype:

Millenial Mythology: Putting Suppositions to the Test in the Academic Library

What I like about this is they have actually conducted some research into how learners at the U of Guelph are using information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The Digital Learner: Myth or Reality

Our presentation at the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE) conference is now available for download:

The Digital Learner at BCIT: Myth or Reality

Friday, May 2, 2008

Millenials Rising

One of the more widely cited references in support of the claims about the Net Generation's distinct characteristics is Millenials Rising: The Next Great Generation by Neil Howe and William Strauss, published in 2000. They claim:

"Over the next decade, the Millenial Generation will entirely recast the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged - with potentially seismic consequences for America."

But what is the empirical base for their bold claims?

Two surveys:
1) a survey of 200 elementary school, middle school and high school teachers in Fairfax County, Virginia;
2) a survey of 660 students from the public high schools in the same county

Based on this data, they assert this entire generation is, "beginning to manifest a wide array of positive social habits that older Americans no longer associate with youth, including a new focus on teamwork, achievement, modesty, and good conduct...look closely at the dramatic changes now unfolding in the attitudes and behaviors of today's youth, the 18 and unders of the year 2000. The evidence is overwhelming - and just starting to attract notice."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Research in Australia

Thanks for the invite.

There are two papers that I know of by Gregor Kennedy from Australia.

Ascilite Conference 2006
Questioning the net generation: A collaborative project in Australian higher education

Ascilite Conference 2007,
The net generation are not big users of Web 2.0 technologies: Preliminary findings

Contradictions in Oblinger & Oblinger

Chapter 7 of the Educating the Net Generation by Diana C. Oblinger & James. L. Oblinger presents some very interesting results from a major survey of undergrad students in the US (4,374 students from 13 institutions in five states - 2004).

Surprisingly though, the results more or less contradict the major themes of the book: the notion that this generation has "unprecendented levels of skills with information technology; that they take technology for granted, that they want more of it in their classes, that postsecondary institutions aren't responding fast enough to meet their needs.

Well, here's what this survey found:

- these students have basic office suite skills and can use email and surf the Internet with ease but "moving beyond basic activities is problematic. It appears they do not recognize the enhanced functionality of the applications they own and use." (p. 7.7)

- they only have a moderate preference for the use of technology in their classes

- there is a need for "significant further training in the use of information technology in support of learning and problem-solving skills." (p. 7.17)

- "students appear to be slower developing adequate skills in using information technology in support of their academic activities which limits technology's current value to the instititution." (p. 7.17)

The study concludes that the effects of learning technology are "largely in the convenience of postsecondary teaching and learning and do not yet constitute a 'learning revolution'" (p. 7.18)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Debunking the Net Gen Hype at CNIE

Two presentations at the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education conference focused on the lack of empirical support for Net Generation claims:

The Digital Learner at BCIT: The Myth and the Reality
Mark Bullen, Adnan Qayyum, Karen Belfer, Tannis Morgan