itwf 06: diana oblinger on "educating the net generation"


Diana Oblinger, the keynote speaker today, is the VP of Educause--which has recently put out an e-book on this topic of "Educating the Net Generation," which I downloaded last week but haven't read yet... She's got quite an impressive vita, including a stint at Microsoft. And she seems like a dynamic speaker, which is great.

She says she's not going to talk about IT directly. She wants to help us understand more about the differences in today's learners. We're all products of our environment, she points out, and there are very different factors influencing the "Net Gen" (web, cell phone, IM, MP3s, online communities) than those influencing Baby Boomers and Gen X. She shows a chart shwoing the average amount of media exposure the "average person" will have by age 21. (Average starting where, I'm not sure...)

Talks about "neuroplasticity"--the brain reorganizes itself throught life. Stimulation changes brain structures, the brain changes and organizes itself based on the inputs it receives.

Who are these learners? (She notes these are generalizations, broad-brush portraits, and of course there are exceptions.) Five characteristics: digital, connected, experiential, immediate, social. (Her definitions of "connected" and "social" seem quite similar...)

Educationally, what does this mean for learning preferences? Peer-to-peer learning. Interaction and engagement (this doesn't mean "entertainment," or "easy," which seems to be how Baby Boomers perceive it). Visual and kinesthetic--images, movement, and spatial relationships are important. "Things that matter"--they want socially relevant, problem-solving contexts for learning.

(Five-minute assessment: she's great! and her slides aren't awful! Also, it appears that I'm a NetGen mind in a Baby Boomer body!)

These are also time-constrained learners. 87% of college students commute, 80% work, 35% are adult learners, 31% of enrollment increases will be in adult learners. (Wow. These are stats I hadn't heard before.) But much of what we do in education is not designed for people who are time-constrained.

She shows figure about children 6 and under consuming media. Interesting that "screen media" (which combines both TV and computers, things I see as very different) is one category, and "reading" is another. Much of what my kids do on the screen involves reading. Does reading only count if it's books? If so, I don't do much "reading" anymore.

"Interpretive flexibility"--meaning is shaped by culture, technology, our understanding of education.

Students are harbingers of social and cultural change. Back to the "connected" issue--the Internet is their primary communication tool. "Peer-to-peer"--she talks about social bookmarking! She mentions and CiteULike!! In my head, I do a happy dance!!! Wikipedia as an example of "distributed cognition." Talks about the culture clash between traditional academia and "amateur culture." (Implicit "wisdom of crowds" references--I'm currently reading that book, and have a post or two brewing on it.)

Another characteristic that's emerging is "self-service"--people are doing more for themselves, like online banking, shopping, travel arrangements. It's an obvious segue to self-service learning, as well as informal, organic, activity-based, self-activated, open-ended learning.

(Yow. I can't keep up with her.)

She talks about Flickr, and shows screen shots. (!!!) She talks about how hard it is for her to go from her inherent preference for text to multiple media. (This is forcing me to rethink my current development project, which is good but also daunting.)

Time-shifting--from TV it's a short hop to controlling other kinds of content delivery.

This is a move away from the traditional hierarchical higher ed model.

Now she's talking about MMORPGS (she calls them "alternate realities," which I find somewhat problematic). She shows numbers on amount of time spent on games, number of players, revenue for the industry. Points out the average age of an online gamer is 37.

Now she's on to participatory media and culture. Cites estimates of number of blogs, blog readers, posts per day and hour (Lark, 2005 -- don't recognize the reference).

[I am beside myself with delight that the topics I'm most passionate about are being inserted into this event, and being done so by someone who's so engaging and articulate.]

The cultural shift is towards networked, mobile, participatory. There are also different perceptions. Today's students were born after the change curve had started its dramatic upwards curve, and as a result their expectations are different--they don't expect to have 3-5 years to master a technology before a new one supplants it. (That's an important point, one I've not heard made before. Academia has so not kept up with new technology, and the idea that we can or should spend 5+ years studying the use of a technology is becoming increasingly problematic.)

These interfaces are shaping learning. She talks about Alice in Wonderland--new technologies are offering that model, the ability to "fall into" these immersive virtual environments. Cites JSB's "learning to be." Points out that we need not just immersion, but also reflection. Need to be able to take a step back and think about how it worked. That combination is very powerful.

Shows some sobering figures on US higher ed generally, challenging the "we're number one!" perception.

New critical skills for the workforce: expert thinking (identifying and solving problems for which there is no routine solution--pattern matching, metacognition), and complex communication (persuading, explaining, interpreting information; negotiating, managing, gaining trust, teaching, etc).

Key point: education is not equivalent to content. Lots of good points she's making, but I can't keep up.

If you sum up everything we know about educational research, you find that we get educational value from:
* challenging ideas and people
* active engagement with challenges
* supportive environment
* real-world activities
* social activity
* unbounded by time or place

Provides some interesting examples:

  • Allowing students to do a virtual version of a science lab before doing a real-world version, the quality of the real-world experience is greatly enhanced. Both is better than either/or.
  • Shows an archaeology class project from UBC where the students had to build a virtual fly-through of Athens.
  • Hand-held genetics game called "live long and prosper" where students move around the room "exchanging DNA" between their programs. More experiential, more interactive, more engaging.
  • MIT "Environmental Detectives" game where students work in teams to solve a hypothetical local health problem--they have to interact with the environment to accomplish this

Games are fundamentally immersive (she points out it's not just the graphics, it's the gameplay that makes them immersive and engaging).

Shows a classroom just like ours--everybody stuck behind a big monitor. Contrasts to room (apparently at NCSU) with circular tables and laptops, designed for "built pedagogy." A single focal point at the front of the room with chairs bolted facing forward--this forces a mode of teaching. Putting people at round tables says "we want you interact." (Which is why we're doing the symposium setup in rounds of 10, rather than classroom/lecture layout.)

Talks about NCSU's SCALE-UP program ("student centered activities for large enrollment undergratudate programs"). This looks fabulous! Need to read more about it.

Emphasizes the need for more informal learning spaces. NCSU again--"fly spaces" in the student center, easily configurable for small group work. Glass matters--seeing people practice their profession is fundamentally engaging (I love this about the Golisano building at RIT).

Moves on to information literacy--cognitive, ethical, and technical aspects (gives props to librarians, who've been talking about this for decades).

What do employers really want from students, in terms of learning outcomes? It's not being able to program in C++. It's the more abstract skills like communication and problem solving (how many times have we heard this from our advisory board? but this isn't completely true--often the technical skills are the baseline, and what differentiates two students with the same skills are those higher-level cognitive abilities).

Shows figures on satisfaction with web-based learning (study done at UCF); younger students are least pleased by the web-based environment. (She translates that to the young people wanting to have more social interaction, but it seems to me there's more going on there. I suspect that some of it is that the majority of the web-based course management tools are horrendously awful, and younger people have higher expectations.)

She's done. (Phew. That was an amazingly content-packed hour. I wonder how much, if any, got absorbed by the audience.)

First question--how do we convince our administrators to put in the kinds of collaborative spaces that she described? She answers that Educause is doing a lot more executive outreach to help facilitate this. They're trying hard to raise awareness of the importance, but they need face time. They've got a book coming out in August on learning space design--will have to look for that. Like the NetGen book, it will be a free e-book.



I have been teaching informally since I was about 10 yrs. old, and I have many doubts about the teaching methods described. I have many doubts about the "lecture method" as well. Where are the large scale double blind studies of education?

There's a huge body of research into teaching methods, particularly the use of online tools. I'd suggest looking at ERIC as a starting point, and (for tech ed) also reviewing the significant body of research from SIGCSE journals and conferences.

Sounds like a great talk. I was just at Mt. Holyoke doing a blog presentation for a group of students from all the seven sisters' schools. I did the usual trope of asking the audience what kinds of tools they were familiar with: blogs (writing and reading), rss readers, technorati, flickr, myspace, facebook. I was surprised that most of the students were only familiar with facebook. My students (from Bryn Mawr) were the only ones who had their own blogs, used flickr and other social tools. They reported back to me from their small group sessions that the other students weren't interested in these tools, even though they were a huge component of the project we were all participating in.

My point is that, yes, I agree with all this stuff about the netgeneration, but I think we need to make sure we aren't leaving people behind. I was especially concerned because these were young women.

Though there's still plenty of work to be done at my own insitution (Bryn Mawr), we've made some very good strides toward incorporating these tools and shifting the focus of education appropriately.

Wow, my fingers almost developed a sympathetic ache. Thanks for typing that up. It was most interesting. I'm very interested on how much of what students now do online, or mediated, especially when it involves concepts and ideas, translates IRL. We used to struggle with that in social studies ed. You could do a multiple perspectives simulation on the Cuban missile crisis one day, and the next the very-same conflict resolution ideas seemed stuck in the context of the CMC. Transfer of skills across contexts: a feature of the narrative of the learning moment, or the elements of the problem?

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on April 3, 2006 9:15 AM.

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