You’re Never Alone in Second Life

A glimpse into the world of the N-Gen’s texts seems to indicate that these learners have grown up doing the very things that traditional pedagogy discourages. When viewed in this context, the N-Gen student may appear deficient, lacking the skills necessary to succeed in the academic world. Texts that do not look like books or essays and that are structured in unfamiliar ways may leave educators with the perception that the authors of these texts lack necessary literacy skills. Are these students missing something, or are they coming to us with skills as researchers, readers, writers, and critical thinkers that have been developed in a context that faculty members may not understand and appreciate? The striking differences between the linear, print-based texts of instructors and the interactive, fluctuating, hyperlinked texts of the N-Gen student may keep instructors from fully appreciating the thought processes behind these texts. Learning how to teach the wired student requires a two-pronged effort: to understand how N-Gen student understand and process texts and to create a pedagogy that leverages the learning skills of this type of learner.

Innovate: Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the Net Generation’s Texts -Mark Mabrito and Rebecca Medley, Innovate, August/September, 2008.

This is one of those solid, common-sense articles that appear now and again, reminding teachers that their students are different and pedagogy must adapt, etc. It’s probably more true at this moment in history– given the flood of technological change– than it’s been since the 1960s.

It’s a helpful reminder, especially for those teachers who continue to bemoan the ill effects of the computer on writing, or who resist it’s introduction into the classroom. On the other hand, all of the efforts to teach to the “first generation of kids raised on television” did not really come to much.

It seems reasonable, then, to be skeptical, at least until the economics behind these phenomena play themselves out a bit longer. Right now it seems faddish at best when schools set up Second Life campuses; maybe in a decade or more it will seem evolutionary.

What I look for, too, is some sense that the teachers are pushing back against the market in a productive way. This article has little of that, I’m afraid. The market wants constant change, movement, obsolescence; we need to offer contemplation, reflection, even solitude.

I’m not sure how we go about doing that, given that the culture of education seems so polarized between a kind of willful anarchism and a willy-nilly embrace of each and every new product that comes along. My guess is that good sense is out there somewhere, uncelebrated but productive.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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