Our Students, Ourselves?
I attended the Creating Futures Through Technology Conference in the spring of 2007. Many presentations referred to “Digital Native” students taught by “Digital Immigrant” faculty. I was taken by surprise. Two years ago the conference was about Blackboard, Respondus and distance learning technology. This time I learned that “Boomer” or “Generation-Xer” faculty can better teach our “Millennial” students by meeting them where they live so we can be part of their world. Their world includes everything computer-based like ipods, iphones, itunes, podcasts, videocasts, clickers, video games and more. Where was I when this happened? I just looked away for a moment!
John Brown, Chief Scientist at Xerox, wrote that “the World Wide Web will be a transformative medium, as important as electricity.” He used the term “Digital Learners” referring to the ways boys and girls of that era had shorter attention spans but were able to do “multiprocessing,” producing a dimensional shift in literacy and learning. “Web surfing fuses learning and entertainment, creating infotainment.”
Mark Prensky remarked that “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” Digital Natives grew up immersed in computer technology. They “think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors… Those of us who were not born into a digital world but have become fascinated by … new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants.” Most of us who are teaching now, still teach the way that we were taught and are finding that is no longer as effective. Mark suggests that “if Digital Immigrant educators really want to reach Digital Natives … they will have to change.” In his second paper Mark Prensky discussed neurobiology research showing that different types of stimulation change brain structure and organization through neuroplasticity and reorganization. He said “as result of their experiences, Digital Natives crave interactivity – an immediate response to their each and every action… and are bored by most of today’s education.”
Donna Oblinger wrote “…Understanding the New Students” as her analysis of the new student-teacher conundrum and suggestions for coping with it. She used the terminology originated by Howe and Strauss in “Millennials Rising” to frame her discussion of the new “Millennial students” now taught by “Boomer” or “Generation-Xer” faculty. She lists “attributes of an information–age mindset” including “Computers aren’t technology… Reality is no longer real … Doing is more important than knowing … Zero tolerance for delays.” and more. Her conclusion is that “colleges and universities are finding a variety of ways to meet student’s expectations for service, immediacy, interactivity and group activities. There is no single formula … each institution will find its own answers.”
“Educating the Net Generation” , is an Educause e-book edited by Donna and her husband James Oblinger. “This collection explores the Net Gen and the implications for institutions in areas such as teaching, service, learning space design, faculty development, and curriculum.” Contributions by educators and students are included.” The introduction gives a short description of each of the 15 individually authored chapters. A listing of multimedia resources and useful links are included on the e-text webpage http://www.educause.edu/educatingthenetgen.
If there is any interest, I would like to begin a group discussion based, for starters, on the chapters of this book. I will reprise a chapter a month in this column for the next few months and see where this leads us. Should you accept this mission Mr. Phelps your assignment will be to begin reading the first two chapters. If you are interested in joining our group let me know? Depending on the size of the group we may try one of several formats ranging from the usual small group discussion to a discussion board, blogging or something else you all suggest. I am dedicated to learning more about our students and ourselves so that we can do a better job of teaching each other to teach!
References Cited -- each title is a link to a electronic copy of the reference
 Brown, John Seely, 2000. Growing Up Digital. Change, 32(2, March/April)10–11.
 Prensky, M. 2001. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5, Oct.)1-6.
 Prensky, M. 2001. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II. Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6, Dec.)1-9.
 Oblinger, Diana. 2003. Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials: Understanding the 'New Students'. EDUCAUSE Review, 38(4, July/August).
 Howe, Neil and Strauss, William, 2000. Millennials Rising. Vintage Books, New York, NY.This book is available from the Library book stacks: HQ 796 H684 2000.
 Oblinger, Diana G. and Oblinger, James L., Editors 2005. Educating the Net generation. [An Educause e-Book publication].