The posting below looks at some of the expectations of today's 21st Century Learners. It is by Michael Rodgers and David Starrett, Southeast Missouri State University and is number 30 in a series of selected excerpts from the National Teaching and Learning Forum newsletter reproduced here as part of our \"Shared Mission Partnership.\" NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [http://www.ntlf.com/] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, Volume 14, Number 5 ? Copyright 1996-2005. Published by James Rhem & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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TECHPED: DON'T BE LEFT IN THE E-DUST
Michael Rodgers and David Starrett, Southeast Missouri State University
He sits at the computer with headphones piping music from an iPOD to his ears. Ten different MSN chat windows blink and chime on the computer screen. An online role-playing game is minimized on the Windows taskbar. A music video blares from a TV in a corner of the room. A calculus book lies nonchalantly open by the cell phone, which itself sits next to the PC. He is doing his homework. He is real. He is a 21st Century Learner.
Diana Oblinger, Vice President for EDUCAUSE, refers to youngsters born in 1982 or after as \"Net-generation\" learners.1 Other terms sometimes used are \"Millennial Student,\" \"Generation-Y,\" and \"Digital-native.\" Regardless of the term, they all refer to students who have grown up in a technology-enabled world, never knowing life without computers, the Internet, CDs, and cell phones. To these students, life without digital technologies seems distant, alien, and quaint. Consider the spot for an 80s flashback show which recently aired on a small-town radio station that caters to a teen audience: over a song sung by Madonna, a voice invites the audience to imagine a world in which cell phones weighed five pounds! Rather than coins, slingshots, marbles, and string, Net-Gen students fill their pockets with debit cards, memory sticks, picture phones, and MP3 players. They communicate via cell phones, text messaging, e-mail, chat and IM. They \"google,\" expecting instant access to infinite amounts of information. They want it all, and they want it now.
The first of these learners are now graduating from college. Many more are making their way through the K-12 system and into college. They have expectations, needs, and wants shaped by childhood spent in a tech-enabled environment. Such characteristics as multi-tasking, a preference for visual modes of communication, a need for instant gratification, and a strong desire for social connectedness partly define how they learn. The technology enhanced world in which we live has impacted their development as individuals and as learners. Indeed, many believe that the unprecedented interaction with technology has resulted in neural development markedly different from that of all previous generations. Yet, we all learn and interact in the classroom differently because of the pervasive technology surrounding us. For this reason we choose not to refer to these students as Net-generation learners, but rather to use the term 21st Century Learner because it includes digital natives and older learners who are also influenced and impacted by technology in and out of the classroom.
Who Are These People?
Although technologies-especially cell phones, instant messaging (IM), chat, e-mail, text messaging, and others that facilitate connectedness-are fascinating to the 21st Century Learner, these students are not especially interested in how the technologies work, as an engineer would be. Rather, the 21st Century Learners' ideal technologies will meet the need for interactivity and continuous connectedness while fitting well with the students' multi-tasking skills. Such technologies favor multimedia over pure text-based information. Where the current technology falls short, 21st Century Learners have improvised, developing abbreviations in the form of acronyms and emoticons which vary, depending on such things as need for speed in writing (IM or chat) or the need for brevity (text messaging). Consequently, text literacy often suffers, at least from the perspective of us digital immigrants.
The answer to almost any question is sought through a search engine such as Google (so popular that we now use the verb \"to google\" to describe looking up information on the Web). Google and the communication technologies have fostered a culture in which the expectation is that answers and responses are available nearly instantly and for free. The use of search engines like Google have led to confidence that the right answer will always be found, and that typically it will be the first answer found. However, the focus on quick procurement of answers and responses suggests that the 21st Century Learners are perhaps unwilling to pause and reflect on the deeper significance of the findings. While these students know how to get answers quickly, they are not as good at evaluating the accuracy and integrity of their findings. Information literacy has thus become an important concern to many librarians and other educators.
Four Conclusions, Four Experiments
While we are not Net-generation learners, we are 21st Century Learners. Does this mean we are automatically 21st Century Teachers? No. Can we become 21st Century Teachers? Of course. How do we teach to a 21st Century Learner? Oblinger draws four conclusions that can guide us as we explore ways to adapt our teaching to these new students.
* It's Not About Technology: Studies show that 21st Century Learners want a moderate amount of technology integrated into courses. Too little technology in courses risks losing the power that technology has to help students organize course material; too much technology risks losing interaction with the instructor. If you are renewing your course, consider a hybrid approach that makes the syllabus, notes, lectures, and other resources available online, and reserves class time for Q&A, practica, or other highly interactive events. Remember, 21st Century Learners are comfortable in informal learning environments.
* Multiple Media Literacy: We've seen that 21st Century Learners favor visual media over text-based media. When designing course websites, let icons, sketches, movie clips and simulations do the heavy lifting of content presentation; let text support the visuals. Oblinger cites a wonderful example at Nethead Online2: the Kids and Families page consists almost entirely of images, but the Seniors page is almost all text. Who are your students?
* First-Person Learning: The 21st Century Learners are comfortable with experiential and informal learning modes, including those that require a high degree of self-teaching. To tap into these characteristics, try games (especially role-playing games) and simulations. Can students learn history from Rise of Nations?3 If you are looking for a less daunting approach, send students on Webquests or into the community to do research. For example, the current controversy over opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling might be used in an English writing course to explore the Journey as a theme4: how might a geologist or environmentalist get to ANWR? How would the landscape change with the seasons? Instead of directing students to text-based materials on Alaskan geography, send them to the Federal Aviation Administration's online weather cameras5 for real-time views of many areas in rural Alaska-have the students discover for themselves what Alaska is like, and then write about it.
* Importance of Interaction: As we have seen, 21st Century Learners place high value on interactivity. But what can be done in a traditional lecture course to build in some interactivity, especially if the course enrollment is large? Try implementing clicker6 devices! These handheld units allow the instructor to survey student understanding of course concepts in real time; if the responses indicate misconceptions, the instructor can ask students to discuss the survey results amongst themselves, and then resurvey the class. This technology is now surprisingly accessible: textbook publishers such as Prentice Hall now bundle clickers with textbooks for many courses. The instructor's receiver hardware and software is provided free of charge upon adoption of the text. This distribution system thus ingeniously allows implementation of the clickers at virtually no cost to the institution, because the system's costs have been passed to the student as part of the cost of the textbook.
We're Here . . .
Why is the 21st Century Learner important to us? Surely there is a threat here: not only must we understand new content and integrate it into our teaching at a record pace, but we are now called to adapt our teaching to students quite different from those we've seen in the past. Will we be forced to rethink how we deliver education, even to the point of scrapping the course as the basic unit of instruction? Is the course, with its fixed starting and ending dates, its inflexible schedule, and its focus on individual encounters with a pre-selected body of content, really the right way to serve 21st Century Learners who prefer informal learning? Or might it be better not to change how we teach at all? After all, the world our students will enter is still dominated by those who are not of the Net-generation. Perhaps the best answer is to meet in the middle. Could we teach them to reflect while they teach us to multi-task (e.g., we can be more understanding and tolerant of their use of acronyms and emoticons in online discussions but encourage them to use standard English to write a term paper)? This approach echoes the fundamental assertion of those who argue for the benefits of diversity: creativity and success are fostered when people with different perspectives work together.
1 Diana Oblinger, \"Educating the Net Generation,\" Keynote Address delivered at Educause 2004, Denver, CO, Oct. 11, 2004. The address is available at http://mslive.sonicfoundry.com/mslive/viewer/NoPopupRedirector.aspx?peid=2808fd88-7ab3-49e6-bc25-93f2c1b7dc39&shouldResize=False# 2 http://www.netheadonline.com/ 3 http://www.microsoft.com/games/riseofnations/ 4 We thank Greg Salyer, of the English Department at Longwood University, Farmville, VA, for discussions on the theme of the Journey in English writing courses. 5 http://akweathercams.faa.gov/ 6 Taken together, the devices used in a course comprise a \"Personal Response System.\" See, for example, http://www.gtcocalcomp.com/interwriteprs.htm
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