Tuesday, January 27, 2009

5.*: The NetGen: Cause for CONSIDERABLE concern

I have blogged before here and especially in my previous (eBCNZer) blog (see especially "More on Net Gen nonsense") about the dangers of over-estimating the Net Generation when it comes to learning.

In my research for E-Primer 5, I found a recent (2009!) article by Malcolm Brown in EDUCAUSEreview, "The NetGens 2.0: Clouds on the Horizon". Of most concern to me are these findings from a Nielsen Norman Group study of teenagers using the Web for research:

“We measured a success rate of only 55 percent for the teenage users in this study, which is substantially lower than the 66 percent success rate we found for adult users.” The report added: “Teens’ poor performance is caused by three factors: insufficient reading skills, less sophisticated research strategies, and a dramatically lower patience level.”

Sounds like educational disaster to me. That adults achieved a higher success rate must surely indicate to even hard-nosed critics of the incumbent system that the Net Gen is in the sort of trouble that the Internet cannot fix (and has probably helped cause). Finally, at last, studies confirming that Prensky's claims about 'Digital Natives' as utopian learners are starting to be exposed as naked and horribly misleading. I have gone on before about the dangers of "Learning 2.0", have addressed the question "Are we getting dumber?" and the value of books as tools for engagement.

Interestingly Robert M. Hutchins, in his article "The Tradition of the West" (in an introductory volume to the Britannica Great Books series compiled in 1952), wrote as follows:

To put an end to the spirit of inquiry that has characterised the West it is not necessary to burn the [classic] books. All we have to do is to leave them unread for a few generations.

That process, it seems, has started. Yeats said that "Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire". In our urgency to avoid the bucket, have we under-sold the fire? It seems, from various studies, that the flames of knowledge Yeats intended are being confused by some Net Genners for sparks of information. My personal fear: A generation of learners who rely on access to information that is miles wide, but whose appreciation of understanding is one-inch deep; who are able to name all Pokemon, but unable to appreciate the insight of Socrates; who are able to chat confidently about the latest movie, but unable to participate in the Great Conversation... a generation of pragmatic learners, ever ignorant of their own dependence on Google and the limits of what it can provide. This, from "Are we getting dumber?":

A search [online] for a ‘fact’ will reveal the answer quickly; a search for a complex question or issue such as ‘whether democratization favours equality or not’ renders a search engine largely useless (citing Jeanneney 2007).

Is the Net Gen aware of these issues? Studies suggest that they are not... what concerns me in particular is that edubloggers do not seem to be upset by them, either.

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