Some comments on Dr. Zhao’s ‘Educating Generation M’

Posted on Feb 12, 2010

I was pleased to discover a blog entry by Dr. Yong Zhao, University Distinguished Professor at the College of Education, Michigan State University concerning Digital Competence. Dr. Zhao offers three reactions to the findings of a Kaiser Family Foundation report about media usage in children 8-18 (summary: a lot!), the second reaction stated below:

Second, given the migration to modern media, the education establishment, schools, textbook publishers, government education agencies, policy makers, teachers, and parents, must consider how to deliver educational content using new media. Apparently, the print medium is becoming increasingly irrelevant to our children but is still the primary platform for educational content delivery. To engage our children, we must use their platform. And that requires major transformative actions and efforts.

Often, in the discussion of digital media, network communication, and learning environments, I hear about the need to align the education platform with the “student platform”. In responding to the above comment, there are a few items that emerge to me. One is the idea of “delivery”. I am concerned that the rush to migrate “up” to the more relevant and efficient delivery platform is done so without a conscience for how the content is affect by it, from the learner’s perspective.

I am not inferring that Dr. Zhao is unaware of that factor, though in my sensitivity to the topic, I believe that the delivery aspect of the equation is more significant a factor in instruction than perhaps it is being given attention to – more so than simply teaching Netiquette. It is easily observed that humans will conserve most what they value most, which is often a function of simple ecological sustainability, such as measuring “not enough”, “enough”, or “too much” of a commodity. In comparing printed text, as a delivery medium, to the same content delivered digitally over a network, the digital file format loses its necessity for conservation, and in a sense, loses its importance. Not literally – but in its utility.

Somehow, I propose, using a delivery system that is composed of infinitely and instantly reproducible media over a global network with applications that a allow global distribution with a few clicks, affects the perceived “gravity” of the content. It is similar to why people race to collect a single rare record, while others amass implausible quantities of mp3 files. There’s no such thing as a rare mp3, so who cares unless you have 10 million of them?

The implication of casting digital content over the Internet is that it is potentially “ephemeralizing” content without anyone knowing about it. I believe this has an effect on children as they learn about the connected world in which we live, and that their sense of the seemingly (if not literally) infinite character of information may make them indifferent to it to a degree. This topic is an ongoing focus of exploration for me, so I don’t have the research background to substantiate my opinion.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive to say this, it may be in our children’s best interest to continue to teach some things from a medium that is scarce. (Print is certainly not obsolete – blogs are filled with it!). I realize this is not practical, though it may be the conscientious speed bump they need to appreciate information as a sentient being, with feelings and needs, with a desire to be wanted, to be valued as unique and important. I’m being facetious here, though I think the important takeaway is that digital competence is a valuable set of skills and understandings that may be gainfully employed. But then so is the value of appreciating the “scenic route” in some learning venues. It may have an effect on our ability to relate to other people with greater attachment.

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