In educating the net generation it is vital to show awareness of their unique educational needs, without which the benefit of their education is questionable. Both educators and the tools and techniques they use must rise to the challenge of presenting information in a way that is dynamic and engaging for the net generation who have grown up in front of computer screens and alongside the Internet. The more traditional approaches to teaching no longer provide the same benefits for these students as their learning styles and needs have changed as quickly as the technology they now turn to when seeking knowledge (Mabrito & Medley, 2008; Tapscott, 1999). This new relationship between students and knowledge has led many schools, often post secondary, to attempt new methods to bridge the gap between student and learning.
For example, many universities and colleges have attempted to update their libraries by creating live chat features, mobile help desks, and email surveys. The responses to these new elements, however, have shown that it is not simply any technology that connects with the net generation, rather they disliked many of these new alternatives and rarely made use of them (Ismail, 2010). Ismail’s study at the Marywood University Library, suggested that students did not want to make use of their social technology or live chat options for research in an academic setting, rather they wanted to use ‘older’ options like technology or in person help desks (Ismail, 2010, p. 20). To some, including Ismail, this seemed contradictory to what most people think about the net generation – if they are not interested in utilizing the newest, fastest technology, then what do they need to be successful in education?
The question then, is perhaps not what the newest educational technology is, but which is the best suited to students’ needs. The increase in successful online learning programs demonstrates that the net generation has at least some interest in making use of technology in their education (Llanos, 2007) while educators are curious to see what can be done with the myriad of options (Dupler, 2007). This combination of willing students and experimenting educators has the potential to expand the realm of education into something that better meets the needs of this unique generation of learners, whether it is the use of the Internet, podcasts, or even games (Dupler, 2007).
Given the variety of tools available for engaging the net generation, much discussion and research has gone into evaluating the most popular of the options. This means, for the most part, that universities and colleges like Marywood (Ismail, 2010) introduced a new technology and then reviewed how it went. Vincini (2005) suggests that instead of pursuing the trial and error approach with educational technology, institutes seeking to reach net generation students would be better served by making use of a set of guidelines that help filter out good and bad options. Included in those guidelines is the need for active learning involving “Interaction, feedback, and collaboration” (Vincini, 2005, p. 1), which specifically details the elements that accompany clicker response systems, blogs, and wikis. Even in the isolated realm of this program (UBC’s MET Program, specifically ETEC 540, Fall 2012) these elements compose the majority of the online courses and are thus vital elements to the success of both the program and the students, even though not all of them are members of the net generation. The requirement that these aspects share and encourage is that of active learning, which ties closely to the next guideline, that of learning by doing. By engaging learners with material and elevating information to something interactive, more learning styles are being met, both for net generation learners and for others. Vincini goes on to introduce tools designed by Tufts that include these aspects, though this is not surprising given that the tools were created by the University who published the article (2005).
In seeking to meet the needs of the new generation of net learners it is not always a question of why we should adapt to meet their special needs, but more so a question of how. In working towards the goals of engaging with this group of learners on a higher level and through means that they both relate to and are inspired by, their education develops into something more than simply knowledge gain. The use of active tools that may break with the less student centered models encourages the net generation to embrace their learning, while giving them experiences to connect with the knowledge they gain. In other words, taking the time to meet the needs of the net generation has the potential to enhance education for everyone, while bringing teaching into a realm of near limitless potential, the realm of technology.
Dupler, M. (2007). Technology could draw “net gen”. Tri-City Herald.
Ismail, L. (2010). What net generation students really want: Determining library help-seeking preferences of undergraduates. Reference services review, 38 (1), pp. 10-27.
Llanos, C. (2007). Digital education a virtual reality. Oakland tribune.
Mabrito, M., Medley, R. (2008) Why professor johnny can’t read: Understanding the net generation’s texts. Innovate. 4 (6). Retrieved November 16th, 2012 from http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=510&action=article
Tapscott, D. (1999). Educating the net generation. Educational leadership.
Vincini, P. (2005). Learning tools for the net generation. Academic technology at tufts.
Interesting to think that offering more solutions to students does not seem to engage them as effectively. I guess that it is important to consider how effective these new technologies will be at holding the attention of learners. I know from personal experience that when a new technology is brought into a classroom, after the first couple trials with it, the students quickly lose interest if something does not change to hold their attention.
However, I do find that achieving consensus with members of the “net generation” on what technology is engaging and relevant is nearly impossible. I think that we need to consider the idea that there is no stop-gap solution that is going to help all these learners achieve great things. Rather, with the amount of tools out there, perhaps we should be encouraging exploration and creativity on their part to find what does work best for them. Our role as educators could then move to facilitation to allow students the chance to experiment and learn new ways to learn.