I’m reading the EDUCAUSE publication Educating the Net Generation in my spare time. You all should read it. Maybe download it to your PDA and you’ll be able to get at it with any PDF reader …
There’s a lot of DUH stuff in the piece. And the fact that this is, apparently news or newsworthy is the Double DUH. I’m being harsh again, I suppose, but “IM” has been a verb for me for a long, long time … at LEAST four years and I was slow adopting it. And when I communicate using the computer, I ‘talk’ to people — yes, I know I’m really typing, but it’s talk to me. According to the EDUCAUSE people, this is diagnostic of the Net Gen. This merging of communications modes into a continuum with only marginal differentiation (Duh) is apparently something new.
The REAL shocker was a paragraph on a study (which I can’t seem to decode the citation for) that indicates that Net Genners don’t like online education that much, prefering in-person modes. Hm. That’s a news flash — not.
The question is “Why?”
My contention is that nobody likes being talked down to. The same people who think instant messaging is disruptive and who don’t like answering email on weekends are the ones who are designing and driving these online classes. The same people who are mixing cheesy clipart with unfortunate font choices on crowded slides are building the materials in use in these classes. The same faculty who are having problems sorting the good email from the bad — and who have difficulty in dealing with an extra 50 or so important messages a week — are the same faculty who are teaching courses to students who are plugged in 24/7, who can cope with hundreds of emails a day, who sort through multiple channels of communication so fast that it appears that they multi-task, and who can interpret moving 2d and 3d graphical data in real time without losing track of the battle in progress in Everquest.
By any logical extension of that EDUCAUSE piece, today’s faculty are disabled, and the students are smart enough to minimize the effect of that disability by meeting them in the classroom. Besides, there’s that cute boy/girl at the next desk … they might be able to get a screenname, IM a little, and maybe parlay it into a little extra curricular activity. So the incentive for students is to avoid the deadspots, head to the classrooms, and for a course on Mammalian Interaction in Preparation for the Horizontal Mambo.
Which brings us back to “Why?”
But this time, it’s “Why are online courses the deadspots?” The simple answer is that it’s a result of the disabled faculty members, but that’s too simplistic. The more complex answer is that the Net Genners demand more than the systems are able to provide. To a Net Genner, the online classroom is a slum. There’s no way to talk to anybody who’s in the class with you now — unless you happen to have them loaded in your buddy list already. Of course, if that’s the case, then you don’t need to log into the course. The presentation is usually text or text and pictures. Occasionally there’ll be some audio of some prof droning about what s/he’s already got on the slides that take forEVER to change. Once in a great while you’ll find a video of somebody talking into a camera. The big thrill is getting everybody into a chat room so one person at a time can talk (yes, I mean type). Voice is cool, but only one person at a time can talk then, and in a class of 15 or 20, that usually means the teacher and we have to spend half the class waiting for people to get done playing with the computers so we can actually start communicating. And why are we juggling schedules so I can listen to YOU talk anyway. Luckily I have my buds on IM in the other windows so I can just check in occassionally to see what’s happening with the class.
The problem is that the Learner Management Systems — I refuse to call them LEARNING Management Systems — enforce the notion that people participate in online education alone. A hundred people could be logged in at any given moment and every one of them is “alone” because that’s the way the systems are organized. We have, according to this piece, students who are technically savvy, leaning toward the kinds of collaborative, engaging, interesting educational experiences that we say we want to provide and they’d rather go to a classroom than work in an online class.
The tools exist to keep the students engaged and online, yet we don’t use them. “There’s no research to support the adoption of technology-du-jour.”
And again we come back to “Why?”
Hm. The 18-36 month publication cycle gives us research supported practice that was derived between 2002 and 2003. And that was founded on the research that guided development in the late 1990s — or perhaps, if we’re really cutting edge stuff here — 2000-2001.
- Blackboard was founded in 1997.
- Google came out of Beta in 1999.
- Wikipedia was established in 2001.
- Podcasting was started 2004.
The EDUCAUSE piece is a good read. You’ll feel good if you understand the student’s frustration. And you need to feel bad if you think this is new. Maybe a good dose of guilt will get you moving, because we have to become more flexible. We have to be more responsive. We have to get out of the “I need to justify the use of this tool before I’m going to take a chance on it.” And we need to do this fast because “as good as the classroom” hasn’t been good enough for a long time and we still haven’t come to grips with that.