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Net Gen Libraries 1

School Media Services for the “Net Generation” Part One
Media Matters column #1 2005-06, Leading & Learning

My son Brady is different – and I mean that in only the nicest way. Born in 1986, he has never lived in a home without a computer, began creating hyperstacks that sang and danced when he was five, and had access to the Internet starting in elementary school. The computer to him is about as remarkable as indoor plumbing is to me. He is constantly “connected” via iPod, cell phone, keyboard, digital videocamera, or game controller to the very technologies I too often find intrusive and puzzling.

Educators Diana and James Oblinger report similar observations about their own school-age children in the first chapter of the online book Educating the Net Generation, EDUCAUSE, 2005 (a free download from <www.educause.edu>). Just what is it with these always connected, multi-tasking, digitally oriented kids, born between 1982 and 1991, now being commonly called the “Net Generation?” they ask.

The second chapter of the Oblingers’ book sets out to answer that question by summarizing the findings of thirty-some studies about the characteristics of this demographic – especially in terms of how they learn and how they relate to technology. It’s an interesting and important read for all educators, but especially library media specialists.

Some of the findings are not terribly surprising. 96% of Net Genners have gone online and 94% have used the web for research. They see technology as “embedded in society,” a primary means of connection with friends, and helpful in solving both personal and academic problems. They spend more time using digital media than watching television. They seem more comfortable and adept with the newest technologies than the adults who surround them. These kids expect fast communication responses, tune out when things aren’t interesting, and may be more visually than verbally literate. For them, technology is a tool for learning on any topic they choose. (Are you reading anything you don’t already know from the media or from personal observation?)

But what caught my eye was that the studies also showed another side of this group, one far less publicly acknowledged. Our current crop of students believes that “teachers are vital,” that “computers can’t replace humans,”  and that motivation is critical in learning. They like group activities, believing building social skills is a part of schooling; they identify with their parents’ values; and they are achievement oriented, feeling it is “cool to be smart.” And while fascinated with new technologies, their knowledge of them is often “shallow.” (Who actually maintains the computers in your home or school?)

And finally the studies point to how this generation learns – or likes to learn. Our current crop of students with their hypertext minds like inductive discovery rather than being told what they should know. In other words they want to learn by doing rather than simply listening or reading. They enjoy working in teams, on “things that matter,” often informally, and not just during school hours. And given their quick response requirements, they need to be encouraged to reflect.

Now it is my firm belief that schools will be more productive if educators acknowledge the unique attributes and preferences of the Net Generation and adapt educational environments to suit students instead of trying to change their basic natures. So what are some implications for NG (Net Generation) library media centers?

To a large degree, media centers may be the most NG-oriented places in schools. Our information resources and access to it continue to move from print to digital and the Net Generation is responding. L&L’s first “Media Matters” column “What Should Be on a School Library Web Page?” (Baumbach, Brewer, and Renfroe, September 2004) dealt with this shift in detail. General categories of information resources that should be on the “virtual” media center’s website included:
  • online catalogs for not only your school LMC but also other libraries your students might use
  • reference resources and assistance
  • curriculum connections
  • literacy connections
  • general information about your LMC
It’s a given that Net Genners are drawn to digital resources and we need to provide them, but there are two other areas that deserve attention if we are to meet all the needs of today’s kids.

NG Physical Facilities
Although many students today are connected virtually using cell phones, IM, and e-mail, they still congregate at local coffee shops, malls and movie theaters. Online presence has not replaced physical presence in these kids’ lives. Does this mean the media center as a “room” in the school is still important to the Net Genners, and just what will keep it relevant to them?

Given their preference to work in groups, the Net Generation media center (NGMC) provides spaces for collaboration on school projects and socialization. It contains the tools necessary for the production of information, not just its consumption – computers with the processing power and software to edit digital movies and photographs, scanners, and high quality printers and projection devices - and of course, assistance in the use of these tools. Networking hardware and those employees who maintain it also need a home and the NGMC provides it since most have a central location in the building and secure spaces. It’s hub of the school, not just philosophically, but physically.

And taking a lesson from today’s bookstores, the NGMC provides spaces where kids and teachers want to be. The NCMC has comfy chairs, a friendly atmosphere, low-stress, safe, and forgiving – and yes, in high schools, an in-house coffee shop. Spaces for story times, puppetry, plays, and games along with computer stations with age appropriate software and easily found elementary websites are just as important in elementary schools. If the “room” is not a wonderful place to be, students and teachers will stay on the Internet or in the classroom. Period. (And given the rise in online schools, is there a lesson here for classrooms as well?)

In creating what is commonly being referred to as the “hybrid library,” we can’t ignore either the electronic or physical resources we offer students.

In the next Media Matters column, we’ll continue this discussion, examining the attributes of the NGMS (Net Generation Media Specialist) and the learning opportunities s/he provides. Stay connected!

Posted on Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 01:22PM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | CommentsPost a Comment

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