Wired Pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Grown up Digital

It appears as a culture we may have a very short digital memory. This morning I was listening to a story on NPR about “new” app books for children. “There’s a whole new way to read your kids to sleep these days” the story begins. It goes on to describe eBooks that read to your kids, highlight words as they are spoken, include animation, and “interactive features” where kids can touch a picture to hear what it is or see it animate and even hear the book in a different language.

I agree that this is a cool idea. Actually back 1989 when this concept first emerged it was cool too. I guess my surprise at the story was how this concept was being portrayed as novel. These eBooks are really “something entirely different” the story continues.

Sure the touch component and portability that comes with iPads is new. That certainly makes these books more accessible, but the concept of interactive books for children that are designed to help them learn to read and interact with characters and objects on the page isn’t. Back in the day they were called “living books.”

One of my kid’s favorite was “Just Grandma and Me” but there were many to choose from.  These living books (CD-ROMs) were totally engaging and even had little hidden fun thing the kids could look for. Of course she used a mouse and by today’s standards an ancient bulky desktop computer (complete with upgraded graphics card I might add). I have to admit that sometimes I just wanted to play with them myself.

I find it interesting that the iPad is being viewed as an entirely new medium. It is revolutionary in terms of mobility and the gestural interface, but we need to give credit to the really smart instructional designers, graphic artists, and programmers who came before and truly conceived of “something entirely different.” Not to mention the fact these people were working with many more constraints in terms of computing, graphic output, and programming tools.

I think I’ll call my daughter and ask her if she remembers these books. My guess is she will.

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Title: Grown up Digital

Author: Don Tapscott

Pub Date: 2009

grownupdigitalThis is Tapscott’s update to Growing up Digital and it attempts to address how the Internet, social networking, and this new world of hyper-connected world is shaping and reshaping today’s “net generation” (i.e., those between 11-31 years old).

The book addresses 9 different “concerns and criticisms” that Tapscott says are often voiced by parents, journalists, employers, and academics.  Specifically:

  • They’re not as smart as previous generations were at their age (agree with Tapscott, this is not my experience).
  • They’re loosing their social skills (maybe, but isn’t that our job to teach them?).
  • They have no shame (did you when you were that age?).
  • They’re being “coddled” by their parents are unable to make commitments (not sure what that has to do with the Internet).
  • They steal (maybe – it is more anonymous online).
  • They bully their friends online (are there really more bullies or is this just a new approach?).
  • They’re violent (could be, suspect that’s directly related to playing violent games?).
  • They have no work ethic (have heard this from other business owners).
  • They are narcissistic (ahh, their mostly teenagers).
  • They don’t give a damn (not my experience).

He spends much of the book debunking each of these issues and uses many examples from research he and others have conducted to bolster his arguments.

There are 2 main themes that stood out for me:

1. Net Gener’s brains are wired different.

Tapscott claims we are seeing “the first case of a generation that is growing up with brains that are wired differently from those of the previous generation.”

While there’s been debate about whether this is true, I do see a difference in how the Net Geners process information.  They just think about information differently.  I believe that older generations tend to think of things in a more linear, hierarchical way, while today’s youth create more dynamic, multi-nodal maps of information. (If there are studies that look into this, let me know.)

I do agree with Tapscott that Net Geners appear to be able to more easily jump from one topic to another.  I also think they are better able to see interconnections between what we old folks might think of as disparate topics.

2. Education must change to accommodate this new way of thinking.

Tapscott spends a good deal of time bashing the current education system (especially higher ed) for their antiquated approach to teaching.

He spends quite a few pages talking about how teaching should be more interactive, a two-way dialog that takes into account individual’s learning styles. He urges educators to “step off the state and start listening and conversing instead of just lecturing.”

Tapscott suggests that this new interactive style is driven from Net Gener’s experiences with the Internet and how they learn.

I would humbly disagree.  What Tapscott describes is just good teaching techniques. It was good teaching 20 years ago when I taught school and I don’t believe it’s changed dramatically. What has changed is the tools that educators can use to make classrooms more dynamic and interactive, and I would add, maybe an expectation on the part of learners that it would be more fun.

I’ve always ascribed to the philosophy that learning must be fun and entertaining.  I would hope that all educators seek to create a more individualized, interactive approach to teaching such as Tapscott suggests.

A deeper look into the data would be helpful.

For me, some of Tapscott’s conclusions were too broad based.  I wanted to dive deeper into the data and take a more critical view of the conclusions that were drawn. Occasionally Tapscott focused only on the data that supported his conclusions, and overlooked data that might raise more questions.

For example, when discussing whether social media is creating a less social generation, he suggests kids today are more social because they are spending more time interacting with friends than their parents did.  He quotes a teenager as saying he prefers to use instant messaging rather than in person communications because “it allows you to think about your responses, motives, and overall reduces the awkwardness of conversations.”

The conclusion I drew from this statement was that while kids may be communicating with more people than ever before, they may be using social media to avoid more personal forms of communication. I don’t see how the amount of time online directly relates to an individual’s ability to “socialize.”  It could, in fact, impede it depending on what your definition of “being social” is.

Some kids may be using social media to avoid face-to-face interactions.  And if that is the case, the “awkwardness” will never go away resulting in an individual who is never able to practice and improve these skills.

Bottom line: Interesting read taken with a grain of salt.

In general I agreed with Tapscott’s positive assessment of Net Geners.  As with all technology, there are positive and negative effects.  Technology is shaping Net Geners, but Net Geners are also shaping technology, and often in positive ways.

The book is filled with many examples of new and innovative uses for social media/networks, however, I found that many of the points made in earlier chapters are often repeated unnecessarily.

It raised many more questions for me, so I’m thankful for that.  However, a more critical look at the research might have been more revealing and conclusive.


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