Friday, 13 June 2008

Teachers and students today - worlds apart in their use of technology?

While designing online projects I have been thinking about the seemingly huge generation gap between what Marc Prensky, the American advocate for game-based learning, calls the digital natives – that is, our students - and the digital immigrants - and that would be us, the teachers.

According to Prensky, a lot of the new motivational problems at school stem from the old teaching mentality which simply doesn’t reach the students, whose brains may even have become different in this fast-paced digital world of instant messaging and multi-tasking. Now some of this does resonate with me. I must admit I still largely believe in the old ‘no pain, no gain’ adage about learning, or that you learn certain things more easily in small doses, step-by-step, in, at least ostensibly, a logical order. But when I prepare my classes accordingly, and present them to a group of students to the best of my understanding and ability, it’s often moans and groans and dozing youngsters I am confronted with.So, what if this new generation truly learns very differently – making sense out of chaos in random order, sometimes progressing in giant leaps, which, of course, makes my gradual approach simply too boring to pay any attention to? However, there is already research to question Prensky’s assumptions about the 21st-century youngsters’ differently wired brains.

JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee), a British committee supporting education and research, has published a report revealing that, what they call, the ‘Google generation’, lacks the critical and analytical skills to assess the information they find on the web. So maybe we older-generation teachers still serve a purpose in guiding our students how to navigate the stormy information seas of the new millennium, as long as we overcome our initial fear of using the new technology for educational purposes.

Thinking about all this technology use made me remember the first piece of technology that really changed my life. It was back in the 70s, when I got my first portable cassette recorder that suddenly allowed me to make my own tapes containing my favourite 70s glam-rock tunes in the exact order I wanted. For years, that recorder was the only technological gadget I had in my room. Today, it sounds like ancient history. Funny enough, just this school year, I used a cassette in one of my English groups, and the students were mystified to see it. What is THAT?? What, it has two sides?? How on earth does it work?

It was as alien to them as many of their modern music gear is to me. I can still vividly remember how mobile phones and computers literally revolutionized my communication patterns, whereas most of my students now, of course, take them for granted in their lives, not thinking twice about it. So at least in this sense, I am indeed a digital immigrant – yet, nevertheless, I still remain eager to keep learning new things all through my life.

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