When Adult Students and Digital Natives Collide

Sad to see that the purveyor of Digital Native nonsense will be making a guest appearance next month in Duluth at a $125 per person, one-day conference. Needless to say, I’ve not been one of the dittoheads who repeats the whole digital native/immigrant folderal as if it’s the most brilliant thing ever written. Not only is there very little evidence that there’s any truth to this stuff, most people can’t even agree on which anecdotes are the most prophetic.

People in higher ed need to figure out some better generalizations when they’re trying to pigeonhole different groups of students. There’s still too many people who think they have something relevant to say about the Millennial/NetGen/GenY/DigitalNative/etc. group – but they have a hard time telling you when the birth dates for the group actually start and end. It’s pretty common to put the start date somewhere around 1980-1982 or so. Okay, let’s go with that.

Many of the same people then talk about how different the “adult learners” are from the “traditional age” students. Adult students are usually considered to be those 25 years old and over. This group needs very different teaching techniques for them to succeed (don’t believe me – just Google it – there’s tons of stuff about this out there).

Here’s the rub. A fair number of those Gen Y inhabitants are now between the ages of 25 to 31. So for any of them who are currently in college, they are also adult students. So now what the heck do we do? Treat them like Gen Y with their special needs, or like adult students with their special (but different) needs.

You really can’t make this stuff up. This is what happens when two cottage industries collide.

(CC-by photo by shawnzrossi)

Reading List from MnSCU Keynote

I’ve had a few requests for more info about the books I referenced during the keynote address at the MnSCU ITS conference, Tuesday, April 27 at Cragun’s in Brainerd. Rather than reply to those individual emails, I decided to write a post about them instead.

Of course the star attraction was Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. This book basically set the stage for much of the keynote by begging the question about whether we in education have fallen into the same trap that he wrote about in the mid-1980’s about ignoring serious discourse in order to package and produce our content in an effort to attract viewers (err, learners).  I’ve already posted a stream of consciousness that was a direct result of my references to Postman as well as the iPad during the presentation. Therefore, I won’t dwell any more on that book in this post.

I also referenced Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina. You can also check out the website for the book where he freely shares much of the info contained in the book. The main point of his that I used during the presentations was the one about human multi-tasking. First I asked the audience to use the clickers and answer this question.

As you can see, about half of the audience (n=252) believed that the human brain can multi-task. Here’s a brief audio-book intro to brain rule #4 that talks about multi-tasking. Remember that we (humans) can task switch, but not multi-task in any important way (yes, the walking and chew gum can happen at the same time, but that does not require concentration). There’s lots of good info in this book that should impact the way that we teach, because there’s lots of good evidence in here about the ways that we learn. Highly recommended.

I briefly referred to a book titled 33 Million People in the Room when we were talking about cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, and all the other ways that people in the audience could connect with other people in their networks without leaving the room in which we were all sitting. Behold the power of the network.

I moved on to a series of quotes to see who could name this author, slash professor (or is it the other way around?):

  • “Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education & entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”
  • “I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.”
  • “I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.”
  • “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”
  • “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”
  • “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”
  • “The medium is the message” as well as “The medium is the massage

I didn’t refer to any particular book of Marshall McLuhan’s, but here are a few possibilities:

During the whole riff about the B.S. that is the discussion about the different generations, I referred to several books. I’m not going to give the “millennials-are-different” pro side any ink here – let’s suffice it to say that they are already way too over-hyped, over-published, and over-sold. However, I highly recommend the book that I referenced as pointing out a very different view which is heavily based on research and has a direct implication for how we are choosing to educate young people these days. That book is The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein. This is the book that I mentioned had upset so many people, but I think you’ll find that it was not written for the purpose of upsetting the non-believers; rather I think it was intended to be a wake-up call to society in general and educators in particular about how we need to stay vigilant in making education a place with rigor and relevance.

There were several other books that influenced my thinking in one way or the other, but those are the main ones that I referenced during the talk. Anyone who is looking to add to their reading list could do a lot worse than adding those titles to their list (except one – do you remember which one I said was a good concept but not worth buying the book?).

Great Parenting (Not) in Facebook

My middle child has been hounding us to allow him to create a Facebook page. He just turned 12 and is in the 6th grade. “Everybody I know has a Facebook page” is what he uses as his main sales pitch. The Facebook terms of service say that 13 is the minimum age for an account. You have to give them a birthdate when creating the account. If you lie and give a birthdate that is not accurate, but use one that indicates that you are 13 or older, then your account is created.

So far we’ve been standing firm on the whole “you’re not 13 yet” line of thought, but it feels particularly lame in this case. Most of his classmates already have an account and have had for some time, mainly since the start of 6th grade last fall. It’s not too easy to convince a 12-y-o that he shouldn’t have a Facebook account when everyone around him (11 & 12 years old) already has one. If anything, it makes us look like the evil parents for following the rules when no other parents appear to be doing so.

Nice job of parenting out there people. We appreciate it.

I’m actually pretty conflicted about the whole thing. On the one hand, I don’t see any rhyme or reason for Facebook to have set an age limit of 13. Can’t think of anything else in this world (at least nothing significant and I’m not saying that Facebook is significant) where 13 is the magic number. Clearly it’s more an issue of maturity than it is of raw age. It’s also an issue of parental oversight more than it is of age. If he was to have a Facebook account it is with the full understanding that his parents will know his password and that nothing he does on that site will be kept private from us. That’s the deal with his cell phone as well which he has lost several times because of the inappropriate language he gets in text messages sent to him (mainly by girls). Even though he is not using inappropriate language in his texts, he knows that if his “friends” use that kind of language that he will lose his phone for a while.

However, I’m also conflicted with the whole idea of “follow only those rules that you agree with.” Since we don’t think that 13 is a magic number for Facebook, then we’ll just choose to ignore that rule. Nope – don’t like that slippery slope that leads to more and more questions about how old you need to be to do certain things (driving, drinking, etc. etc.)

Yesterday morning he was sitting at the computer with his 11-y-o friend who has a Facebook account. I asked him to start writing down the names of his friends who are not yet 13 but who have a Facebook account. After writing two names they quickly realized that the easiest way would be to look at said friend’s list of Facebook friends and pick out those who are in the 6th grade (and under). He brought me a list of about 20 names and said they got tired of writing them down but would continue if I wanted them to. I said no, this was sufficient. Funny thing, those twenty names all started with the letters A, B, and C. In fact, they hadn’t even finished the C’s yet and they had 20 names just from the friend’s account. Since it’s publicly viewable, I then looked at his list of friends which led to more names and more names, etc.

By the end of this little exercise I was under the impression that my son is the only 6th grader at Superior Middle School without a Facebook account (I’m sure that’s incorrect, but that’s the way it felt).

So, the jury is still deliberating on this one. Maybe we’ll stand firm, and maybe we’ll cave like a house of cards. Either way, I feel like we lose something important.

Generation Y – a Huge Baloney Sandwich

baloney-sandwichLast week I experienced one of those keynote speakers that makes me shake my head in disgust – both at what she had to say and at the probable fact that she gets paid a handsome sum of money to say it. I don’t want to call her out personally for a few different reasons, so I won’t mention her name or company – but some people will probably figure out who I’m talking about.

A major part of the presentation was subtitled: “Generational Overview.” She starts out by identifying five different generational groups. Out of those five groups, she felt compelled to make up her own names for four of them. Even Baby Boomers were not called Baby Boomers. To not give further credence to much of her baloney, I will not use her made-up generational names. I will refer to the target generation as Generation Y, although I prefer my own made-up name of Digital Net-Gennials (it is tongue-in-cheek, rest assured).

She starts out by talking about the youngest generation (some (not her) would call them the unimaginative name of Generation Z) and detailing several traits for the group that she identifies as being from 0-13 years old. These traits include:

  1. their brains are different – “physically different!” (forget all that evolution stuff, it doesn’t take millions of years for brains to change, it’s taken less than 13 years to happen)
  2. they are being raised with robots (not by robots, just with robots)
  3. they are THE smartest generation (gee, and they’re barely out of elementary school)
  4. they are the first creative class (does this mean the first group born after Richard Florida’s books were published?)
  5. they dream differently than the rest of us
  6. they’ve already become consumers who demand “do it my way”
  7. they can multi-task at 4 or 5 levels (she hasn’t read Medina’s Brain Rules, has she?)
  8. the sagging economy is causing kids to share bedrooms (where does this crap come from?)

She then shows about 5 or 6 examples of new kinds of schools (some specific such as Benjamin Franklin Elementary in Kirkland, Washington and the Microsoft School of the Future in Philadelphia) as well as how schools are teaching with Web 2.0 tools, SMART board and SMART tables. What an incredible overstatement. Sure this is happening, but at an incredibly low rate of adoption. However, many people in the audience left with the opinion that this whole generation is being immersed in new learning technologies in the elementary and middle schools.

Next she moves on to Gen Y. This section begins with Michael Wesch’s video: “A Vision of Students Today.” Then her slides (fully copyright protected, you won’t find them on the net) go into great detail (err, baloney) about this generation.

  1. They will live 5 to 7 years less than Boomers. (Yep, forget all those advances in medicine, health knowledge, etc.; their average life expectancy has decreased significantly in no time at all- “it’s irreversible!” due to ingested hormones and antibiotics)
  2. This will be a “hero generation” because every fourth generation is one (“research shows”)
  3. Understanding this generation means you understand the future (they are the experts about the Net and all things digital – oh, please!)
  4. They share their knowledge on Wikipedia (really, how many of them write articles on Wikipedia?)
  5. They share their thoughts on Twitter (bull, Twitter users are older)
  6. They share their fantasies on Second Life (again bull, very small % use SL)
  7. They are natural collaborators (natural? as in DNA?)
  8. Innovation is a part of life (they will be innovative heroes, apparently)
  9. They insist on integrity
  10. Kids are now the authority on how to interact with a personal computer (gag me with a two gig stick of RAM)
  11. They think money comes from a wall (I’m not making this up, but she is)
  12. They do not read from left-to-right and from top-to-bottom (really? none of them?)
  13. The last song they listened to on their iPod continues to play in their mind even when they should be listening to you. “Believe me,” she says (I don’t believe her)
  14. They have 4 times the sleep deprivation of previous generations (wow – that’s the average per person for the Gen Y-ers?)
  15. Gen Y has been raised by looking down all the time (Nintendo and other hand-held devices, apparently). Their vision is terrible, especially peripheral vision which has caused more side impact collisions for this generation (where’s this research to be found?)
  16. They are vitamin D deficient
  17. Their immune systems are creating “superbugs” (she cites that the MRSA rate has doubled, but I can’t find any evidence that makes this relevant to the lifestyle choices of young people)
  18. Forget chairs and desks – “They should be learning on the floor – they love it!”
  19. 93% is the magic number – they spend 93% of their time inside and household pollutants are 93% more damaging than outside pollutants (and this presentation is 93% baloney)
  20. This generation believes that the car companies are getting what they deserve for helping to ruin the planet (even Gen Y-ers who grew up in Michigan believe this, according to her)
  21. The whole world (except the island of Fiji) is breathing “China Dust” (Fiji must be well located)
  22. This group will return to the 60s mentality and create a revolution (over green issues, I suppose)
  23. “Their brains are wired differently. There’s tons of research available” (although she doesn’t cite any)
  24. They have a narrow visual field, but “they will see 10 times more things than I will within that narrow field”
  25. “Their jobs will change often, so you should too” (that’s a direct quote – I guess I’ll get my resume’ in order)
  26. They use digital technology 20-30 hours per week. “It’s evolution!” (Yep, first came opposable thumbs and walking upright, then came YouTube)
  27. “They are actually tactilely-deprived” in explaining why Webkinz were a hit with a generation raised in a hard-surfaced environment
  28. They have a greater sense of smell and greater sense of touch compared to previous generations (any data on this?)
  29. “What’s happening in India and China will blow you away” (cited a couple of university engineering programs – another example of picking a few non-representative examples and applying them to the whole population)

I could go on, but those are the highlights gleaned from my 8.5 pages of handwritten notes. The biggest problem that I have with presentations like this is not all the baloney – it’s that this person stands up there as an “expert” and most of the audience members seem to be believing everything she has to say. OMG – this is so wrong on so many levels.

I gave the keynote on the first day and gave just a couple of snippets from my one person debate about Gen Y. I was asked (in advance) to not talk very much about the generations since the day two keynote was all about generations. I obliged, but did have to slip in a few pieces of point-counterpoint about some of the generational drivel that has been driving me crazy. On the long drive home I speculated about what I would have done differently if she had been the first speaker and then I was the second. My guess is that I would have felt compelled to debunk much of the baloney that she was sharing during her talk. I wonder how that would have gone over with the conference organizers – probably not very well.

Am I wrong? Is she right? Can I get a refill on my prescription of crazy pills?

Baloney (or bologna, if you prefer) sandwich photo (CC-3.0) courtesy of UNC – Chapel Hill