Mabrito and Medley’s article argues that education today does not suffer from a generation gap, but an information gap. They believe the way to bridge the gap is for instructors to stop solely learning facts about the Net-Generation culture, and instead focus on experiencing the digital world in the same way that their students do. To articulate his argument, Mabrito and Medley’s article explores the differences between the N-Gen and their instructors, discusses the educational challenges faced by these two groups, and provides means to overcome these challenges.
Mabrito and Medley makes it clear that there are important distinctions between the Net-Generation and their instructors. While many instructors are technologically literate, those born before 1982 did not grow up in the digital culture. These instructors may follow traditional classrooms models that tend to encourage and reward knowledge that is individually stored. They understand traditional writing that follows linear conventional forms of paragraphs and is packaged as books, articles, stories, and novels that were authored as a solitary act. Conversely, the N-Gen learners were born into a digitally enhanced world and their understanding of the world comes primarily from digital sources (Mabrito, 2008). The N-Gen is regularly exposed to collaborative multimodal texts where the author presents themselves to the world. As writers the N-Gen students use multimedia, online social networks, and routine multitasking to interact with the world. These opportunities have allowed the new generation to cultivate their inherent ability to use new tools, language, and artifacts as they develop within digital spaces (Mabrito, 2008). In addition to these cultural differences, Mabrito and Medley explain that new research has shown a phenomenon in the brain called adaptational neuroplasticity that can provide further explanation for the distinction between the N-Gen and their instructors.
The concept of neuroplasticity suggests that the brain is malleable, not statically planted but constantly forming and developing through our lives (Bernard, 2010). When people repeatedly practice an activity or access a memory, groups of neurons fire together and create electrochemical pathways (Bernard, 2010). If people stop practicing these new things, the brain will prune the connecting cells that formed the pathway. Over time, these connections that are repeated become thick, strong, and more efficient. Being self aware of this system has huge implications for education. Researchers found student morale and grade points increase when they are educated that they are fully physically capable of building knowledge and changing their brain (Blackwell, 2007). It’s not a matter of the ‘haves and have nots,’ with practice and repetition anyone can become smart. However, it also means, as Mabrito and Medley explain, that N-Gen students are literally wired differently. Their brains are shaped by a lifelong immersion in virtual spaces, which allows them to process and interact with information in fundamentally different ways from those who did not grow up in this environment (Mabrito, 2008).
To bridge the culture and brain gap, Mabrito and Medley recommend that instructors cease their thinking that the online world is purely an avenue for entertainment and social gathering and instead begin to understand how N-Gen student process texts. Mabrito and Medley believe that instructors should participate in the same type of learning spaces as their students. Once a solid acceptance and understanding is built, instructors can shift their pedagogy towards leveraging the learning skills required in these spaces. Instructors can capitalize on their students’ skills by creating web-based social media spaces that allow students to distribute and network with each other and use various online learning tools (Mabrito, 2008). The exchanges that are typical throughout digital literacy should be rewarded, rather than discouraged.
While I wholeheartedly believe with the message and philosophy Mabrito and Medley is presenting in their article, I find the practical application a bit too forward thinking for the moment. Social networks still project a bad stigma with many parents. The parent population will need to be educated about the embracing the N-Gen skill set just as much as instructors need to be. Issues of privacy, accountability, entertainment, and educational relevance will need to be addressed and explained, perhaps from the administration, to all parties to ensure that progress is made. I agree that exploration is a good starting point, but I also feel that dispensing education about the legitimacy of the process must come first. Success depends on instructors and parents understanding that the pedagogical shift occurs for the benefit of students’ education, rather than pandering to student pass times.
Bernard, S. (2010). Neuroplasticity: Learning Physically Changes The Brain. Edutopia. Retrieved on October 29th 2012 from http://www.edutopia.org/neuroscience-brain-based-learning-neuroplasticity
Blackwell, S. & Dweck C. & Trzesniewski, K. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development. Vol. 78(1), 246-263.
Mabrito, M. & Medley, R. (2008) Why Professor Johnny can’t read: Understanding the Net Generation’s Texts. Innovate. Vol. 4(6).