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."