Digital Generations Opinion

July 11, 2012 – For our EDTECH 597 course we have been asked to respond to the following questions which were posted on our instructor’s blog. The questions are:

As educational technologists, what did you take away from these generational differences readings? How would you handle a colleague who bought in the notion of digital natives?

By the way, the generational readings are cited at the bottom of this post.

I’ll begin by responding to the first question.

As with many topics in educational technology, in reading the articles given in class I first observed that the questions about generational differences are not easily answered and the answers that have been posed are complex and often incomplete. The nature of research in education is such that local or sample-specific answers cannot be readily or lastingly extrapolated to general situations and audiences. Someone will always have an alternate view or contest that was not adequately addressed from the researcher’s paradigm.

While I think that technology has influenced the attitudes and behavior of today’s students, I’m not convinced that the forces behind such changes in today’s youth are fundamentally different than other influential forces have been throughout time. Based on my interactions with youth, I’m also not fully convinced that today’s students are fundamentally different in nature, just in circumstances.

Living in a rural part of Idaho, I still believe that there are also differences between those who have and those who have not in terms of the digital divide, a detail which makes generalizations about digital nativism suspect. For the record, I don’t observe the presence of this divide as a consequence of the availability of an Internet connection only, but of tradition, custom, and sometimes economic circumstances (What does this say about digital nativism?).

The impact of environment on a learner is more complex than the tools used in that environment, and while tools of a digital nature can certainly influence participants and shape certain environments, so do other forces like human interactions (including issues of trust and love), economic circumstances, religious backgrounds, and social structures in general, just to name a few.

Concerning the second question written at the top, if colleagues brought up the digital native notion, and especially if they were proponents of this view, I think I would be content to let them believe what they will. I would be eager and willing, of course, to discuss the situation with them and voice my opinion, but I don’t feel that I would have the authority (at least based on grounds of limited or no evidence) to feel that I needed to mold or constrain their views, even if I disagreed sharply with them. If I was in a supervisory role over these colleagues, my answer might change.

Assuming that I was merely a colleague, the manner in which I would “handle” these colleagues would be to listen and ask to be listened to, and nothing more. I believe that most answers in research begin as controversial views for someone somewhere. Time and collaborative discussions about these views will refine them and uncover validity (or a lack thereof). I will probably be proven wrong on many occasions when I discuss issues like this, but I also hope to help others find right answers on at least a few occasions.

Generational Readings:

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6).

McKenzie J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2).

Reeves, T. C. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum, January 22-25, 2008, located at http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/Paper104/ReevesITForumJan08.pdf

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