Larry Rosen, author of Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn is with us today. His book is about how technology is changing the way youth learn and how parents can respond to this trend. Larry is also a professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He provided his insight on some of the issues facing technology and education.
1. What inspired you to write Rewired?
After I wrote my previous book, “Me, MySpace, and I: Parenting the Net Generation”, which was directed at parents to help them understand their teen and young adult children, we started to study younger kids, particularly focusing on teens, preteens (or tweens), and children and how media and technology might impact their health. Along the way to learning that amount of media usage predicted ill health in children and teens, we discovered that there were some pronounced differences on media use and multitasking among these children and moved on to investigate the generations more carefully. We discovered that not only are teens, tweens and children different in their use of media and multitasking, they have different personal, family and core values and different approaches to the world around them. We started looking at how schools were educating these tech-savvy, always connected kids and found that for the most part educators were lagging behind in matching their curricula to this new generation….
We found that the mismatch went right up to the top where the decision makers were having trouble finding money to pay for technology that they felt was necessary in the classroom including whiteboards and more classroom computers. Looking at the research coming out of various school districts we realized that there were solutions that did not require money, but rather catered to the skills of these students who now approached the WWW as “whatever, whenever, wherever” meaning that they value portability and the ability to do their schoolwork in this new WWW. This spawned more research and led to writing “Rewired.”
2. Why is the current generation of students different from previous generation?
First of all, there is much controversy concerning generations and their demarcation. Everyone agrees that Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and Generation Xers were born between 1965 and somewhere at the end of the 1970s or beginning of the 1980s. After that it gets hazy. People call the next generation anything from Generation Y, Generation M (for media or multitasking), Millennials, the Next Generation and many more titles that do not reflect research results about the uniqueness of young adults born in the 1980s, teens born in the 1990s and children born in the new millennium. Our research consistently shows that we are experiencing “mini generations” which are much shorter than earlier ones (Boomers and Gen Xers) based on their use of technology and media. Young adults born in the 1980s are the first group to experience the Internet at a young age (or even from birth). The Internet became their focus which led us to calling them the Net Generation. [As an aside, I am opposed to calling any generation by a letter or a time period since that does not capture their uniqueness in their use of technology and their values.] When we looked at teenagers we realized that they were less involved with the Internet as the focus of their media world, but instead were using portable technologies (hence the WWW designation as “whatever, whenever, wherever”) and also more insistent that technology be adaptable to their personal needs and desires. iPods, iPhones, Wii, and a variety of portable technologies filled the bill for those needs and teens multitasked to the nth degree using them. Further, they did not see these technologies as tools, but rather as normal parts of their lives as opposed to Net Geners who saw their technologies as tools toward performing a task. Finally, teens used these technologies differently, particularly when we looked at their predilection for electronic communication. MySpace and Facebook became a major part of their ability to talk to their friends (who were defined totally differently than earlier generations). Tracking their use of cell phones, researchers at the Nielsen group (the people who have tracked television preferences for decades) found that over a mere two years teens went from using their phone equally for calling and texting to a device for texting with teens sending and receiving more than 3,000 texts a month compared with making and receiving only 200 phone calls a month. To them a phone is no longer a phone. It is a wireless mobile device for communicating every which way but by mouth. Facebook postings from mobile phones or Twitter became a way to ‘talk’ on the fly. iPhone and Blackberry apps afforded ways to make their “phones” do more than ever before. They literally became a generation who used these “i” devices for individualization and personal use. So the “i” stands for both the technologies and their individualized life values. As for the next group to come along, those children born in the 2000s, we are awaiting research to further define their values and technological preferences. It is clear that they are way more immersed in technology at a younger age than even their older brothers and sisters starting using them as soon as they could sit up. The Internet is transparent to them as are all other devices. They portend a totally new generation (or mini generation) that we will define shortly as they grow into their media and technologies in their tween and teen years.
3. How can technology be used to help students learn better?
There are so many technologies that are now being used to allow students to do their learning individually and not necessarily during normal class hours. They already use these technologies and media 24/7 with many sleeping with their cell phones next to them so as not to miss important texts from friends. The Internet has so many “lessons” and material that are free and available 24/7. Smart phones have apps to teach most any topic with schools using them in the classroom with 2nd and 3rd graders to learn math and English. Video games are now available as teaching tools. Video sites such as YouTube, provide material on nearly any topic imaginable in a format (visual) that matches their preferred input modality. Literally, the world of cyberspace has exploded, offering so many free media and technologies that are ripe for use by this multitasking generation. A good example is how educators teach their students about the Sistine Chapel. For the most part the teacher presents slides (perhaps “technologically” through PowerPoint although students call it “death by PowerPoint”) of the various paintings and other works of art in the building and then discussing them in a flat, two-dimensional format. Vassar College has developed an exact replica model of the Sistine Chapel on Second Life where anyone can create an avatar and traverse a pseudo 3D world. Students can fly to Vassar College and literally view an exact replica of the Sistine Chapel with all parts in high definition pictures. Avatars/students can fly around the chapel and view artwork from various angles, which you can’t do in person, although you can do in a flat, 2D PowerPoint presentation. After the students visit the chapel (on their own time – wherever and whenever) the teacher can then spend class time that was not used to present the slides for helping students analyze and interpret what they viewed and even send them back to note things that they missed. It is a win-win and free! This is just one example of technology that is out there for free. Second Life is replete with chemistry labs where you can simulate experiments (and not blow up the school lab), theaters where students can view and participate in Shakespearean plays, libraries, lectures by famous people, and on and on. And this is just one of many sites that provide this kind of educational material which can be viewed either on a desktop, laptop, iTouch, iPhone, iPad, or any device with a screen and Internet access.
4. What is the biggest obstacle in integrating technology to the classroom?
I see several obstacles including teacher training and student media literacy training. First, teachers are typically Baby Boomers or Gen Xers and did not grow up with technology and often are not as familiar with the technology as their students and may even have TechnoStress about using new technology. Also, there is very little built into the budget for teacher training so they feel compelled to learn it on their own time. There are some fairly easy ways to accommodate the teachers and hasten their learning. One strategy that I talk about in the book is to find a “knowledge broker” who serves as a consultant to the teacher. This can be the school computer coordinator or, even better, a student in upper grades or at a local college who knows technology and can talk to the teacher in English rather than computerese. The teacher can then tell her knowledge broker to, for example, find an online lesson on Hamlet – or several to fit different student learning styles – and then teach the teacher how to use the lessons and websites or even instruct the students in class as an apprentice teacher.
The second issue concerns media literacy or helping students understand about how to assess the value and “truth” in a variety of media sources. Typically, from our research, iGeners and Net Geners use only the first few links in a Google search and the first link is most often Wikipedia which, as we need to teach students, may not be accurate. Students also need to understand the issue of who is writing and whether that material has been “vetted” or verified. This is particularly important given the prevalence of blogs which contain material that may be presented as “fact” while in fact may not be verified or professionally edited. Students need to learn about how to ascertain the truth of all media including printed, visual and oral materials and learn what to accept as valuable and what to discard.
5. Do you think it is possible to one day have all-online classroom in the future?
Although I am a strong advocate of using media and technology both in the classroom and as an adjunct to the classroom material, I don’t feel that we are ready for classes taught solely online. There are many college courses taught this way and research does show the value of them even compared to in-person classes and hybrid classes with some online work and some in-class work. However, the major components that are missing are socialization and communication. Online classes do try to compensate for this with online discussions and when we move into a world where an online course is taught through multiple video cams and each student is visible on the screen through their own camera we will be one step closer to the traditional classroom. However, it is important, particularly at elementary and secondary education level, for students to have face-to-face interactions in order to develop and hone their communication skills. It is true that you can communicate information and even feelings through electronic media, and using a video camera augments the cues that you get during communication; however there are many communication skills, often more of the pragmatics of communication, that you have to learn in a live face-to-face environment. On the postsecondary level, there are already online courses and a tremendous amount of data showing their validity and effectiveness, but at the lower grades they are probably not going to be that effective for skill building in the long run.