Read an Excerpt
Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn
By Larry D. Rosen, L. Mark Carrier, Nancy A. Cheever
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2010 Larry D. Rosen
All rights reserved.
Why Tweens and Teens Hate School
Despite the revolutions wrought by technology in medicine, engineering, communication, and many other fields, the classrooms, textbooks, and lectures of today are little different than those of our parents. Yet today's students use computers, mobile telephones, and other portable technical devices regularly for almost every form of communication except learning.
—National Science Foundation Task Force on Cyberlearning
I absolutely hate school. They make me sit and listen as some old, stuffy teacher drones on and on about stuff from a book written like in the dark ages. We have to read pages of facts and then barf them up on tests that will make or break whether we get into a good college or not. Oh sure, they have pretty pictures on all the pages, but the book is so one-dimensional. Geez, pictures? Don't they know anything about video and what kids like to do? We get to go to the computer lab once a week for like an hour—if that—and even then most of what I want to do is blocked. I can't wait until I am out of this place and I can go to college where they let us bring computers to class and know how to treat wired kids like me.
—Vanessa, age twelve, New York City
I was visiting my daughter's high school and decided to peek in on her Spanish class. From what was written on the blackboard, the class was working on an assignment translating a passage from English to Spanish—at least that's what they were supposed to be doing. I counted nearly half the students clearly doing something else. They appeared distracted. When I looked more carefully I discovered that many had their cell phones in their laps and were rapidly moving their fingers. After class, my daughter and her friends told me they were bored with the lesson and were texting each other across the room. Two of her friends bragged that they could text blindfolded.
Fast forward to the same day, after dinner: I see my daughter, sitting on her bed with the television on, iPod earbuds firmly implanted, her laptop showing one window with a school report beside a browser window open to Facebook, several instant messaging alerts flashing at the bottom of the screen, and her phone vibrating, signaling a text message. Can she really study with all these distractions? How can she possibly get good grades while she is chatting the night away?
Welcome to the iGeneration. While the previous generation, referred to as the Net (as in Internet) Generation, was born in the 1980s and 1990s, the iGeneration children and teens are in elementary school, middle school, and high school. They spend their days immersed in a "media diet," devouring entertainment, communication, and, well, any form of electronic media. They are master multitaskers, social networkers, electronic communicators and the first to rush to any new technology. They were born surrounded by technology, and with every passing year they add more tools to their electronic repertoire. They live in social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, and Second Life gathering friends; they text more than they talk on the phone; and they Twitter (or tweet) the night away, often sleeping with their cell phones vibrating by their sides.
On the one hand it may seem like they are just using too much technology. In the research my associates and I have conducted with thousands of parents, children, tweens, and teens, parents tell us that they are very worried that their children don't seem to want to go outside and play anymore. They would rather chat online than visit with their friends at the mall. They are happiest when their cell phone is vibrating and their computer is beeping. It troubles their parents who grew up playing in the street, hanging out with friends, and having a life outside of the cyberspace cocoon their children have created in their rooms. On the other hand, their children achieve higher grades in school, create tech businesses before they even graduate from high school, and apply to and enter college at unprecedented rates.
So, what is the problem? They hate school. Why? Education has not caught up with this new generation of tech-savvy children and teens. It is not that they don't want to learn. They just learn differently. Gone are the days when students would sit quietly in class, reading a book or doing a math worksheet. Literally, their minds have changed—they have been "rewired." With all the technology that they consume, they need more from education. The educational content is not the problem. It is the delivery method and the setting. Today's youth thrive on multimedia, multitasking, social environments for every aspect of their lives except education. As aptly put by Professor Paul Gee, a member of the National Academy of Education, "Given that the digital age is enveloping our world, and its influence is not likely to decrease, educators need to meet the emerging challenges on two fronts. Educators must determine the new learning styles of students and develop educational methodology and teaching strategies to meet the learning needs."
In the United States 56 million K–12 students are being taught by nearly 4 million teachers. A whopping 25 percent of the U.S. population is currently under seventeen years old. More than 8 in 10 schools have computers with Internet access, with an average of four students per computer. Sounds great, doesn't it? The problem lies not in the number of computers, but rather in how they are being used. Schools have the tools to provide a good, motivating education for our children. The problem is that schools are using educational strategies that worked fine for their students' parents and teachers. They are forgetting that this is a whole new generation of learners, with a host of qualities that are drastically different from those of previous generations. They are simply not happy learning the way we are teaching them. They want—and need— something different to spark their imaginations. That is our challenge as parents and educators: to create a match between students' technological interests and skills, their sociological—often virtual—environments, and the educational system that propels their performance to higher levels and is, at the same time, engaging enough to rekindle a love of school and learning.
Parents are well aware that technology needs to play a larger role in their children's education. In my recent interviews, more than half of the 1,200 parents of children and preteens who I interviewed felt that it was very important that schools provide technology for classroom teaching, have both teachers and administrators who embrace technology, and invest significant money in classroom technology. Parents of preteens felt the strongest about this critical need, with 6 in 10 telling us that they felt it was very important that their children's schools become more invested in technology that could be used both in the classroom and at home. Mitchell, the father of twelve-year-old Danny, told me, "I just don't get what his school must be thinking. He comes home, turns on his laptop, pulls out his homework and starts doing paper-and-pencil worksheets. He keeps peeking at Facebook or whatever is on the screen and checking his text messages. He's a good student and I may be naïve, but why can't the school figure out how to combine his paper and-pencil homework (which bores him literally to tears some nights) with his love of everything he does on the computer? I try to help him by finding websites that present interesting ways to understand his homework but it really isn't my job, is it? The school has lots of computers in his classrooms but mostly they are used for playing educational games that my son (and I), quite frankly, find boring and tedious."
The purpose of education is to provide knowledge and critical thinking skills. Book learning, classroom teaching, paper-and-pencil homework, research reports, and creative writing activities have always been fine ways to accomplish these tasks. However, as noted earlier, and as I will detail later, we are teaching a whole new generation of students. This book will help you understand how and why they have developed superior multitasking skills, a virtual lifestyle, a penchant for creating media content, and a brand new communication repertoire— none of which are being exploited by our current educational systems. These kids are not like those of previous generations, and they learn through technologies that didn't exist just a decade ago. As educators, we must find new tools to engage our students and help them learn in ways that work for them and for teachers. I am not advocating a wholesale revamping of our educational system. I am not suggesting that we change the curriculum we teach our children. What I am saying is that we need to capitalize on our children's amazing high-tech knowledge and skills when we present that curriculum. This book is designed to help parents and teachers understand that children rely on technology for many aspects of their lives—except education—and we need to find ways to match our teaching methods to their virtual lifestyles. The following example shows just one way that we might meld technology and education into an engaging, exciting learning vehicle for our young iGeneration students.
A Future Homework Assignment
Imagine the following scene. Your daughter is working intently on the computer, and when you look at the screen you see a strange-looking cartoonish character (called an avatar, a sort of three-dimensional "alter ego" or persona for the computer user) gliding down a walkway past a series of attractive, multicolored buildings. Her avatar turns and reads a bright glowing green sign that says "Welcome to the Fractions Building." She pops open the Multiplying Fractions door—since that is her homework assignment for the night—and sees avatars of two other students writing on their own whiteboards. She finds a blank board and immediately a voice welcomes her by name and starts by asking her what ½ times ¼ equals. If she gets the question right, she moves on to others, increasing in difficulty. If she misses a question the virtual teacher is equipped to instantaneously determine what the likely problem might be and provide examples or go back and offer additional questions to build the necessary skills. Performance is continually monitored and evaluated in milliseconds. If the student feels the need for "personal" help, all she needs to do is "ask" the teacher by typing a question, or, if this virtual campus is wired for sound, simply voicing the question aloud. If she feels like taking a break, her avatar walks to the virtual break room to chat with other students for a few minutes. When she returns to the Multiplying Fractions room, the homework/lesson starts right back up where it left off. As she works, your daughter garners rewards in the form of "classroom cash" for completing assignments and learning how to multiply fractions. Later, she exchanges the "cash" for objects in a virtual store or for special access to a part of the virtual world that enables her to add accessories to her avatar. If you allow it, she uses the "classroom cash" at home to buy privileges such as extra time playing video games or a special dessert.
This is, of course, just an example of how educators might make homework more attractive—and even fun—by taking the assignments from a flat, two-dimensional piece of paper into a simulated three-dimensional world. The benefits of such a teaching tool are endless. The teacher would receive instant, continuous feedback on how the student performed on the assignment, including which portions were more difficult and required additional work, and which teaching strategies worked best for that student. This would be difficult, if not impossible, using a math textbook. Parents would also get feedback, obviously streamlined to their busy lives, telling them how their daughter is doing on multiplying fractions. In essence, what you have is a virtual classroom that is continually learning how best to teach each student the same material. The opportunities are boundless. The success of the virtual classroom would simply depend on tapping into the media and technology that this generation uses daily in their personal lives. It can be easily customizable, not only to the material, but to the specific student.
According to one mother of an eight-year-old, "My son started using a program this year called Study Island. His motivation for studying was that for every correct answer he earned points to play a video game—so the more correct answers, the more points, the longer he got to play—and he was playing against fellow classmates—so everyone in the class could compete against each other—my normally homework-resistant child could not wait to come home to 'play.'"
The Rapid Pace of Technology
I am a Baby Boomer, and like most of my generation and our parents' generation, I have always regarded technology with wonder and awe. My parents and grandparents used to talk about the arrival of radio and then television, and I remember that for most of my childhood, Sunday nights were devoted to gathering around the television for The Ed Sullivan Show.
Technological progress did indeed move slowly. But then in the last two decades of the twentieth century, the pace of technology started to accelerate, and new gadgets started showing up with increasing regularity. Take a look at Figure 1.1 on page 9. At the left of the page are some technologies—including both physical products and Internet websites—that have become routine parts of our lives. Each bar reflects how long it took that technology to reach the benchmark, or what marketing researchers call the "penetration rate," of being purchased or used by 50 million consumers. While radio, telephone, and television took many years to penetrate society, notice how rapidly some of the new devices are making their way into our lives. MySpace and Facebook were complete unknowns in 2003, and as of this writing more than 100 million people visit each site monthly, the largest portion of whom are preteens and teens, with our research showing that 15 percent are even under the "required" age of 14.
Now look at some of the newer technologies and websites and you will see that it is not unusual for them to "penetrate" society within a single year. YouTube, for example, went from inception to 50 million consumers within a single year. More than half of adult American Internet users have now visited YouTube, and one in six do so daily. In April 2008, 73 million children and adults watched YouTube videos more than 4 billion times. Four million of those viewers were under eleven years old. Teens watched an average of 74 YouTube videos that month alone. Look around and count all of the technologies and websites that did not exist five years ago—iPhone, Wii, Second Life, Twitter— and the list goes on and on. It is mind-boggling to say the least, and look at who are the first to rush out and buy the gadgets or use the websites: the iGeneration.
These new technologies have not just invaded our stores and our computers, but they have marched right into our language. In 2008, Merriam-Webster added the nouns "malware," "webinar," and "fanboy," which joined the verbs "Google," "text," "blog," and thousands of other
newly minted, technology-related words, most of which were heralded and developed by the younger generation. When a teenager gets into his car to drive somewhere, he has either MapQuested or Googlemapped the directions or GPS'd them. Teens don't email much anymore; instead, they IM, text, Facebook, and Twitter, and their communication is full of shortcuts, acronyms, and other abbreviations to help them squeeze the most out of their cyberspace language with the fewest keystrokes. Many of us know that LOL is short for "laughing out loud," but this term just scratches the surface of teen communication. Here's a brief text message conversation I had with my daughter recently. Can you figure it out?
Hw r u 2day?
gd & u?
nd to tlk 2 u. txt me whn i cn cl.
To some this may look like gibberish, but to teens, it is their language and it is one aspect that is rapidly defining this unique generation. Some have questioned whether it represents the demise of the English language, but we will talk about how to integrate their communication style into an educational plan later in this book.
In 1980 Alvin Toffler, a well-respected American futurist and author of Future Shock, published The Third Wave, which chronicled his view of how technology has changed society. He depicted change as coming in waves, with each succeeding wave marking the introduction of a technological change that transforms the world. Toffler's first wave was the agricultural society, in which tools such as the plow changed our ancestors from hunters and gatherers to farmers. This first wave spanned some three thousand years. The second wave began in the late 1600s and encompassed the transition from an agricultural society to an industrial society, which began with the invention of the steam engine. According to Toffler, this industrial wave lasted three hundred years. The third wave, dubbed by Toffler variously as the computer era, global village, or computer revolution, had its roots in the late 1950s and was active when The Third Wave was written. This third wave was expected to last roughly thirty years and lead to the next stage of technological change.
Excerpted from Rewired by Larry D. Rosen, L. Mark Carrier, Nancy A. Cheever. Copyright © 2010 Larry D. Rosen. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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