Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Generational Explanation is a Gross Oversimplification

There is a growing body of solid research-based evidence that contradicts the popular view of the digital native as part of a technologically-savvy generation that differs fundamentally from previous generations. The latest evidence comes from a special issue of the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Desribing or Debunking: The Net Generation and Digital Natives. The four articles in the special edition reject the popular view as a gross oversimplification and argue that the issues at play are more complex and nuanced that we have been led to believe. The articles show that generation is not a useful or accurate variable and that technology adoption and use is much more varied within the net generation age group than the popular discourse suggests. For example, in the article, Beyond Natives and Immigrants: Exploring Types of Net Generation Students, Kennedy et al. identified four statistically robust types of student technology users: Power, Ordinary, Irregular, Basic. All of these were within the net generation age group. This, they say, confirms previous research that found widespread diversity in students' technology experiences. They conclude: "the clear implications of these findings is that large scale changes in curriculum or teaching approach based on assumptions about the technology experience of this generation of students as suggestted, for example, by Prensky (2001a) snd by Oblinger (2008) cnnot be justified."

I haven't read the other three articles but, based on the abstracts, they appear to provide some new and more useful insights into the issue.

Table of Contents:
Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students' technology experiences, S. Bennett and K. Maton
Beyond natives and immigrants: exploring types of net generation students,
G. Kennedy, T. Judd, B. Dalgarno and J. Waycott
Net generation students: agency and choice and the new technologies,
C. Jones and G. Healing
Debunking the ‘digital native’: beyond digital apartheid, towards digital democracy,
C. Brown and L. Czerniewicz

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jca.2010.26.issue-5/

The only shortcoming of this special journal issue is it is not open access.

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.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Multitasking Lowers Academic Performance

It says something about how firmly entrenched the net generation myth has become that we need to conduct a study to show that being distracted and unfocused has a negative impact on academic performance.

One of the claims made by the net generation myth creators is that young people can multitask efficiently. They can do this, apparently, because they have grown up with digital technology and have become used to multitasking. This claim isn't based on any research but rather is a dubious conclusion based on observing that young people seem to be always doing so many things at the same time: texting, surfing the Internet,  chatting on mobile phones, and, somewhere in between, studying. They must, the simple-minded argument goes, be doing all of those things well. Well, no.

A study from the Open University of the Netherlands, reported in the Daily Mail, shows that students who were using Facebook while studying had exam results that were 20% lower than those who were not using Facebook but instead were focusing their attention on the studying.

Dr. Paul Kirschner who conducted the study says: "Our study, and other previous work, suggests that while people may think constant task-switching allows them to get more done in less time, the reality is it extends the amount of time needed to carry out tasks and leads to more mistakes...We should resist the fashionable views of educational gurus that children can multi-task, and that we should adapt our education systems accordingly to keep up with the times."