The Net Generation and the Myth of Research

Jim Shimabukuro, educational technology & change, Mar 11, 2011
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Jim Shimabukuro is "wondering why Mark Bullen is spending so much energy trying to prove that they're not different and claiming otherwise is 'dangerous.'" I confess to a similar puzzlement myself. As with any generalization, the 'net gen' phenomenon is overstated and over the top. But it's not like there's no data; I've seen all kinds of stats like this showing generational differences in everything from mobile phone use to newspaper reading to trust in authority. So what's the issue? Shimabukuro summarizes it as follows: "The argument goes something like this: If the 'Net Generation' is truly different, then colleges would have to change instructional practices to accommodate the new learning style. It's this need to change that represents a danger for Bullen... if Bullen and others like him can prove that the "Net Generation" is a sham, a fake, a myth, then all's right with the world and college professors, administrators, and staff can continue as they have for the last century and a half without fear."

But what about the research. Ah, this is where Shimabukuro's article shines, as it is a systemic shredding not only of Bullen's research but also other research making the same argument. "A closer look at what he refers to as 'research reveals what amounts to reviews of literature masquerading as research and studies with limited generalizability and often conflicting or confounding findings." Yes there is overstatement and the gurus of 'net gen learning' should be viewed critically. But the sceptics shouldn't be given a free ride. There are observable behavioural changes, and to simply pretend they don't exist because some badly designed studies don't reveal them is to deny reality. "The difference isn't so much in their ability to do or not do the things that I consider ICT savvy. It's in their expectations and view of the world.
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