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.