For several years now, sociologists and technologists have recognised that young people today have not just grown up around technology – they are immersed in a world of digital.
That doesn’t just mean they can operate an iPhone. The idea carries with it a whole culture of expecting knowledge, or at least information, on demand.
Whereas you or I might have been satisfied growing up with hourly news updates on television and radio, young people today may have never personally experienced a world without constant updates – email, 24-hour news networks and more recently, Twitter and Facebook, have been ever-present in their years of development.
To be honest, you really don’t have to be a sociologist to recognise that a strong handle on consumer technology is ‘built-in’ to today’s youth – but it is the professional observers of social trends who have given the term ‘digital natives’ to this generation of young people born since the early nineties.
This is all well and good, but it can seem that in many ways, schooling is still stuck in a pre-digital age. At the risk of generalising, many teachers have a tendency to teach in the methods that worked for them, not finding new and engaging methods that will really inspire the youth of today.
It’s unfortunate that the children and teenagers with much more access to information growing up than you or I may have been able to imagine, are not always making the best use of it.
So how can so-called ‘digital immigrants’ (that’s the older folk) best get through to the ‘digital natives’?
Rather than forcing children to adapt to the methods of their teachers, teachers would do well to adapt the methods of their students.
This involves greater use of technology in the classroom – not just PCs and promethian interactive whiteboards, but social media and wikis.
Wikis – web platforms with content that can be edited and viewed by anyone – are fantastic resources for contributing to group work or simply sharing knowledge that students and teachers can build on whether they are even in the classroom or not.
So students will be more able to make progress on a group project during the time between classes, adding collaborative and social possibilities to homework.
Many university students make great use of wikis and other online social platforms of their own volition, so introducing the concept early in schools is a great idea.
Of course, as with any classroom equipment, it should be used not just for the sake of it but to truly enrich the learning experience.
The idea that education needs to adapt to the needs of today’s children is not as widespread as it could be, and many are just starting to get around to embracing rather than resisting the seismic social changes that are occurring around young people and the digital world.
We’ll be covering more methods of helping today’s students prepare for the new world rather than the old in future blog posts.