In chapter five of his book The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner outlines characteristics of students who have grown up using the web and how it effects the ways they relate to each other, how they are motivated, and the effect on their learning styles. For each of these there are both positive and negative impacts which need to be considered.
Watch students at work and you’ll see them navigate three browser windows while listening to music and building a prezi. This continuous partial attention can be viewed positively by focusing on the continuous attention or negatively by focusing on the partial aspect. If they are not fully focused on any one thing, the quality of the work suffers. There is less time spent reflecting on decisions. Studies have also shown that multitasking contributes to a more stressful lifestyle.
2. Constantly Connected
Students have a variety of tools to help them communicate with people all over the world. But interacting online has also led to cyberbullying.
3. Instant Gratification & Speed of Light
Living in a world where data can be transferred instantly means students learn faster response times, but it they also have become less patient and more demanding and less able to interact face to face.
4. Learning through multimedia
Students receive information now through more than just text on paper. Video, websites, databases—the options are endless. But just because students are surrounded by media doesn’t necessarily mean they are media literate. They still don’t know how to think critically about what they are consuming.
5. Learning as discovery
Engaging in a web search, clicking one link which leads to another which leads to another is the new nonlinear, more active way of discovering information. Students are more willing to try something and see where it goes and discover what works and what doesn’t by trial and error. But much like the multimedia learning above, evaluation of the information being received is not always a top priority. In addition, “the desire to constantly ‘do’ and interact often comes at the expense of contemplation and reflection—essential aspects of both learning and growth”(184).
6. Learning by creating
Students are no longer limited to just consuming knowledge that someone else gives them (aka lecture style) but can create and share their own knowledge with others. But quality is often compromised as students struggle to discern between what makes for good or bad creations.
But just because each of these new digital age characteristics have problems attached to them, doesn’t mean technology should be rejected. In the end, it is ultimately our role as teachers to help students practice more of the positive sides of each of these new digital age learning strategies and avoid the negative. As Wagner puts it,
“younger generations have enormous potential either to become lost in an endless web of fantasy and entertainment or to use their skills with these new technologies to make significant contributions to our society as learners, workers and citizens. What is needed to tip the balance to the positive is an older generation that better understands what drives the younger generation and has learned how best to harness and focus its energies” (187).