The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

The future of Professor Johnny

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           I have a class full of the Net Generation.  They live in a hypermediated world where they can virtually dissect an owl pellet on, they can learn about simple machines on or play math and literacy games on  They expect that when they do a science unit on bats that they will be able to see bats in their natural habitat.  They know that when they don’t understand what a word means they can not only look it up online and it will usually be accompanied by a digital image of some description.  The world is at their fingertips.  They are in grade 2.

            In their article, Why Professor Johnny can’t read: Understanding the Net Generation’s texts, authors Mark Mabrito and Rebecca Medley (2008) offer an opportunity for educators to examine what they will need to do in order to make themselves more effective in educating the next generation.  Today’s students are a fundamentally different iteration of learners.  They have grown up with, “pervasive digital technology” (Mabrito & Medley, 2008).  And, according to Marc Prensky (2001) this change represents a singularity in that the effects of changes in technology are so dramatic that there can be no return to previous ways of thinking or doing.

             Key to this difference, the authors claim, is the way in which educators and the Net Generation view texts (Mabrito & Medley, 2008).  As the Net Generation has been inundated by digital technologies they have developed skills that their teachers do not necessarily have.  These savvy kids have the ability to move within the text presented to them and to create and modify information in a multi-media environment.  Most of their teachers grew up using text in a linear fashion and are used to the text itself being in control of the way in which information is presented to, and gathered by, the user (Mabrito & Medley, 2008).  Today, the presentation of information occurs not only in a non-linear format but is also multi-modal in nature in that it may also be enhanced by video, audio and digital images.   Our Net Generation students are learning to move fluidly in this environment and have come to expect that everything they experience will be presented in this fashion.  This shift in how the two generations learn suggests that culture influences both what and how a person thinks and that the actual processing of information may, “differ according to the culture in which a person matures” (Mabrito & Medley, 2008).

             For our educators, teaching to this new breed of student will be a challenge.  If our practice is truly self-reflective it will be ourselves that need to morph to work with the different set of skills that our learners need and are currently developing outside of the classroom environment.  Mabrito and Medley (2008) suggest that educators will have to embrace to concept of distributed knowledge and move away from the traditional notion of individual knowledge.  This strategy for learning is evident in many of the classrooms of today in the form of an increased emphasis on “doing” rather than “receiving” learning.  Good teachers are striving to have their students participate in learning in a more vocal and kinesthetic way but this trend in education is, most likely, not born out of cultural trends in learning.  The authors also feel that educators will need to go out to the world of their students and experience and learn from it first hand (Mabrito & Medley, 2008). 

            Looking at the criteria for this very assignment leads me to wonder what the impact of the Net Generation’s vision of reading text will be on the world of academia.  The criterion for this very assignment includes the following elements.

           “Commentaries should show evidence of considered, critical    response, and           claims should be supported through citation of relevant sources. Writing is            expected to be of a professional/scholarly standard.” (ETEC 540, 2009)

Will the definition of “formal” change when the Net Generation takes over the helm in the academic world?  Will what is considered to be “professional standard” change as professions evolve to reflect cultural changes?

            Last night, my twelve year old son sat on the couch with the laptop balanced on his knees.  His assignment was to find two words in the novel they were studying in class and to find the definition for each.  When I asked him what he was doing he said that, “Going to was a lot easier than looking through that big honking book”.  I burst out laughing at how apropos his comment was to what I was currently working on.  The teacher intended the students to learn some of those dictionary skills we have spent so much time on with our students in the past but my son has always had the ability to seek out information in ways that I did not as a student.  Resistance, as they say, is futile.  Today’s educators will have to step up their involvement in the world of their students if they want to help prepare them for their world.



Mabrito, M. & Medley, R. (2008).  Why Professor Johnny can’t read: Understanding the Net Generation’s texts.  Innovate: Journal of Online Education, Vol.4 (6).  Retrieved from!1296897521!!20001!-1!-1968798209!!20001!-1

Prensky, M. (2001).  Digital natives, digital immigrants.  On the Horizon, Vol.9, No. 5.


1 Catherine Gagnon { 11.19.09 at 12:59 pm }

Louise, I really enjoyed reading your commentary. You have articulated so well my sentiments in this etec 540 journey. I think I have been open to accepting the Net Generation’s different way of looking at information and been more than willing to accept their ways of demonstrating their learning. But based on what we’ve read and learned in this class, I have a long way to go.

2 Clare Roche { 11.29.09 at 4:04 pm }

I agree with both of you. I think it is teachers who will need help in the near future.

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