Net-Gen Skeptic

Some of my old colleagues from the DE&T days at UBC, Mark Bullen, Tannis Morgan and Adnan Qayyum, have recently completed some research looking at BCIT students and how they really use info and communication technologies (ICTs).   Not surprisingly:

generational differences are not the issue. Contextual issues such as the nature of the program are more important considerations when making decisions about the integration of learning technologies.

I’ve long been suspicious about some of the Net-Gen “mythology” and wrote about it a couple of years ago.  More recently, we encouraged some UBC students to share their opinions about learning, technology use, etc. via U-Stream. May be hard to watch the whole group of 1-2 minute clips (especially since many of the poor souls seemed to be suffering with colds) . Here are a few to start with: Cadence, Luke, Teena, Angeli and Kevin.

I suspect many students (at least in North America) are using their cell phones, Facebook, and other communication technologies:

  • mainly for social purposes
  • sometimes to study together
  • occasionally for group work (which one student expressed open hostility for)
  • often to entertain themselves when boredom sets in

What’s interesting is that students don’t seem to be asking for games or even technology in the classroom. They are asking to be engaged in conversation and real life research, listened to, included and considered.  These things have nothing to do with technology.

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6 thoughts on “Net-Gen Skeptic

  1. Interesting post. I actually work about 40 metres (and an outdoor corridor) away from Mark – and if RRU accepts my thesis proposal (once I figure out exactly what it is) he may even supervise it. So, I’ve run across some of the net-gen skeptic content.

    I tend to agree. I don’t think those who’ve grown up with technology learn any differently at all. I think they probably multi-task with technology better because of their exposure to web and wireless. I’d also guess that deep learning might be more difficult to come by for them if they’re allowing twitter, Facebook and similar tools dictate their time. In truth, they may even not learn as well because of the tech distractions.

    What I think, though, is that the LMS or PLE (or whatever you want to call it) needs to be more flexible and factor open tools, open access and the like into the experience. I also think that online ed facilitators are sometimes ill-equipped to deal with so many ‘channels’ because they don’t take the time to become as conversant with the technology as they should be.

  2. Hi James,

    Thanks for your comment.

    On your first point about twitter, FB, etc. – those tools give me access to a broader range of experiences and interests among people – which helps me learn (sometimes) but broadly – not really deeply. Which may be OK (sometimes) – and distraction – DEFINITELY!

    I agree with your last comment about LMS (in my world at UBC this is CMS) and open tools. the problem that we have has with the CMS and openness is that once content is in – it is difficult to get it out. We’ve been experimenting with some approaches to author some content outside of the CMS (on blog or wiki for example) and bring it in via feed. That way we can have it in the “delivery” system when we want it – but have wider access to it as well.

    PLE is a whole other story – I’d love to have a conversation about that some time – starting with the learning part of the equation.

    Take care,


  3. Hi Cindy;

    I also agree with you on the 2.0 tools, as I actually use particularly twitter to get links and articles I wouldn’t even find in my feed reader. I think Facebook is a different beast altogether and its intrinsic value decreases substantially as time goes on because it’s about social connections and not so much about exchange of information (professionally anyway).

    I’ve often thought about how one would cobble delicious, twitter and other tools together as a repository, perhaps some of the underpinnings of a 2.0 PLE (wikis and RSS might work well here too). I hate the term web 2.0, but it has some meaning so … what are you going to do? I’m leaning toward 2.0 tools in use by staff as an underlying theme for my thesis, and I think Mark is interested in it, riffing off of the “BCIT students as digital learners” research you alluded to.

    BCIT uses D2L and, though I’m not personally on the learning side here, I’ve logged in and find the UI very lacking. I use Moodle as a learner at RRU in my MA and the problems with interaction design on their launch of v1.9 are many and significant.

    I’ve been pushing for better uses of feeds within my MA program, but as I said before, while I’ve found the program very good in many ways, I’m a little dismayed at how weak many of the instructors are in their knowledge of how the technology works.

    I’m always open to chats on open tools, open access and how that may move us toward open platforms for learning. Always looking for thesis ideas, though my timeline is tight for my proposal.

    If you want to touch base, email me at what I provided on the comment or use the contact form on my site.


  4. Cindy, James:

    I think what our research at BCIT shows is that instructional design matters. Most educators know this but we are too easily swayed by fads and rhetoric from people who have a vested interest in pushing a particular one size fits all approach. There are a lot of people who make their livings consulting on how to deal with the “net generation”. For educators, the answer is simple: design according to the needs of your audience, not an inaccurate generalization about your audience.


    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comment! Guess I’d just add one thing to your last comment: involve your audience in defining their needs.

      Take care!


  5. Yup, I’d agree. I know, on the marketing side as that’s what my work most often touches here, stabs are taken at what will engage students or prospectives to apply or register. and (beginning in about an hour with BigInfo) are both examples of 2.0 ideas that were hatched at the marketing management table via brainstorming.

    That doesn’t necessarily make them wrong or bad, but it also hasn’t considered anything but a very crude guess at what may reach the target. The time was so short to actually do WWYC that there was no proof of concept done with a sample.

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