The Digital Generation and Web 2.0: E-Learning Concern or Media Myth?

The Digital Generation and Web 2.0: E-Learning Concern or Media Myth?

Robin M. Roberts
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-788-1.ch006
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The relationship between the Digital or Millennium Generation and Web 2.0 is investigated focusing on how post-secondary students just entering American colleges and universities use the interactive or read-write web popularly known as “Web 2.0” and what implications their use of those web sites has for E-learning. Central to the investigation is addressing the question of whether the Digital Generation and Web 2.0 concepts describe actual realities or exist merely as popular media constructions. The basic thrust of the chapter will be the position that the Digital Generation does not function as a monolithic group, but that the use of Web 2.0 technologies is related to developmental stages and life situation.
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Among the many dimensions of the burgeoning web-based distance education movement in American education is the concept of a digital generation comprised of students who have grown-up exposed to and using digital computing technologies (Carlson, 2006; Hird, 2000; Johnson, 1997; Livingstone & Bovill, 1999; Rushkoff, 1998). By virtue of this experiential background, members of this generation are said to have developed a level of comfort with and expertise in using those technologies that prior generations do not have (Gibbons, 2007; Gros, 2003; Oblinger, 2003; 2006; Snyder, 1998; Tapscott, 1998; Turkle, 1995). Dubbed “digital natives” by Prensky, these students are contrasted with their teachers and with prior generations whom are often designated “digital immigrants” (2001b, 2001c).

A number of common characteristics are ascribed to these digital natives who comprise the digital generation (Frand, 2000; Gros, 2003; Tapscott; 1998; Prensky, 2001a; 2006). Among these are:

  • Tech Savvy: Digital natives grow-up with a computer mouse in their hand and learn to use and gain expertise with digital computing technologies with ease.

  • New literacy: They are more comfortable with screen-based learning than traditional 19th/20th century, text-based educational methodologies.

  • Multi-taskers: They thrive in situations having many simultaneous multimedia inputs.

  • Learner Control: Digital natives want to be “in charge” of their own learning rather than follow a universal, “one-size fits all” curriculum.

  • Information rich: They are accustomed to having a multitude of information at their fingertips.

  • Digital Consumers: Digital natives are pervasive consumers of digital media and portable electronic devices are essential to their lives.

  • Connected: Digital natives are constantly in contact with and draw support from others, and are more comfortable working in groups than alone.

Though much has been said about these digital natives in popular literature and the press, the concept has also received attention from serious scholars as well (Holloway & Valentine, 2000; Negroponte, 1995; Papert, 1996; Valentine & Holloway, 2002). The American Library Association (2007), in an editorial in an official publication, has gone as far as saying “people born after 1980 are very different from those of us who were born earlier. . . . There is some evidence that they actually think and process information differently as a result (p. 28).”

Other writers question the claims made about digital natives and analyze the nature of the debate itself. For instance, Bennett, Maton, and Kervin, (2007) argue that “rather than being empirically and theoretically informed, the debate can be likened to an academic form of a 'moral panic' . . . a more measured and disinterested approach is now required to investigate 'digital natives' and their implications for education (p. 1).”

Key Terms in this Chapter

Web 2.0: A business term coined in 2003 by Dale Daugherty and popularized by Tim O’Reilly that originally referred to the use of the World Wide Web as a platform for delivering business services. Web 2.0 services leverage existing AJAX technologies to facilitate the direct participation of the end user in the service being delivered. The term has since been adopted by educators who focus on the participatory nature of Web 2.0 services as a medium for instruction.

Synchronous Communication: A term that designates communications between two or more individuals that takes place simultaneously. It is marked by the all communicants being involved in the communications process at the same time, though not necessarily at the same location. Examples of synchronous electronic communication include telephone calls and instant messaging (though the former may take place asynchronously, as well).

AJAX Technologies: An acronym invented by Jesse James Garrett in 2005 for “Asynchronous JavaScript and XML” as a shorthand method for describing the technologies used to design and deliver Web 2.0 services to the end user.

Digital Generation: The generation of humans whose generational location places their birth and developmental experiences during a time of widespread access to digital computing technologies and whose exposure to and experience with those technologies led to a technological comfort and expertise with those technologies that surpasses those of prior generations.

Social Networking: A term typically used to describe socialization via electronic media, specifically, but not exclusively, via Internet and cellular telephony-based media. It also refers to the non-electronic process of creating relationships with other individuals that last over time. Typically, for a social network to exist, members of the network must necessarily have mutual relationships with more than just one member of the network, though direct relationships with all members of the network is not required.

Actualized Generation: A concept developed by Karl Mannheim to designate the actual existence of an identifiable generation for any given generational location. To become actualized, a generation must meet three criteria: (1) shared experiences, (2) the experiences occurred at the same developmental stage (age), and (3) mutually and meaningfully interpreted by the members of the generation that shared the experience.

Diffusion of Innovations: A model of how innovations are diffused—that is, adopted by members of a specific social system over a period of time—developed by Everett M. Rogers in 1962. The four elements of the diffusion model are: (1) innovation, (2) communication (3) time and (4) social system. The characteristics and percentages of the individuals within any given social system that adopt a given innovation at a given amount of time is remarkably stable in any modern social system.

E-Learning: A term often used synonymously with distance education, but referring specifically to instruction delivered remotely to learners via electronic media. The most currently prevalent form of e-learning delivery is via the Internet. In e-learning, the instructor and students are separated from each other by distance and, in most cases, by time. The essential components of e-learning are distance, asynchronous as well as synchronous communication and electronic media as a communications mediator.

Asynchronous Communication: A term that designates communications between two or more individuals that is separated by the passage of time. Typically, such communication involves separation of the communicants by distance, but that is neither a necessary, nor sufficient condition for asynchronous communication to take place. Examples of asynchronous electronic communication include e-mail and voice mail. Note that asynchronous communication typically refers to two-way communication, though broadcasting (one-way communication) can also be asynchronous. An example of the latter is radio broadcasting or blogging.

Digital Divide: A term referring to the unequal access to digital computing technologies by members of a given social system. Access consists of five dimensions identified by DiMaggio and Hargittai (2001): technical means, autonomy of use, patterns of use, social support networks, and requisite skill. Absence of any one of these dimensions constitutes lack of the access necessary to develop expertise in the use of digital computing technologies.

Generational Location: A concept and term coined by Karl Mannheim (who is given credit for developing the modern concept of generation) in 1928 that designates the beginning and ending dates for potential inclusion in any given generation. It is a purely theoretical construct.

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