Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The generation gap

This spring I finally saw my first 3D animated films. I wouldn't probably have chosen to go myself, but luckily my family dragged me along, and I agreed with them that, as a teacher, I need to experience this first-hand. It was fascinating, but enough to make me feel dizzy at times. I'm beginning to suspect that my brain is wired so differently from today's young people that the generation gap between me and my students is getting wider by the second. Will it one day soon be too wide for me to reach any of my students any more?

This reminded me of a recent report on a research study at the Centre of Applied Language Studies at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. In the research, fifteen-year-old students and teachers of Finnish or foreign languages were interviewed about their media consumption at school and in their freetime. What media do they use, with whom and for what purposes and what types of texts do they read? One of the interesting questions was how well school had managed to respond to young students' changing media preferences. The report, called 'Maailma muuttuu - mitä koulu tekee?' (freely in English: 'The world changes - how about school?'), was published last December.

The gist of the findings was quite predictable: students use many different media (mostly the internet), but read mainly short, visual and story-based texts, whereas teachers focus on traditional, more in-depth, printed media. At school students are expected to produce linear essays and read fiction and newspaper articles, although in their freetime they mainly read comic strips, short magazine articles or various texts on the internet. Unsurprisingly, the most important tool for teachers at school was the textbook, and even in their freetime tha majority of teachers preferred printed books (fiction or nonfiction) and the traditional press. Where is the dialogue, where is the process-nature that is inherent in the new online media? This video, embedded in Chris Betcher's blog some time ago, is very apt here.

All this, of course, raises the eternal dilemma of the school system seemingly preparing students for meeting school requirements only with little transfer of skills or knowledge to life outside school. Nothing new, but maybe in the case of the new media more teachers will start taking it seriously now that there is some academic research (printed inside the covers of a book!) to back these views up.

It shouldn't all be black and white, though. I, for one, enjoy good novels - in a paperback, not on the screen! - and my morning paper, too. At the same time, though, I am keen on different online environments and conventions to keep learning. Similarly, I know young students who are avid fiction readers. In the end, many types of media and texts have their place and serve different purposes - exclusiveness is the problem.

Photo: Generation Gap by Joi on Flickr

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