Later this month the Kaiser Family Foundation will release the results of its massive survey of the media and technology habits of teens and children. The implications should, if they haven’t already, spark discussion in the education community on ways to integrate the technology skills students possess in a way that promotes learning.
Not surprisingly, an issue that has emerged, from a study by the Pew Research group last year, is that the rapid media/technology advances of the last three decades have produced mini-generation gaps in terms of how different age groups use technology and their comfort levels with it. Two groups have emerged: the netGeneration of children born in the 1980’s, and the iGeneration, which includes kids born in the 1990’s. The former group has been found to actually talk more on their cell phones rather than text message, and to still use e-mail whereas the latter group texts more, plays games online more and are more likely to have people they consider friends from online venues that they have never met in person.
As each succeeding generation embraces new technology that may not have even existed for those who are only a few years older, it is not difficult to envision schools of the not so distant future where students and teachers alike “tele-commute” at different points in a week. One could imagine schools that consist of online interaction only – as is already the case for millions of people pursuing college degrees through universities like Phoenix, for example.
My seven-year-old daughter will wiggle her fingers over an imaginary keyboard when I inquire about her school day to let me know she spent the afternoon in writing lab. Although she is as enamored of pens and notebooks as I am, she equates writing with computers, and because both her father and I are bloggers, she is quite comfortable with the idea that information is net-based.
When I talk with her about people I know, one of her first questions invariably is,
“Is this a real friend or someone from a blog?”
Studies are revealing that teens and younger children do not have the same difficulty that older people do in establishing and maintaining social networks with people solely through the Internet. What are the implications for education? Will it be possible for schools to exist with online components or solely online? One of the arguments used against home-schoolers, for instance, is socialization. Children need to interact with their peers, but if children are increasingly able to derive the same social benefits from cyber-friends that they do from real time friends, does a school need a physical base filled with teachers and other kids?
Schools have Facebook and Twitter streams now. Some teachers, at secondary and university levels, are already making use of blogs, websites, wiki-pages and online courses to teach, but what about younger kids? Could this work for them and how would cyber-school change the face of the workforce if children were being educated more and more from home?
Another implication of tech ready children is the fact that they have come to expect instantaneous interaction. My oldest daughter, who is 27, conducts much of her social interaction through texts. She is seldom farther than arms reach from her social network and her phone trills almost non-stop with messages and conversations from her friends who are much the same. Students of today, and the future, will take for granted constant access to those who are integral to their lives and this will include their teachers. While a teenager might be happy to manage a constant stream of contact, will his or her teacher feel the same way about being in continuously contact with as many as 150 students a semester in addition to their own friends and family?
I am a blogger. I live much of my life online via my personal blog and the grogs where I am a contributor. I have friends I have never met in person. I am not flustered by the idea of conducting friendships or business via Twitter and Facebook. In fact, my husband and I met and courted via the Internet. But even I have my limits to my availability. I taught for many years and can’t imagine being Facebook friends with any of my students or being available to them via text at any time.
As technology becomes more and more ubiquitous, what will be education’s response? And given the current budget crises faced by states, will schools of the not so distant future be able to afford to keep up with the needs and expectations of their wired students?
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Brad Stone discusses the netGeneration and the iGeneration and wonders about his two year old daughter, who views his Kindle the way my daughter views books. There are just five years separating these two little girls and yet their world-views’ definition of a book is a generation gap.
What then is the role of technology in education? Should we expect to maintain a 20th Century infrastructure for 21st Century learners? Should this be part of education’s reform?
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