Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Net Generation Myth

TRS-80 Model IIIImage by John Biehler via FlickrThe ETC blog has an  interesting post by Jan Schwartz on the net gen myth. The article talks about Prensky and Tapscott's research which Marc Bullen, in a presentation to the British Columbia Institute of Technology found to be mighty thin - small samples and biased. What is the Net Generation myth? By accident of birth, all those born after a certain year, somehow have these wicked mad technology skills because, regardless of economic class or geographic location, the kids are surrounded by technology and just intuitively get it. This may be pretty much true for a certain strata of middle class kids and possibly for those in urban areas but the rest of the world, which represents a huge population, just does not experience the world that way. I live in Humboldt Co. California. We are five hours plus away from San Francisco. We are pretty isolated and since the
British Columbia Institute of TechnologyImage via Wikipediacollapse of fishing and lumber, economically depressed. Currently, the students here do not have the kind of infrastructure to support smart phones and internet access is expensive and patchy (better than when I arrived a couple of years ago but not by much). But I will not take the students' situation today, look at how they communicate with what little infrastructure we have and then extrapolate a generalization about how ALL learn or relate to technology - it just isn't warranted. I recognize that internet access and web-enabled phones are rapidly spreading. But critical expertise in the use of these tools is not going to happen just because someone is currently a teen. We cannot afford to make assumptions because the digital divide still exists for many. We need a curriculum strategy that integrates the tools students will need to be successful in the growing world of networked knowledge based on actual assessment, research, and experience, not accidents of birth.

While teaching health information management and English, I found that there were Baby Boomers like myself who were more comfortable with technology than any of the students. A few of the students knew how to chat online, download music and play some games but they had no idea what academically reliable information looked like, how to contact experts in the field, how to collaborate online, or anything else that was not related to entertainment, and no, for those few, not many of those skills were transferable. In the high schools, IF a student went to a high school that used technology it was something to be heavily filtered, managed and feared. They were not comfortable with the technology at all. We changed that by creating lessons that used the tools in a scaffolded way (something like the 23 things), not by making assumptions based on their age. I feel the same way about digital native/digital immigrant stuff although just to be on the safe side I got my digital immigrant green card:

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  1. It is true that you can't stereotype a generation, but net geners do exist. As do young people without tech skills/tools. So we need to figure out how to help them all learn to live in this high-tech, networked world. Otherwise we are doing them all a dis-service.

  2. I am behind that 100%. We need to teach students how to use technology. How can you say "net geners" do exist but we can't stereotype a generation - aren't you doing that when you call them "net geners"? Are there net geners who do not have access to technology? Are they technologically proficient just because they were born in 1995?

  3. Not necessarily. I could just be describing a select group of people from a certain generation that have always had access to the internet and do not perceive it as a "new technology". Just like you and I do not perceive the refrigerator as technology.

    I do not believe that people who were born in 1995 or later are automatically technically proficient. Anyone, regardless of when they were born (as long as they are still alive today) has the capacity to learn these "technology" tools.

  4. Hey Andy,
    I do not perceive the refrigerator as technology unless it is out of beer :-)

    I agree with that: there is a select group of people who have always had access to technology and the internet. I don't want to lock my thinking in about elearning and ed tech by pre-judging my students based on what generation they belong to. We are working on some ideas about assessing students' tech literacy - I will send you a link to our work later this summer.

  5. That sounds great! I would be interested in how you are assessing students. I agree that it is not a good idea to make assumptions about students. I also think it is a good idea to not assume that the students you are interacting with do not have the skills (tech literacy, critical thinking, etc...).

  6. We are using surveys in Sakai. Our "DE 101" course has a couple of surveys. We are also going into the classrooms and using our orientation to DE as an opportunity to poll the students because we know that online polls are only so useful "100% of the students who took the online poll were able to access it." I am a member of the Redwood Tech Consortium which is a local consortium of business people, geeks, educators, ISPs, and media folks and I have found them to be a good source of information about local demographics and infrastructure.