According to ReadWriteWeb in Why Gen[eration] Y is Going to Change the Web the current generation of young adults born between 1982-1997 is the most digitally active generation yet. They are digital natives who were born “plugged in.” The article looks at the implications for traditional media (TV, advertising, etc) but there must be wide implications for education too. Anyone who has taught an ICT class to the current generation of students will be aware of just how plugged in they are (even during supervised lab classes): the iPhone’s plugged into their ears, the IM client pops up every 30 seconds, and Facebook is on top of the desktop whenever they think you’re not looking. Visit the Library to see just how much “traditional” computer work is going on. How are we to exploit communications technology to connect to our students when we members of the teaching demographic are so not Gen Y? Sometimes I think that I’m not just square, I’m a point in their 3-D world.
I’m not generally comfortable with terms like Digital Natives, Generation X, Generation Y and so on as they tend to be used by lazy journalists, consultants and senior managers who don’t always understand the subject and are looking for nice neat pigeon holes and easy sound bites – not that I would include you in this group Chris. I’m particularly uneasy about lumping everyone from 13-31 in to the same homogenous group as the writer of the original article appears to do. However, I think your question (How are we to exploit communications technology to connect to our students when we members of the teaching demographic are so not Gen Y?), is an important one. Sadly, I don’t think there are any easy answers and some may argue whether we should be looking to exploit the technologies at all. Do students actually want their lectures to be part of their connected world? Maybe some do and some don’t. However, given that on the Learning Lab we are trying to explore how technology can be used to enhance learning how do we answer your question? The sandpit idea of the Learning Lab is one option – trying out some of the tools before using them at the coalface. I actually think that the answer probably lies with the students themselves. How do they see exploiting communications technology to connect to students? One of the things we hope to do as part of the Benchmarking exercise is to find out as much about the learner experience as we can and how that can feed into the technology that is used and provided by at the University. Hopefully this will allow us to follow on from some of the work done by JISC on the learner’s voice. My own view, and this is a purely personal opinion, is that the use of technology to connect with increasingly connected students should be about the context that the learning takes place in and agreed by the tutor and the learners together. In my ideal world each module would begin with some kind of needs analysis for the ‘tools’ and ‘processes’ that will be used during the module and how the assessment will be delivered so that it can draw out the best from the learners. However, we’re not all living in ‘Chris Hall World’ and reality adds certain constraints but it would, I hope, be possible to say in a number of cases to say, ‘Given that this is what we need to do in this module, what tools and process shall we use?’