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Talkin’ Bout My Generation

posted: 11.9.12 by archived

At my college we recently created a faculty email list to share ideas and information and, of course, grouse about the things that bug us. This week, we had a discussion about a research report, “Beyond Bieber: Twitter Improves Student Learning.” The report’s central finding: “college students who tweet as part of their instruction are more engaged with the course content and with the teacher and other students, and have higher grades.” Predictably, this posting generated some controversy on the list, including a fair bit of skepticism and puzzlement about the challenges of teaching and connecting with “digital millenials”.

Reading over the exchanges on the list brought to mind the notion of “digital natives,” first advanced over a decade ago by Marc Prensky. My colleagues’ words move me to think that, at least in higher education, things have perhaps not changed as much as they might have since Prensky first advanced his central arguments: 1) “Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” and 2) “ the single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.”

In between these “natives” and “immigrants,” though, are folks of my generation (which goes by the dubious name “Generation X”). While we can imagine a time before video games, cell phones, and the internet, we probably don’t carry as strong an “accent” as our older digital “immigrant” colleagues. We’re somewhere in between–not exactly natives, but not immigrants, either. I find that when I talk about teaching with my in-between colleagues, they usually seem less frustrated about the digital “natives.” Many experiment with online tools to try to make their teaching more responsive to the needs of the “natives.” And many feel frustrated as they listen to their “immigrant” colleagues gripe about what the natives can’t (or won’t) do.

It would be silly and wrong to suggest that technology penetration is directly related to the age or generational affiliation of faculty. Still, I think that the generation in between the natives and the immigrants—my generation—is in a unique position when it comes to change and pedagogy. Neither immigrants nor natives, we may just be the ones trying to work out what teaching is going to look like in the 21st century.

I don’t think that it’s an accident that the paperless writing class was birthed by a member of the in-between generation, an Xer. For many digital immigrants, the idea of a paperless writing class likely seems too complicated to pull off and too new or novel to have much educational value. For many digital natives, though, I’ve found that the course seems in-tune with their lives and ways of being. In a recent mid-term check-in that I administered to my students, I asked what about the class was working and what needed work. Many commented on their appreciation for the paperless classroom. Here are the natives on what is working, in their own words:

I also like that everything is digitally-based; I think it’s a great way to save paper and it makes it easy for me to organize my work.

I enjoy the way the class is paperless and the fact that we work digitally.

Everything we need for the class, for the most part, is on Blackboard. I never have to worry about which assignment is due for the next class because the schedule is always updated. Also, all of the readings and any documents that need to be filled out can be found in folders that correspond to the unit we’re working with.

…the organization [is working], the fact that any and all necessary or supplementary material is all available online.

I am a total techy now. At least I think I am. Like I said before, I had a hatred for Blackboard that has pretty much subsided. I don’t mind it now. And I have a lot more ease with Google Docs.

And my favorite:

This is hands down the only class where it’s even acknowledged that there’s technology in the outside world. I think so many teachers are terrified of technology because they believe it leads to distraction, but with this class you kind of embrace it. This helps us because we can see the types of tools that are in the outside world, and gain a level of experience with those tools so we’re not freaked out when we see them in the future.



Categories: Michael Michaud
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One Response to “Talkin’ Bout My Generation”

  1. Christy Scarborough, Holly Grove Christian School Says:

    I must confess that I have a somewhat knee-jerk negative reaction to the phrase “digital natives”. I have a class full of students who seem to have been born with a cell phone in their hand, but I don’t find that fact to determine their level of knowledge or comfort with the internet/computers/tech in general. I usually know more than they do about search engines, internet sources, googledocs, cloud storage, etc. than they do, and I am definitely in that generation that clearly remembers a childhood with only 3 or 4 channels on a TV (it was color, though, by the time I was able to notice). I find that they only use what they want to when it comes to tech, and they are totally clueless about most of the available applications.
    I also think we are missing the point; the assumption is that they are different, and we have to adapt to their ways. No one seems to be asking if this is a good thing–do they think more clearly? more creatively? do they think at all? Shouldn’t we be asking more of them than what they want? Education has always involved teaching students what they don’t want to learn, and I don’t see that their tools being technical rather than mechanical makes much difference.
    We did a survey in our school last year, and, interestingly enough, the students indicated that they didn’t necessarily want more technology in their classroom. They are so constantly connected to their devices that having a break in the classroom was valuable to them. Interesting results that were quite a surprise to us.