Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Does Generation Matter?

Kids these days.... The Generation Gap.....Gen X, Gen Y, Baby Boomers and Millenials. Are we defined by our generation? Yes & No. An article in Radar magazine has me thinking about the disconnect between generations, and how that influences the teaching of those that come after us.

We make broad generalizations about those from different generations. Baby Boomers spoil their kids, Gen Xers are anti-authoritarian and Gen Yers or Millenials are just plain lazy (they are of course the children of Baby Boomers. We know these are not true fo everyone, yet we still generalize most of our students when it comes to technology. We ASSUME that students know all about computers because they grew up with them. We ASSUME they know more than we do about how they work and how to fix them. We ASSUME that because they play video games, or IM others that they can use a computer. We never step back and think - can they really?

Now I grew up on the tail end of Generation X. Yes I had my Doc Martens and anything by Pearl Jam or Nirvana was my theme song. I dressed in plaid with the best of them and "My So Called Life" was my calling. I also was fortunate enough to have wonderful parents (my mother acquiesced to my plaid by buying matching t-shirts and socks) and my father a self-professed computer nerd had me programming BASIC in 2nd grade on our Apple IIc (which I still own). I grew up with computers and they grew up with me. I watched them evolve from Command line prompts to Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. I saw disks get smaller and smaller and eventually change from square to circular.

Now is this generational? Yes and No. Watching the evolution of a product can be integral to understanding it. But it was INTEREST that kept me connected. Without the influence of my father or the "need" to upgrade my hard drive, I would have lived in happy oblivion. There are many people of my generation that were still using type writers for papers in college.

In the smae household as myself is my "little brother" (I call him little because although he is 8 years my junior he is half a foot taller), grew up in the Gen Y/Millenial Generation. Being born in 1984, the year my family bought our first computer he was completely immersed in computer culture. By the time I went to college and he was in middle school - point and click was all he knew. Yet, I get calls a 11pm at night from him grief stricken because his computer has completely gone blank and the blue screen of death has appeared in the middle of his term paper. He is a very very smart individual, but he has no desire to understand why or how his computer works - he just wants it to work. Is that generational? Is he lazy?

I think the answer comes down to interest. There are 70-year-olds that can program the pants off an 18 year-old hacker. Most of the IT teachers I know just picked computers up. I think we need to get away from the concept of digital immigrants and digital natives and more to the idea that there are those that are intrigued and comfortable with technology and others that don't care how it happens - they just want it to work.


The Tablet PC In Education Blog said...

I agree with your point that generational labels do not indicate interest or capacity to work with computers. Yet, it seems an unnecessary expense to me for schools to require computer classes for all students. Like your brother, I call one of my children for help. Yet, individual responsibility seems to require personal initiative to learn or prepare to pay for computer support. I exchange the payment by covering something else with my children.

Bethany Smith said...

I worry that we assume that our "younger" students know everything about technology, simply because of their age and therefore do not provide the computer classes that they need. Maybe a class with a "testing out" option would make a happy medium.

The Tablet PC In Education Blog said...

I take your point. I'm guessing teachers will keep it going along with drivers ed, etc. My caution, I've seen too much wasted time by too many students enrolled in K20 computer classes to understand its practical value once a student learns any style of keyboarding. Bob

Bethany Smith said...

I agree that our current computer curriculum in antiquated. In NC the 8th grade computer test is driving the use of MS Access.

That saddens me.

The Tablet PC In Education Blog said...

Thanks for clarifying. I agree, people of all ages just want their computer to work however they think it should work! That's a challenge for hardware and software designers. A follow up thought: perhaps you will post what you as a teacher want a computer to do for instruction and for student learning? Hopefully, other teachers will add their wants to your list. I'm, as are some IT designers, interested in knowing these wants. Bob