Digital natives face to face with us boomers

Digital natives: Who teaches whom?

Moderator: Sam Grogg, Dean, UM School of Communication.
Greg Linch, multi media reporter and senior journalism major at UM.
Sanjeev Chatterjee, professor of broadcasting and executive director of the Knight Center for International Media at UM.
Jody Brannon, National Director News 21, Arizona State University.
Krista Van Tassel, Net Impact
Mike Marshall, editor in chief, UPI
Rich Beckman, Knight Chair in visual journalism at UM

Millennials are web surfing holistic learners who seek digital connections practically 24-7. The boomers are us (me included); we were shaped by the politics of the Vietnam war and came of age professionally after the advent of computers and the world wide web. We are struggling to adapt to the digital revolution. Some of us just don’t get it.

What happens when student millennials and boomer teachers meet in the classroom? Major disconnect. As when a law professor prohibits students from bringing laptops to class, or a broadcast news teacher says she can teach news writing with a notebook and a Number 2 pencil.

Bridging this divide is all about learning from each other, teaching traditional skills while adapting to new technology and remaining open to changes in media.

The panelists are cautiously hopeful that all this is happening in the new now. Yes, students still read textbooks. They still show up to class and engage in classroom discussions. And they are using social media to learn in unforeseen ways like using personal class blogs and twitter discussions, creating content and using other technology to connect every which way.

Journalism professors too are moving beyond teaching from the text, augmenting their courses with chat rooms and discussion tools on Facebook and goggle and twitter. At UTEP where I teach journalism, my student interns file weekly reports on my web classroom site. That way I keep track of what they are working on and intercede if there’s a problem.

Here are some observations from the panel:

Chatterjee: “In this age… of instant media, the opportunity for truly collaborative teaching and learning has arrived. Teachers are now facilitators rather than holders or conveyers of knowledge. They can be a coach in the classroom.”

Linch: “There has to be middle ground” between traditional instruction and using social networking and new technology to teach. “I don’t see why technology would stand in the way. Age doesn’t determine proclivity to twitter.”

Brannon: Boomers should “not be fearful to jettison old practices,” like the inverted pyramid. “The new generation is thinking of storytelling as a tapestry, and more holistically.”

Beckman: “Now everyone is bringing laptops and classes communicate through Word Press. Students are creating documents on goggle doc. Students are commenting and class goes on 24 hours a day. That’s the reality of teaching and learning now. It’s a great learning environment once you learn to manage the tools and learn to apply them in specific subject areas.”

Grogg gave this personal example of the generational divide from a recent class when he asked his students to join a Facebook group for class discussions. “They gave me an odd look. I asked are you all on Facebook? They all raised their hands. What’s the big deal? They said ‘we didn’t know you were on Facebook.’ OK, let’s get past that.”

So how does the academy go about rewiring the teaching styles of technology deficient professors, many of them approaching retirement. Especially now that they are postponing retirement as the global financial crisis depletes their nest eggs. One way, Grogg suggests, is for universities to invest in faculty development, peer education and collaboration. But, he admits, “we won’t get everyone. And it’s going to take a while.

In the meantime, will the academy need to reinvent much as media has had to do in the face of web 2.0 and future iterations. One audience member suggests that within 20 years institutions of higher learning will begin to unravel as web connections and digital tools will make learning easier, faster and less expensive.

I’ll leave the last word on this to Dean Grogg, who says it will take more like 100 years for education to revolutionize and adapt to the changes in technology.

“We don’t know when tipping point is,” he said. “We learn differently now. We have different expectations. But there’s a lot of roots dug deep in institutions.”

Where do all these changes mean for the study of journalism?

Marshall: “Despite all the changes in media there still is something that is called effective story telling. Whether it’s a magazine feature or a video story the broad principles of storytelling remain.”

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