The Net Generation:
'Teach Your Children Well'
The Net Generation (Net-Gen) has grown up digital. Unfortunately, the education system prevailing in almost all universities around the world fails to meet the challenges of a digital economy and the Net-Gen mind.
Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
The existing university education system across the world stemmed from the needs of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Ancient centers of learning needed to cater for the growing demand of factories and industrial units that needed an educated and regimented workforce to do what they were told. Education delivery revolved around a single teacher who lectured students. The students were expected to write down the teacher's words- word for word- and deliver it back- often word for word- in exams. It was a one way linear relationship from teacher to student. It was not necessarily in the opposite direction. This Broadcast model of education did not encourage interactive or collaborative learning.
The Broadcasting system of education delivery in universities served well in a world where changes were relatively slow or changes happened over generations. Today changes are happening too fast. As a consequence, the Net-Gen that has 'grown up digital' expect to talk back and have an interactive and collaborative conversation with the teacher, who still has the potential to play the role of a mentor more than merely an instructor.
To move from Broadcasting education to one that serves the purpose of the Net-Gen, the relationship between the teacher and the students needs to change. Scott Carlson in “The Net Generation goes to College” in 2005 suggested the following: First: teachers need to start conversing with students more than teach only. Second: teachers need to encourage students to discover themselves through critical thinking rather than memorising the teacher's lecture. Third: teachers need to encourage students to collaborate with themselves. Well documented research from the Chronicle of Higher Education shows that the Net-Gen wants to learn and they want to learn in a style and pace that best suits them. More refreshing is the thought that such an initiative can be undertaken with almost no extra infrastructure in universities in Bangladesh.
At the surface, the stereotype Net-Gen is a young person fidgeting on their mobile devices and multi-tasking to annoying levels. Scratch the surface. In the university that same Net-Gen is attending one class. As soon as the class finishes, the bell rings for a test (mid-term, quiz, tutorial, in-course, presentation, final exam etc). The Net-Gen is sitting in back to back mid terms and also final exams, attending make up classes and exams over weekends as well. In spite of all this pressure, the Net-Gen is doing well across the globe with a higher average CGPA than ever before. Could we make their wanting to learn a little bit more enjoyable and tolerable?
Funded by the National Science Foundation in the USA, the Mathematics department at Cornell University initiated a very simple yet powerful approach to learning known as the “Good Questions” project in 2005. One part of the project includes 'just in time teaching'. Prior to a class, students send in 'warm-up questions' related to the topic to be covered. This allows the teacher to adjust the class 'just in time' to topics that students struggle with. This approach has two benefits. First: both the teacher and the students can communicate at their own pace and suitable time. The class time can then be used more effectively since the teacher is now aware of the development of the class. Second: students who could not ask a question during class due to time paucity or are shy by nature may ask the question later. Nevertheless, this model will not encourage interactive discussion and collaborative learning if the 'warm up questions' are between the teacher and a single student and not shared by the class. Fortunately, there are ways to make this very simple model interactive and collaborative that can be replicated in universities in Bangladesh.
Blogs and postings on walls of Facebook groups automatically encourage interactive and collaborative learning. University students are already using these tools to collaborate between themselves for entertainment and education purposes. If the teacher joins on board, it will make the learning process of the classroom more meaningful. The teacher can also give problems to exercise or tease the mental faculties of students through notifications. Another intelligent and innovative option includes Wiki. A Wiki is a website that allows the easy creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser using a simplified WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) text editor.
The ultimate objective of an education institute is to promote learning. Memorisation is the first part of education to learn and grasp the foundation tools of a discipline. Once the child is capable of walking, the world is their stage to run around, roam and explore. This is creative learning. Alas! Creative learning cannot be promoted through Broadcasting education that stemmed from the needs of the Industrial Revolution and is now becoming obsolete to the ever changing Net-Gen. Creative learning blossoms and blooms through dialogue between the two sides of a classroom- the teacher and the students as it has for all of recorded human history.
This closes the Net-Gen trilogy of Post Campus. Easily accessible and free tools from the Internet are available to exploit. We need to uphold the spirit of Graham Nash's song “teach your children well”. It is the educators who have to make the first move to start a bright new dawn.
Sources: www.math.cornell.edu/ ~GoodQuestions/; www.chronicle.com ; Grown Up Digital: How The Net-Generation is Changing The World by Don Tapscott, McGraw Hill 2009.
(The author teaches Economic Theory at Jahangirnagar University and North South University.)