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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Do Today's Students Think Differently?

Ian Jukes at the Committed Sardine Blog has posted an entry entitled "Cyberspace Shapes Children's Attitudes, Social Interactions". This is a common topic that Jukes references, the idea that technology has shaped the next generation (see his entry on "Scientists Track Footprints of Thoughts" at http://homepage.mac.com/iajukes/blogwavestudio/LH20041127121839/LHA20041222212218/index.html). The basic premise is that because this generation of students spends some much time in front of flickering screens of some sort (gamesboys, PS2, televisions, computers, cell phones, PDAs, etc.) that their brains are actually wire differently than the generations that have come before them.

This is somewhat related to my previous entry on "Students with neomillennial learning styles and virtual high schools" (see http://mkbnl.blogspot.com/2005/03/students-with-neomillennial-learning.html) and the work of Chris Dede, the idea that the technologies of today influence how we interact with each other.

The Human Genome Project, which Jukes references is based upon new technologies that allow researchers to take scans of the brain and see how the electronic impulses change over time (a new concept in itself, as it was long thought that the way that our brains were wired was fixed).

In my previous post about how this next generation is different from my own (i.e., the one on neomillennial learning styles), I asked the question "In the virtual high school environment, how are we using emerging technologies to deliver instruction matched to the increasingly “neomillennial” learning styles of our students?"

Based upon these new ideas presented by Jukes, I would ask the question a slightly different way... Have we designed our virtual high school environments in such as way that it caters to these children who are wired differently than we are? Or have we simply created environments that we would do well in?

A first year doctoral student in my program here at Georgia asks the question in a different way altogether. We always compare what we do in an online or virtual environment to what we are able to do in the classroom. The classroom is our norm or standard that we compare everything else to. This student in my program asks, what would this virtual environment look like if it was the norm? How do we design online education in a way that works for this generation? How do we teach in a virtual environment that is effective for students that are wired differently than us?

Let's face it, classroom environments haven't proven to be that effective in promoting effective student learning, particulary in this day and age. So, what if virtual learning was the norm? How can we ensure that the virtual environment is effective in promoting effective student learning?

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Anonymous Derek Wenmoth said...

Interesting thoughts, Michael - the whole issue of comparing alternative means of educational provision (I try to avoid the word delivery) with traditional classrooms is one that has yet to be explored as fully as it might.
In over 15 years of working with teachers to bring them into a virtual schooling world it never ceases to amaze me that this is inevitably the starting point in their thinking (and their students, parents, administrators etc) - what we do in the virtual world must be based on what we do in the classroom.
There's a caveat to this thinking of course - it is not always appropriate to lump all classroom-based instruction into a single category either.
When I hear this phrase I tend to think of the traditional, transmission-mode classroom, where students are vessels to be filled rather than "fires to be lit".
Even all this talk about making better use of the modern technologies etc will falter if the paradigm we come from is an essentially instructivist one. What is required is a combination of working with the new technologies AND a change in the dynamics between teacher and learners - emphasising a greater degree of learner autonomy and control over the pace, content and construction of the curriculum.

2:50 AM  
Blogger MKB said...


Very interesting ideas... I like the line "fires to be lit," and had not heard of that one before.

I agree that we can't lump at classroom instruction into one category, as I know some teacher that can really blow the room off of a building with the way they can reach their students. But having said that, there is a real crisis in education (at least there is in North America) in my mind. I always use this analogy... If you walked into a hospital one hundred years ago and compared what you saw to what you would see in a modern hospital, there would be dramatic differences. If you walked into a manufacturing plant one hundred years ago and compared it to what you would see today, the differences would be drastic. If you walked into a classroom one hundred years ago and compared it to what you would see in most classrooms today, would there be much of a difference?

Assuming I'm correct in how little classroom teaching has changed over the past century (and really since formal schooling began), it begs the question of is how we teach so good that it should have remained largely unchanged over the past century? If not (and I believe this to be the case), how come the it hasn't changed?

I would also argue that if it is not so good that it should have remaining unchanged one this past century, why do we compare everything that we do that is somewhat innovative to this out-dated and, largely, ineffective system?

9:53 AM  
Anonymous derek Wenmoth said...

your analogies with the health and manufacturing sectors are quite right - and point to something of real significance in terms of the question you ask at the end of your post.
Like education, both health and manufacturing are still pursuing the same goals as they always have - but there is something that has caused them to change their approach. In each case there is a demonstrable need for improvement - in terms of outcome, quality of product, efficiency, cost effectiveness etc. Both health and manufacturing have been (relatively) quick to adopt new ways of doing things and new technologies where these lead to improvements as outlined above. Those who haven't are no longer around!
For education, alas, the measures aren't so clearly defined - and besides, everyone is an expert with education! Unlike health and manufacturing, everyone has had first hand experience with schools and schooling, and the patterns of behaviour associated with this deeply influence the way we think and act - listen to any politician on the subject of education, you can be sure that before they get too far into their speech they're relating stories of their own experience at school (or that of their children) to make their point.
My point really is, before we can begin to make the changes we believe are important in education, it's going to be important to raise to the top of the debate the question "what is the end of education?". I take this question from Neil Postman's book "The End of Education" in which he explores many of these issues. I'd recommend the read.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Ms. Berger said...

Dear Bloggers,
I am very interested in what you are saying, because I agree there is a paucity of information that is being researched about the learning outcomes of the virtual student. I agree that we should be open to alternative learning options. In order to authenticate this learning experience, especially for high school student, it is crucial to compare the learning in a virtual setting to a traditional setting.

The virtual system needs to be supported as well as the traditional system from a financial, pedagogical, and philosophical view point. Students should be given an opportunity to use their learning style in the most fitting environment to help them achieve success.
I agree to the thought posed; why have an alternative choice if all it is a rewrapped old teaching approach. The present population of students is re-wired, because their world offers different stimuli that demands different responses to their environment. That is why teaching must use instructional methods for the virtual learning that focuses on learning constructs that are learner centric.

Teaching in the virtual environment demands innovative strategies. This is why educators require new pedagogical instruction on being successful in the new virtual learning environment to support students' learning needs.
My doctoral dissertation deals with this very topic about the virtual student's learning outcomes in comparison with their traditional peers. I am preparing my proposal at this very moment.
Thank you for your thoughts,

Mary J Berger

10:04 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

Thanks for the comment, although I'm not sure how you came across this entry from almost three years ago now, but glad you found my blog and I hope that you contribute to some of the more recent entries...


10:11 PM  

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