Digital natives and Why Professor Johnny Can't Read

Somewhere in my Twitter stream, this article came up. Mabrito, M., and R. Medley, 2008, Why Professor Johnny Can't Read: Understanding the Net Generation's Texts, Innovate 4 (6).  It plays on the 1955 classic Why Johnny Can't Read and essentially suggests that educators need to open their minds to the world of the digital natives.

Conclusion
We must continue to find ways to give N-Gen students more control over their learning environments by allowing them to build social networks within and across learning experiences, helping them to cultivate the research and writing skills that they have developed online, and packaging course content in ways that match their learning styles and optimize their strengths. Such change must be built upon a solid understanding and acceptance of the students we are attempting to teach. One of the stumbling blocks to developing a pedagogy for the Net Generation is that not all faculty members are connected to this group of learners in significant ways. What we see here is not a generation gap but an information processing gap. It is not merely a question of learning facts about the Net-Generation culture or how to operate the latest technology; faculty members need to focus more on attempting to experience the digital world in the same way that their students do. It is not enough for instructors to accept that learning may occur in these places; they must go there as well as scholars with information to share, as researchers attempting to gain insight, and, more importantly, as learners acquiring a new kind of understanding.

The article itself is in a fairly standard academic style, but the ideas are pretty interesting.  Digital natives work in different media than the traditional, linear, all-text mode.  One of the big struggles, I think, for people trying to follow the digital native is that there are so many different contexts online.  At a high level, it becomes a mishmash of networks and interests, and it is only at a fairly granular level that the various aspects of life become clear and the narrative makes sense.

In an academic setting, what does this mean?  Even moreso for the audience of Innovate: The Journal of Online Education.  How do you define scholarship and allow for new means of communication?  I think there is a connection here to Michael Wesch's digital ethnography work - I watched his hour-long talk at the Library of Congress recently.  Maybe this is because I've only paid peripheral attention to the topic.

One of the comments (imagine that, comments on academic articles!) suggested that the problem was neither a generation nor an information gap - it's a gap in the way we expect students to perform.  Digital natives work together, and our education system is geared toward individual achievement.  Of course, most business is geared toward individual achievement, no matter how much we throw up examples of teams and collaboration.

3 Comment(s)

Luke said:

Thanks for that Jack. While I agree with your comment that digital natives work together, and our education system is geared toward individual achievement, I disagree that most business is geared toward individual achievement. Much of the work that I have done over the past few years has been based on team collaborative effort. Unfortunately, performance management systems tend to be based around the individual and their contribution to team performance. What really matters though is the team performance.

Jack Vinson Author Profile Page said:

Luke,

For what it's worth, it was a commenter on the article, but I appreciate their thinking. I agree with you regarding how the organization is structured. It's impossible to get things done without others. However, your point about performance measurement is where there are parallels with education. At the end of the day, people are measured in isolation. (Even this isn't fully true: bonuses are partially based on the success of the business.)

Fred said:

Digital "natives" work better together because they've been encouraged (some say "forced") to engage in cooperative learning activities from the day they set foot in school. Why wouldn't they, therefore, work better together. What does that have to do with their being raised in the digital age?

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