Don Tapscott on Post-Secondary Possibilities and the Net Gen

Co-authored by Sara Humphreys

When we began the this site and the project, our group was uncertain where to really begin.  There were so many questions.  How do we define what we are doing?  What are we doing?  The research my colleagues and I have done has provided as many questions as answers.  Work by author, consultant, and technology expert, Don Tapscott’s has influenced my contributions to this site, in particular his focus on the Net Generation (NetGen) and digital (digitized?) education.  Therefore, the decision to ask Don to contribute to the site was as necessary as it was easy. Don very kindly provided insightful comments on how education is evolving to better instruct and teach the Net Gen and why this evolution must happen. Feel free to check out Don’s full answers in a prezi located on the main page or check out the highlights in this post (or do both!):

To start, here is an insightful and perhaps incendiary comment from Don:

“One of the biggest reasons student abandon classrooms in secondary and post-secondary education is that they’re bored”

Whoa. I can hear feathers ruffling…or perhaps sabers rattling? It’s an easy equation: students +classroom = boredom.  Students yawning, drooling, chatting, texting are all common images and the student is often cast as the bad guy in this scenario.  However, Tapscott makes a crucial point in the above quotation.  Students are bored – not because they dislike the material, but because the classroom environment does not suit the way they learn.  The Net Gen grows up surrounded by technology of a variety of mediums.  What is more, students are attracted to using new technology that offers knowledge at a rapid rate and in exciting forms. Students sit with their tablets, laptops, and superphones watching video, listening to music, reading text, and performing their networked selves. All of this multimodality opens up a whole new world of learning for these students. How can a classroom with a teacher lecturing at the front of the classroom with slides and maybe one or two videos measure up?

Tapscott’s main argument is that students grow up in a multi-networked environment, where background noise from technology is normal.  The Net Gen is cognitively different from previous generations.  They are used to distraction, but are not always distracted from the task at hand – they just process it differently.  Tapscott argues that it is the criteria of what is considered distraction that needs to change, not so much the student.  The student is a product of an environment enriched by digital media and once they enter into a classroom, which often functions using the traditional “Industrial Model,” they are at a loss (for a short video on the deficiencies of the Industrial model of education by Sir Ken Robinson, click here).

“[T]he evidence shows that giving students laptops, for example, can free the teacher to introduce a new way of learning that’s more natural for kids who have grown up digital at home”

Laptops in the class give the student freedom to explore and record (through typing and actual recording) the information provided..  Social media use is another thing: students will often flip from facebook to twitter and then look up what an instructor is discussing – all in a matter of seconds. Are students learning or are they distracted? Don says students are learning, but in a new way: students are taking the information they receive in class and expanding on it, which brings into question the efficiency and efficacy of traditional teaching methods. What if students can learn to teach themselves?  The role of the teacher/instructor/professor could change since they no longer would be the centre of all knowledge, but a distributor of knowledge that can be explored further using technology.  Educators have to become guides to a network of information rather than gatekeepers to one way of knowing.  Don states that the educator is similar to TV (a legacy medium – how about that folks?): both are forms of one-way communication.

“Youth today are abandoning one-way TV for the higher stimulus of interactive communication they find on the Internet. Sitting mutely in front of a TV set–or a professor –doesn’t appeal to or work for this generation. They learn best through non-sequential, interactive, asynchronous, multi-tasked and collaborative activities. Digital immersion at a formative stage of life has affected their brain development and consequently the way they think and learn.”

It is simple: we teach how we learn.  Therefore, the student and educator divide will be present until the educator is capable of learning the way their students do. This divide is also apparent in the private sector:

“If companies don’t respond appropriately, Net Geners will start their own corporations”

Don further states that this generation is a “Global Generation,” which have five main qualities: “norms for freedom, customization, collaboration, integrity and innovation.” Further, the “Global Generation” (or Net Gen) is a generation who wants to know why, not just how.  The knowledge of why is the power that they harness when they are creating the next world for both past and future generations.  Net Gen is a generation that will bring profound change, but it will be in bytes.  Gradually, the world will look back to the world these digital natives have created and realize that enormity of change that has occurred in several decades, not several centuries.

And digital technologies are the tools for this change. It’s clear that if academia wants to “train” youth for the future, then academia needs to respond appropriately or NetGeners may bypass university entirely or, more likely, educate themselves.

Thank you to Don Tapscott and Kejina Robinson of the Tapscott Group.  Both provided us with truly useful information.

Twitter Me Impressed or Why We Are Not the “Dumbest Generation”

One of the most intriguing faculties in the realm of the Digital Humanities I’ve discovered is that this loose and baggy discipline seems to span an innumerable number of disciplines. Today in Toronto’s Public Reference Library, I sat in a cubby with a stack of no less than ten books, spanning New Media Studies, Literature, Philosophy, and even pithy dentist-office-sensational-titled nonfiction studies like The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Why you shouldn’t trust anyone under 30), by Mark Baurlain. But I’ll get to that piece of…”writing” later.

Coalescing between these multiple disciplines is the differentiation between the cultures of reading & critiquing (consuming) more situated in the 20th century, and the building & making (producing) of the 21st. It is not my attempt to set up a dichotomy, rather acknowledge a difference social participation congruent throughout many texts and theorists speaking to the Digital Age.

In his introduction to a digital humanities reader, Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew K. Gold references three-minute plenary speech by Stephen Ramsay at the Modern Languages Association Conference in 2011, that would go on to spur controversy.

Ramsay stated that those who are truly involved in the Digital Humanities (DH) needed to construct and therefore had to know some sort of coding or programming language. I am not sure how in-depth he meant (how about rudimentary HTML, Steve?), but the point was that digital literacy in the humanities means more than knowing how to use MS Office. But Ramsay’s speech (what is it with people named “Ramsay” and controversy?) brings up an interesting questions for the directions DH research needs to take.

Gold goes on to provide an introduction with plenty of probing questions for DH scholarship. Has what was formerly New Media Studies become the Digital Humanities? Does the Digital Humanities need theory? Does the Digital Humanities have politics? Is it accessible to all members of the profession? Do social media platforms like Twitter trivialize the Digital Humanities professional discourse?

I’m going to pause and address this one, because I have seen it surface again and again, as a quipping newspaper headline quivering in its ad revenue boots from the threat that ‘print is over’, to thinly veiled patronizing head pat-ernalism from a clumsy radio commentator, to all varieties of dress up dress down entry points to discussion ‘this young generation’.

As a literature major, and someone not quite 30, it irked me to hear a CBC program discussing the nomination of the graphic novel Essex County in Canada Reads 2011, wherein a participant in the broadcast chuckling reflected on the genre of the graphic novel as something of the ‘Tweet of literature.’ Turning two emergent genres and platforms for narrative and theorizing against each other in such a belittling, unintelligible fashion, is an increasingly common grating of gears meddling with the media presented to our younger generations.

But where exactly is all this coming from? In a body of worked entitled “Technoromanticism‘, (a term coined by Stephen Barron) Richard Coyne explores the pragmatics of cyberspace by discussing the ways in which narratives derived from the Enlightenment and Romantic periods speak situationally; how “every attempt is being made to consign the Enlightenment to the realms of the other, to render it strange and unfamiliar” (180).

In Bauerlein’s sensationalizing study, he balks at a hypothetical ‘Susie’ and her proud parents, beaming with her ability to navigate a multiplicity of media concurrently, but failure to exact the knowledge of what the Soviet Union was. He examines with a quick brush and silver hair ‘the minds of youth’ as negatively influenced by the fleet of digital media that clutter our bedrooms, with the presence of books themselves merely being bookends. Our intellects (assuming we have any) and our physical spaces are a set up of distraction. He attempts to explain in his interview with reason.tv, his distrust of the younger generation as something of a failure on our part, to utilize ‘technology,’ to return to these ideas of mastery, connected in former assemblies of knowledge. However, in his explanation, he demonstrates in himself instead a lack of understanding of the technological objects he (at times improperly) names. At 1:05 seconds he begins to explain that these tools are not used to ‘progress’ ourselves, to go to museums, to learn, to engage. He explains Facebook as something of a Lyceum, where we’d all rather smoke pot and compare hairstyles. But what about our education in school – are we directed to the Smithsonian Institution website? Or has he actually been to Buzzfeed? There’s smart stuff on there, Mark, mixed in with news about “catz.” In other words, maybe this is a failure of the classroom and not so much the user?

Through my apparently feeble-minded Facebooking fingertips, I  turn your attention to the Twitter account of Kim Kierkegaardashian, and reflect on what we’ve already introduced here on the work of Don Tapscott.

There is a fear that is permeating, not strictly located in older generations, but among common publics discouraged by technology and digital media, and that is a fissure, or “trauma” as Coyne posits, from this shift in the comfort of understanding time through a past and future. A ‘networked self’, Papacharissi explains, is always all the time negotiating sites of production and construction of self, and the suggestion of Facebook as a ‘distraction’ is a myth.

Student 2.0: How Social and Digital Media is Shaping New Types of Learners

“A powerful force to change the university is the students.  And sparks are flying today.  A huge generational clash is emerging in our institutions.  The critiques of the university from fifteen years ago were ideas in waiting – waiting for the new Web and for a new generation of students who could effectively change the old model” (Don Tapsott in Macrowikinomics – see page 156)

The wave of new students has arrived and they have been dubbed “digital natives,”  of which I am apparently one.  This wave of new students use digital technology with ease, but are they actually well-versed in digital technology? Not in my experience.  After all, I am still learning and have a great deal to learn about how the digital “stuff” I use actually works.  I prefer to think of digital natives not as oppositional from digital immigrants ( those not born into digital tech), but as a diverse set of learners who are working with (or sometimes still waiting) for the education system to meet our needs. Let’s move away from simplistic sound bites about teachers being “old-fashioned digital immigrants” students as digital savants. Neither position is entirely true nor entirely off-base.

This is the stereotype but not the reality.

We can say that students who are digital natives are really artists of their own education using the palate of social media technologies and platforms to learn and study, conduct research, and collaborate with professors and other students alike.  Social media is about sharing, while also about individualizing one’s own unique online experiences.  So, as the new student is learning on their own steam, they are also interacting with a community that transcends their classroom.  Thus, they are the global student.  The new student can access lectures from renowned scholars from MIT for free, for instance.  They also can use some free brush-up math or science help from the Khan Academy.  This is unprecedented.  The source of the plethora of information stems from the tools students have, in particular laptops and Smartphones (with their many array of apps), which allow them to manipulate, interact with, and network with the information they learn.  This new wave of students relies on collaborative learning.

Collaborative Learning 101:

Interactive multimedia consists of text, image, audio, and video, which all collaborate to help students learn and create.  The interactivity of these tools is revolutionary, as social media guru, Don Tapscott, prolifically acknowledges in his 2010 best-selling book, MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World: “we need to toss out the old industrial model of pedagogy – how learning is accomplished – and replace it with a new model called collaborative learning” (141). (Read our interview with Don by clicking here for the post and here for the prezi). This new pedagogy ensues all “participants would contribute to an open platform of world-class educational resources that students everywhere can access throughout their lifetime.  We call it a Global Network of Higher Learning” (141).  In schools, students are becoming part of a global network and the value of this is far-reaching, especially in regards to reshaping the global economy for a new century.  Furthermore, students from an early age are not just becoming more marketable, but reaching potentials that move beyond the financial benefits of a good education.  The new student has social media skills that seem inborn, but they have actually been actively trained by their exposure to social technology.  It is the Millennial Generation (1980-1995) and Generation Z (1995-present) of which are now occupying schools and often face educators and curriculum that cannot meet their learning needs.  This applies to all disciplines in education, from the humanities, arts, to the social and natural sciences.  Due to the internet’s hybridization of information, students no longer separate information into categories.  In other words, the average young person’s life is multidisciplinary and requires multi-tasking in order to be part of their demographic.  The Wikipedia effect is an example that Tapscott has pointed out.  Wikis are more than just sites, they are collaborative spaces which are shaped by readers, who enter, edit, and delete information.  Wikis are more than just simple websites because each wiki is a site of interaction between multitudes of readers who are also simultaneously writers.  Due to their exposure to this model of knowledge production, students are used to interacting with what they learn, therefore, the simple teacher/professor – student relationship is changing.  This last point must be recognized.  Collaborative learning, as Tapscott argues, is changing power dynamics on both microcosmic (in the classroom) and macrocosmic (in educational institutions throughout North America) levels.  Instead of a hierarchy, classrooms and institutions will be more like communities, where power is shared and focused on serving the development of many individuals.  Communities value trust over obedience and authority, therefore, students develop a sense of belonging on their own terms that will ultimately serve others.  Ultimately, social media encourages community and communication because it is collaborative.

The Blog as a Unique, Collaborative Learning Tool for Student 2.0:

As pedagogy, social media is inherently experimental.  A blog is a good example of a type of social media which is empowering students to experiment and shape their ideas.  For instance, part of Dr. Sara Humphrey’s teaching methods is to allow students the option of doing a blog for a major assignment.  Many students jump at this opportunity and use it as a new way of exploring a literary text.  Since blogs are a dynamic way to express content, students can write blogs similar to essays and/or use different ways to present their interpretation of the text.  Aside from producing analytical content, students also design the blog, which enables them to unlock creative ways to express an interpretation.  We have provided a link to Dr. Humphrey’s own blog, “The Expendable Citizen,” below.  In this blog, you will find links to student blogs from Dr. Humphrey’s courses.  We are confident that you will be impressed!  The blog as a learning tool provided these students with a unique challenge.  Why is this relevant?  For various reasons.  The university is changing to accommodate social media on all levels.  The challenge faced by universities right now is to incorporate it in the undergraduate classroom, in order to introduce students early on to using it, exploiting it for its value to their studies, and begin to develop an inter-disciplinary communication network with students throughout their academic career.  Blogging as a digital media tool offers an introduction to an array of skills that helps students prepare for the future.  Many students agree that a blog can be a step towards a professional online identity since blogs can be used as an addition to a CV or resume.  Blogs may even function as a CV and such innovation is bound to encourage future employers that their candidate has unique skills ready for a digital world.  Ultimately, blogs and other digital mediums open up a new dimension for educational institutions to explore.  Digital media in the classroom is so promising because it encourages the five principles of digital media that Don Tapscott points out: collaboration, openness, sharing, integrity, and interdependence.

It is a whole new way being a student for a new age. The following resources offer examples of instructor’s embracing digital mediums in their teaching.

Dr. Diane Jakacki’s blog:

Diane Jakacki

Dr. Sara Humphrey’s blog:

The Expendable Citizen

Dr. Constance Crompton is a postdoctoral fellow at the Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory at the University of Victoria. She specializes in digital humanities, Cultural Studies, Victorian periodicals and popular culture, the literatures of transition (1880-1920), and gender studies. We have included her personal teaching philosophy on our site, as it expresses a particular exemplary opinion of digital media in the university setting.

Dr. Constance Crompton’s Teaching Philosophy: Dr. Crompton’s Teaching Philosophy