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Cyber Children and the Future of the Classroom

Cyber Children and the Future of the Classroom

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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25 comments

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8:42PM PST on Jan 26, 2010

Interesting article, Ann; thank you. There already are online schools for K thru 12. Some are private religious schools, some are public schools. One if Florida Virtual School - FLVS.net - which is an award winning, fully accredited, certified Florida public school available to students all over the world. Most of the interaction is online with teachers also being available by telephone. There is plenty of opportunity for students to interact with each other. Students are given a chance to take courses they wouldn't find in their own schools systems due to either lack of funding or lack of interest.

9:08AM PST on Jan 18, 2010

Very interesting... this will give me a lot to think about. I am a "kid" and lots of the stuff in this post applies to me, so I will have to think about whether I like that or not.

5:17PM PST on Jan 13, 2010

Kids are always way ahead of the curve in their ability to deal with technology and their ability to quickly learn its use and applications. Each new step in technology was been met with great predictions of doom and the downfall of writing, reading and other skills. Actually after teaching elementary school for 43 years, now retired 5 years ago, I am not at all worried about young people and technology. Back in the 1970's I started my first graders on "turtle" programs on a computer I bought myself and hooked up to a TV screen! What I am sure we need to be much more to be concerned about is the amount of voilence children are witnessing on TV, in violdent video/computer games and in moviies.
The technology itself is not bad, but the world of violence is very damaging. The sensationalism, the flashing, crashing, banging, exploding, killing. This is easily viewed as "the way to react" when I am not getting what I want or am upset at someone.
Please be an aware parent as to what your child is viewing, experiencing, and what you are watching yourself that your child is experiencing being in the same room.
Technology is neutral, neither good nor bad, but how it is used, can be either very constructive or very destructive.

1:48PM PST on Jan 13, 2010

The internet and advances in technology are good to a certain extent. When I see people in 3rd grade having Xbox 360s and PS3s, one can tell that something is wrong. If one grows up using the computer too much, their social abilities will be damaged.

1:32PM PST on Jan 13, 2010

"Again, these are ideas that are out there and need to be thought about as we move through education reform."

I wish I believed reform was what this was about. In my experience, it’s not so much about reform as it is about money. Universities are increasingly admitting more students than they have classroom space and instructors to fill them. The response has been to create megasections of online courses, many of which fall to graduate teaching assistants and adjuncts who have no choice but to accept them.

When convenience becomes the primary consideration, we move from education to consumerism. Consumers sense they are buying a product and have the right to dictate its content and manner of service. Education by definition requires parties to engage a process and the level of their engagement determines the final result.

In all fairness, I think online education works best with adults who are physically removed from schools and are able to manage time well, primarily in upper division and graduate courses. Where it works worst is in lower division general education courses that hungover frat boys take to avoid having to attend class. But in virtually no case does an online class live into the full potential a F2F class provides. The discussions are limited, asynchronous and lacking in nuance. The tests lend themselves to cheating. And they tend to attract slackers. All sad but true.

The ideas may be out there. That doesn't mean they are good.

1:16PM PST on Jan 13, 2010

I'm from the 50's/60's generation, and I have a ton of online friends. However, this is mainly from media fandom, and I actually have either met or expect to meet the majority of these people in person, with the resultant depthening of the friendships. This is perhaps because media fans get together frequently at cons and media events, and we get to know each other face-to-face. My local fannish friends and I often host out-of-town guests that we've met over the internet through our common forums, and they host us when we're out of town. Also, even if we haven't met certain people in person, usually there's someone we have met who has met that person and can vet for them. Media fandom is a much more intense, integrated social network than the difuse internet networks mentionned in the article above or by this ecology forum. I have some very good friends in Australia with whom I communicate every day. We met through fandom, but found a lot more in common and our friendship is based on a wide number of interests. Hopefully, some day I'll be able to afford to travel to Australia, and we'll definitely be getting together for lunches and dinners then, even if that will be our first time meeting in person (unless they make it to North America before I make it to Down Under).

The whole point I'm trying to make is that real friendships... and real learning can take place on the internet... and at any age.

10:12AM PST on Jan 13, 2010

"I have many friends who are solely online whom I derive as much from as friends in RT."

I guess the obvious question would be "How would you know?" A relationship that is "solely online" has no point of comparison. This is not to say that we cannot form relationships of sorts online. It simply says they are ultimately lacking the depth that dealing with real live human beings provide.

In some cases, that may be preferable. Frankly, I'm happy to know some people only virtually. I interact with some people around very specific issues (e.g., ending state killing) and I doubt I need the F2F interaction to gain from that interaction online what is needed for that purpose

My objection is to the uncritical aspect of the assertion here. Virtual relationships are no substitutes for real relationships. And when it comes to teaching, virtual approaches tend to reinforce caricaturizing of the other with no reality check and egocentrism.

Not only are social skills lacking from such interactions but nuance is as well. When I say "right" or, if I'm engaging in cyberslacking, "rite," do I mean correct? Do I mean way off base? Do I mean human right? Do I mean the opposite of left? Without a human being present, the tone and facial expression which would indicate sarcasm, for instance, is missing.

These aspects must be considered if we are to engage in intellectually honest discussion about this practice.

9:10AM PST on Jan 13, 2010

Jeeze, I apologize for the syntactical error in the last sentence of the first paragraph of my post. It should've said something like "and this position is supported by . . . "

There's another problem with this stuff: all too often you have no option but to write in a tiny window that doesn't allow you to see the context you've already put down. Errors are the usual consequence of this enforced tunnel vision.

9:07AM PST on Jan 13, 2010

Thanks for the info.

8:43AM PST on Jan 13, 2010

Both net and i generation will develop social benefits. Technology is an extension of our minds, and to some extend to our bodies but not to our emotions. Development of emotions (emotional inteligence, empathy etc) is only possible by direct physical contact - eye contact, touch, hug, hand shake, playing real life games etc. Othewise we will develop inteligent, skilled, emotionaly dull humans...

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