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.