Talkin’ ’bout iGeneration

I’m a big fan of Conor Galvin, from UCD’s school of education.  I have got to know him well over the last 5-6 years through our mutual involvement with the Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI).  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Conor speak twice and today I was able to listen to one of his talks online called  ‘Digital Elephants and Flying Penguins; some thoughts on the shiny-bright HE world of technology-mediated T & L‘.  It was part of a set of webinars from Sligo IT.  Conor always has penguins in his presentations.

What’s it got to do with primary level you might ask.  If you listen even only to the first ten minutes, as far as the first “elephant” in the talk, I believe you will get incredibly scared or incredibly frustrated.

Conor brings us through the generation of children who were born in 1990 – the iGen generation.  These are the children who began Junior Infants when the World Wide Web exploded.  It is scary to think that 15 years on, we’re only dabbling in the Internet at primary level.  When the iGen were doing their Junior Cert, YouTube came along, probably one of the most defining services of this generation.  Yet, primary schools can’t access it.  We won’t even talk about social networking!

This generation are now finishing 3rd level and are heading into the real world.  Has the education system failed this generation?  We have not used the very tools that they now need in the 21st century workplace.

Conor outlines some of the ways this generation work and learn.  In many ways, it’s a very different set of skills we’re still using in many primary schools. To quote:

Frame. Find. Corroborate. Analyse. Filter. Evaluate. Synthesise. Communicate. Cooperate. Enjoy. Persue Meaning.

I don’t see many of those words in the current “new” curriculum.  There are two words that jumped out at me in the list:  communicate and enjoy.  This generation demand enjoyment from learning.  The success of edugames is one proof.  This generation demands to be able to communicate.  On my phone, I have 5 or 6 apps that allow me to communicate with a load of people instantly – text messaging, Facebook, LinkedIn, Email, Twitter and a couple of others.  The iGen will have many many more.

I think we have probably failed the 1990 babies and we probably are failing the 2000 babies who are in 4th and 5th class of primary school.  Most of them will be learning tables by rote next Thursday night and regurgitating them the next day.  Most of them will be seated in rows staring at some form of teacher and a board (interactive or otherwise) passively learning.  Most of them will go home on any day and learn more from playing a video game.

Before I completely depress myself, I know it’s getting better.  Firstly, some of the 1990 babies have begun teaching.  Apart from making me feel old in my thirties, (and who probably won’t get the musical reference of this article’s title – heck – I’m too young to get it!), this new breed of teacher will hopefully have a great deal of influence on the education system.  Secondly, there are a growing number of teachers who have seen the benefits of relearning and are questioning the way we have done things.  They question why children are not performing as well under the ways we used to learn.  They’re not dismissing children as “getting dumber” to borrow a phrase from a tabloid.  They realise that they learn differently.  Thirdly, there are companies who are beginning to create early products of what learning can be.  One example with great potential is Prim-Ed’s yTeach.  It needs to sort out a number of issues but certainly has great potential.  Aladdin have started the social network between schools and home.  Parents can check out their child’s progress from the comfort of their own computer.  This is a fantastic early sign of communication between school and home.  Finally, I’m hearing the phrase “emotional intelligence” more and more often.  The growing evidence that emotional literacy is the missing link of why certain people are more successful despite not doing well in traditional school settings is facsinating.

I’m even going to leave this article on a positive note.  I think the 2010 babies are going to do ok.  By the time they reach school, I’m hoping the paradigm shift will have happened and the majority of schools will have embraced the way they will learn, at least in primary schools anyway.

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