The Myth of Digital Natives

baby with computer

When I was fairly new to working in higher education, there was a lot of buzz about the students we were getting being "digital natives."  This was around 2001 and educator Marc Prensky had coined the term in an essay.

The claim was that these digital natives had a kind of innate facility with technology because they were born into it. This was also extended to them having increased abilities to do things like multitask.

Prensky took it further by saying that educators needed to change their ways to deal with this tech-savvy generation.

But new research (see below) indicates that this digital native theory is false. 

A digital native who is information-skilled simply just because they never knew a world that was not digital doesn't exist. This is also true in that any special abilities of students in this generation to multitask is also untrue. In fact, designing learning with this assumption hurts rather than helps learning.

We were naive to think that someone could pick up digital skills intuitively. But this may also be a dangerous fallacy that risks leaving young people lacking certain skills that were assumed to be known or so were not taught or emphasized.

I was never a proponent of this digital natives  - and digital immigrants - because I viewed "tech-savvy" as a very superficial kind of knowledge. I found most students in this group to be users of technology, but using a computer or cellphone doesn't impart understanding.

In 2007, I wrote about earlier research that was pointing towards this idea being false. Now, it seem definitive that all of this generational separation is a fallacy. It turns out that none of us is good at multitasking. We do it out of necessity, but something always suffers. Some studies have shown that a driver using a cellphone is the equivalent of a drunk driver.

Millennials - the group often labeled as being natives - don’t necessarily use technology more often and are no better at using basic computer programs than older generations.  Researchers also found that besides educators Millennials also have bought into the myth. Twice as many of them self-identify themselves as digitally proficient as actually would be assessed at that level.

The only aspect of all this that makes sense is that those people born into a technology are less likely to hesitate to use it or fear it. Clearly, a toddler today who is playing with a smartphone at age two and using apps will have no problems using it in other more serious ways in kindergarten. If these young people are better at using a totally new technology than a 70 year old person, I will consider that more about an aging brain than a birth year.

Read More

blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2017/07/27/

ecdl.org/policy-publications/digital-native-fallacy

sciencedirect.com/science/

 

When Accepted Students Don't Show Up at College

I had a discussion with some colleagues after listening to an episode of NPR's Hidden Brain podcast about research that shows that between 10% and 40% of the kids who intend to go to college at the time of high school graduation don't actually show up in the fall.

I'm doing some consulting for a community college this summer and I asked if this seemed accurate for that school. It turned out that the previous week staff at the college had been asked to "cold call" students who registered for fall courses but were dropped for non-payment and never re-registered. The college's enrollment is down 10% and it is a big concern.

meltingThis phenomenon is sometimes called "summer melt."

It is puzzling why kids who made it through the admissions process and were accepted to a college of their choice, applied for and received financial aid, never showed up for classes.

At my urban community college, financial aid was the most common reason. They registered, but aid did not come through in time to pay the bill. The odd part - the "melt" - was that when their aid did come through, they didn't re-register.

Why? Some had lost interest or felt discouraged by the process. Some reevaluated going to college. Some were just lazy. A few staffers were able to walk students over the phone through re-enrolling, so part of the problem might be information and support from the college.

In the podcast, Lindsay Page, an education researcher now at the University of Pittsburgh who did research while at Harvard, said "The rate with which kids who are college-intending do not actually get to college in the fall is surprisingly high. In one sample that we looked at in the Boston area, we find that upwards of 20% of kids who at the time of high school graduation say that they're continuing on to college don't actually show up in the fall."

This nationwide loss of seemingly college-intending students is particularly evident for those from low-income backgrounds.

But research has also identified relatively low cost interventions that can have a significant impact on alleviating the summer melt phenomenon and increasing college enrollment rates.

Page's research at Harvard was published in the "SDP Summer Melt Handbook: A Guide to Investigating and Responding to Summer Melt." In the report, they use “summer melt” to refer to a "different, but related phenomenon: when seemingly college-intending students fail to enroll at all in the fall after high school graduation. 'College-intending' students are those who have completed key college-going steps, such as applying and being accepted to college and applying for financial aid if their families qualify. In other cases, they have concretely signaled their intention to enroll in college on a high school senior exit survey. We consider a student to have “melted” if, despite being college-intending, she or he fails to attend college the following fall."

Some of their interventions go back to students' high school day and records, such as senior exit surveys, and survey high school counselors. They also provide examples of summer task lists, both personalized for specific institutions and generic, and sample documents for proactive personal outreach, such as an initial outreach checklist, assessment meeting checklist, intake form, and counselor interaction logs. 

Download the report and other resources at sdp.cepr.harvard.edu/summer-melt-handbook 

LISTEN to the Hidden Brain podcast on this topic  npr.org/2017/07/17/537740926/why-arent-students-showing-up-for-college

Learning and Working in the Age of Distraction

screensThere is a lot of talk about distraction these days. The news is full of stories about the Trump administration and the President himself creating distractions to keep the public unfocused on issues they wish would go away (such as the Russias connections) and some people believe the President is too easily distracted by TV news and Twitter.

There are also news stories about the "distraction economy."  So many people are vying for your attention. The average person today is exposed to 1,700 marketing messages during a 24-hour period. Most of these distractions are on screens - TV, computers and phones.  Attention is the new currency of the digital economy.

Ironically, a few years ago I was reading about "second screens," behavioral targeting and social media marketing and that was being called the "attention economy." There is a battle for attention, and the enemy is distraction.

Google estimates that we spend 4.4 hours of our daily leisure time in front of screens. We are still using computers mostly for work/productivity and search. We use smartphones for connectivity and social interactions. Tablets are used more for entertainment. My wife and I are both guilty of "multi-screening." That means we are part of the 77% of consumers watching TV while on other devices. I am on my laptop writing and researching and she is on her tablet playing games and checking mail and messages. It is annoying. We know that.

Of course, the original land of distraction is the classroom. Students have always been distracted. Before the shiny object was a screen full of apps, passing notes was texting, and doodling in your notebook and the cute classmates sitting nearby were the social media. But I have seen four articles on The Chronicle website about "The Distracted Classroom" lately. Is distraction on the rise?

If you are a teacher or student, does your school or your own classroom have a policy on using laptops and phones? If yes, is it enforced?  Anyone who has been in a classroom lately of grade 6 or higher knows that if students have phones or laptops out in class for any reason they are texting, surfing the web, or posting on social media.

Good teachers try to make classes as interactive as possible. We engage students in discussions, group work and active learning, but distractions are there.

Banning devices isn't a good solution. Things forbidden gain extra appeal.

distractionsA few books I have read discuss the ways in which distraction can interfere with learning. In The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World , the authors say that distraction occurs when we are pursuing a goal that really matters and something blocks our efforts to achieve it. Written by a neuroscientist, Adam Gazzaley, and a psychologist, Larry D. Rosen, they join other researchers who report that our brains aren't built for multitasking. This compares to a time a few decades ago when being able to multitask was consider a positive skill.

It seems that the current belief is that we don't really multitask. We switch rapidly between tasks. Any distractions and interruptions, including the technology-related ones - act as "interference" to our goal-setting abilities. 

But is this a new problem or has our brain always worked this way? Is the problem really more about the number of possible distractions and not our "rewired" brains?

Nicholas Carr sounded an alarm in 2011 with The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains, arguing that our growing exposure to online media means our brains need to make cognitive changes. The deeper intellectual processing of focused and critical thinking, gets pushed aside in favor of the faster processes like skimming and scanning.

Carr contends that the changes to the brain's "wiring" is real. Neural activity shifts from the hippocampus' deep thinking, to the prefrontal cortex where we are engaged in rapid, subconscious transactions. Substitute speed for accuracy. Prioritize impulsive decision-making over deliberate judgment. 

In the book Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom  the author asks questions such as Why Do Students Remember Everything That's on Television and Forget Everything I Say? and Why Is It So Hard for Students to Understand Abstract Ideas? and gives some science and suggestions as answers. But these are difficult questions and simple answers are incomplete answers in many cases.

Some teachers decide to use the tech that is being a distraction to gain attention. I had tried using a free polling service (Poll Everywhere) which allows students to respond/vote using their laptops or phones. You insert questions into your presentation software, and that allows you to track, analyze, and discuss the responses in real time. The problem for me is that all that needs to be pre-planned and is awkward to do on-the-fly, and I am very spontaneous in class with my questioning. Still, the idea of using the tech in class rather than banning it is something I generally accept. But that can't be done 100% of the time, so distracted use of the tech is still going to occur.

bubbleAnd the final book on my distraction shelf is The Filter Bubble. The book looks at how personalization - being in our own bubble - hurts the Internet as an open platform for the spread of ideas. The filter bubble puts us in an isolated, echoing world. The author, Eli Pariser, subtitles the book "How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think." Pariser coined the term “filter bubble.” The term is another one that has come up o the news in talking about the rise of Donald Trump and the news bubble that we tend to live in, paying attention to a personalized feed of the news we agree with and filtering out the rest.

Perhaps creating a filter bubble is our way of coping with the attention economy and a way to try to curate what information we have to deal with every day.

Then again, there were a number of things I could have done the past hour instead of writing this piece. I could have done work that I actually get paid to do. I could have done some work around my house. But I wrote this. Why? 

Information overload and non-stop media is hurting my/our discipline for focus and self-control.

Michael Goldhaber defined the attention economy in this more economic way: "a system that revolves primarily around paying, receiving and seeking what is most intrinsically limited and not replaceable by anything else, namely the attention of other human beings.” In order for that economy to be profitable, we must be distracted. Our attention needs to be drawn away from the competition.

As a secondary school teacher for several decades, I saw the rise of ADHD. That was occurring before the Internet and lack of attention, impulsivity and boredom were all symptoms. It worsened after the Internet was widespread, but it was there before it and all the personal digital devices.

Back in 1971,  Herbert A. Simon observed that “what information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

We are collectively wiser than ever before. We have the wisdom of the world in a handheld computer connected to almost everything. But it is so difficult to filter out the distractions and garbage that we don't have a lot of success translating information into knowledge. People used to say that finding out something on the Internet was like taking a sip from a fire hose. Search filtering has helped that, but so far the only filters for our individual brains are self-created and often inadequate.

 

What Is a Modern Learning Experience?

social on mobile

Jane Hart, who I have been following online for many years, is the Director of the Centre for Modern Workplace Learning, which she set up to help organizations and learning professionals modernize their approaches to workplace learning. Reading her online Modern Workplace Learning Magazine has alerted me to trends outside academia and outside the United States.  

She recently posted an article titled "Designing, delivering and managing modern learning experiences" and that made me consider how I would define "modern learning." It would include school experiences for some of us, but for most people today it is more likely an experience that occurs in the workplace and on our own. That itself seems like a big shift from the past. Or is it?

If in 1917, someone had wanted to become a journalist, he could go to college, but he could also get a job without a degree - if he could show he was a good writer. He could do some freelance writing with or without pay to get some experience and samples. Move 50 years to 1967, and the path was more likely to be a school of journalism. What about today?

As Jane points out, the modern learning experience path for the workplace probably includes using: 

  • Google and YouTube to solve their own learning and performance problems
  • social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn to build their own professional network (aka personal learning network)
  • messaging apps on their smartphones to connect with colleagues and groups
  • Twitter to participate in conference backchannels and live chats
  • participating in online courses (or MOOCs) on platforms like Coursera, edX and FutureLearn

The modern learning experience is on demand and continuous, not intermittent, and takes place in minutes rather than hours. It occurs on mobile devices more than on desktop computers.

Jane Hart believes it is also more social with more interacting with people, and that it is more of a personally-designed experience. I don't know if that is true for educational learning. Is it true for the workplace on this side of the pond? Does the individual design the learning rather than an experience designed by someone "in charge."

Modernizing classroom learning has often been about making learning more autonomous (self-directed, self-organized and self-managed) but that model does not easily fit into the model used for the past few hundred years in classrooms.

Are There No More Traditional College Students?

follow-up postQuick follow-up to yesterday's post about non-traditional students online.



I came across a Tweet that led me to a blog post saying "There are no more traditional college students." The post was actually about "student recruitment strategies" but it gets into the "shifting demographics of today’s college student, particularly as the 'non-traditional' adult learner becomes the new norm" which is something I also addressed in my earlier post.

The author is considering that there no longer is a typical or “traditional” college student because in recruiting a "one-size fits all messaging strategy will not work."

The article looks at doing some research schools need to do to determine of your potential audience: Who are they? What motivates them? and Where can you reach them? 

Certainly the first two questions are relevant to those of us already teaching them. And if you change the third question to HOW can you reach them? it is very important too.


When Nontraditional Students Become the Traditional Students

classroom

I was curious to look at this study that analyzes nontraditional students' perceptions of online course quality and what they "value." The authors categorized students into three groups: traditional, moderately nontraditional, and highly nontraditional. Those distinctions are what initially got my attention.

I hear more and more about "nontraditional students" to the degree that I'm beginning to believe that like any minority they will become a majority and then be what is "traditional." For years, I have been reading and experiencing the decline of traditional students who graduated high school and went immediately on to attend a four-year college, full time and with the majority living on campus. They are an endangered species - and that scares many schools.

In this study, they say that "There is no precise definition for nontraditional students in higher education, though there are several characteristics that are commonly used to identify individuals labeled as nontraditional.  A study by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES, 2002), identified nontraditional students as individuals who meet at least one of the following qualifiers: delays enrollment, attends part-time for at least part of the academic year, works full-time, is considered financially independent in relation to financial aid eligibility, has dependents other than a spouse, is a single parent, or does not have a high school diploma.  Horn (1996) characterized the “nontraditional-ness” of students on a continuum depending on how many of these criteria individuals meet.  In this study, respondents’ age, dependents, employment status and student status are used to define nontraditional students."

Two-year schools as a degree and job path, part-time students working full-time, older students returning to education and other "non-traditional" sources of learning (for-profits, training centers, alternative degrees, MOOCs) have all made many students "non-traditional." Some people have talked about the increasing number of "non-students" who are utilizing online training without any intention of getting credits or a certificate or degree.

The things the non-traditional students in the study value are not surprising: clear instructions on how to get started, clear assessment criteria, and access to technical support if something goes wrong. How different from the traditional students would that be?

The conclusions of the study suggest that "nontraditional students differ from more traditional students in their perceptions of quality in online courses," but they also say that "All students place great importance on having clear statements and guidelines related to how their work will be assessed." The overlap is that students always want to know "what they need to do in order to get an A."

One belief of the authors that I have observed for my 16 years of teaching online is that non-traditional students (no matter how we define them) have "multiple responsibilities and they need to ensure that the time spent on their coursework is beneficial and productive." As teachers, we would hope that this is true of all our students, even the very traditional ones who may have fewer concerns and responsibilities that are non-academic.

As a teacher or instructional designer, this reinforces the ideas that they need courses to be: well-designed, consistently presented, easily navigable, appropriately aligned, with clearly stated expectations, and information about how to and who to contact when they encounter challenges to learning. In that sense, we are all non-traditional.