Teaching the Net Generation – Reflections from the Frontline

In Business Education, DCU Business School, Learning Technologies, MBS in Marketing, MSc in Business Management, MSc in E-commerce, Next Generation Management, Uncategorized on November 19, 2009 at 7:11 pm
Grown Up Digital, Don Tapscott

Grown Up Digital, Don Tapscott

In Don Tapscott’s latest book, Grown Up Digital, he revisits the key themes discussed in his 1998 book, Growing Up Digital. Tapscott‘s book is timely for me. Our first research reports on ‘NetGeners’ will be released in the new year and Grown Up Digital is a good yardstick for our LINK research team on whether we are on track.

The ‘Net Generation (Tapscott, 1998), ‘digital natives’ (Prensky, 2001) or ‘Millennials’ (Howe & Strauss, 2000; Oblinger, 2003), are claimed as unique and historically unprecedented in terms of their (i) sophisticated knowledge and skills with ICT, and (ii) their particular learning preferences or styles which differentiate them from earlier generation of students such as ‘Gen-Xers’, ‘Baby Boomers’ or as ‘digital immigrants’ (Prensky, 2001) [for a more detailed discussion read our IAM paper on SSRN].  Various commentators place this start of this generation between 1977 to 1982….this doesn’t matter too much; what matters is that they’ve arrived and are in my classroom!

After spending $4m in private research funding, Tapscott provides us with many insights; some are obvious, some are anecdotal and some are questionable but mostly intriguing. He goes as far as recommending seven tips for educators:

  1. Focus on changes in pedagogy, not the technology
  2. Cut back on lecturing
  3. Empower students to collaborate
  4. Focus on lifelong learning, not teaching to the test
  5. Use technology to get to know each student
  6. Design educational programmes to include choice, customization, transparency, integrity, collaboration, fun, speed and innovation
  7. Reinvent yourself as an educator

While “Grown Up Digital” has only hit the bookshelves recently in Ireland, I would like to think our own research in LINK has lead us to a similar conclusion in the design that has been invested in to DCU Business School’s Next Generation Management initiative.

  • While we still provide the option of lectures, students can sourcing learning in a variety of ways and through different sources and we recognise these in assessment.
  • Team building and collaboration is essential and makes up over 50% of all coursework.
  • We have a heavy emphasis on life skills including reflective learning, research, presentation, communication and collaboration skills.
  • There is no test – it is 100% continuous assessment; 50% of which is determined by the student and presented in a portfolio.
  • We make heavy use of learning platforms, social media tools and have online lecture options for certain subjects.
  • Students have a minimum quantity of work to complete however can decide how to get there. Allowing for a timelag for correcting, students have a good idea of where they are relative to an overall grade on a bi-monthly basis.
  • It has meant for me, as an educator and part of a team, redefining my workload, how I teach, how I assess, the amount of time  I spend with students on a one-to-one or small group basis outside formal class times, how I communicate and how I collaborate.

In fact, in some instances we may have gone further. I agree that technology may provide the potential for flexible delivery of learning however care needs to be taken to avoid focusing on technology for technology’s sake at the expense of a deeper understanding of the potential of technology for learning (Collis and Moonen, 2001). But, lifelong learning requires a rethink. While pedagogy focuses on the teacher as the learning decision-maker and this may be appropriate in the earlier stages of the education system, as the learner progresses to adulthood and independent learning, andragogic paradigms may be more appropriate (Knowles, 1984). Whether the chosen model is pedagogy, andragogy, heutagogy (see Hase and Kenyon, 2000) or some other educational methodology, the technologies to support education need to be prepared for different educational methodologies and be capable of co-evolving with both the educators and learners while being flexible to their needs.   Equally, educators, and those responsible for training educators, must develop, continually, the skills and knowledge to support new education methodologies and new technologies in not only themselves but also their learners. In this respect, Tapscott, is somewhat naive – reinventing yourself as an educator, empowering students, lifelong learning and adapting to the eight norms may, in fact, mean doing away with pedagogy and embracing other -ogogies.

However, in his rush to embrace all things ‘Net Gen’, Tapscott misses, plays down or chooses to overlook, a vital insight from the frontline: maybe the students aren’t ready for a NetGen-enabled educational experience? Maybe the faculty aren’t either.  Maybe undergraduate and graduate students who have been conditioned over 12-15 years to learn and be taught in a specific way find such a sudden change in educational practice deeply un-nerving?  Maybe some of the norms Tapscott cites can be negatives too – the need for speed can also manifest as a lack of patience….and patience is a virtue! Despite this, I am not convinced that this jolt in to uncertain territory is necessarily a bad thing for students or faculty. I realise all change comes with pain and battles but the post-growth world is very different. Students, particularly business school students, need to be prepared to think differently and cope with this complexity and uncertainty. We are failing them if we don’t.


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