When I was an undergraduate, the hardest tasks were to format essays in Harvard or APA style, to write references out correctly, and to wade through incomprensible tomes.
We got good at all three tasks, of course ,and after two years of graduate school, I had developed good habits of checking references as a I read. I was taking in
- the words
- the structure
- the mental map of the people and history of a field
all at the same time.
Intellectual skills in the internet age
Reading on the internet is hard because even with two screens, we can’t flip back and forth between the text, contents and references quite so fast. We also can’t take notes so easily or highlight text quite so physically and memorably.
Copy Gen Y
When I first started teaching Gen Y, I read around and saw references to their ability to organize information without a structure. It didn’t take me long to realize that this observation was accurate. They have their own skills born out of the internet age for checking the provenance of information and updating their mental maps.
More to the point, they don’t want structure and they don’t want “received opinions” from on high. University lecturers brought up in another time are disconcerted by their apparently “personal” view of the world.
Publishing is the new literacy
What Gen Y are doing, without being told by us, is stepping in to the what Clay Shirky and others call the new literacy.
If reading and writing became common place after the invention of the printing press, publishing is common place today. Everyone does it, more or less.
Just as being able to write well affects our performance in many subjects over and above English or whatever language we speak, publishing underlies our performance in every area too. We are each responsible now for judging the quality and value of information and making it available to other people. Just as we still have writers, we will still have publishers par excellence. Just as we have people who “don’t write” and “don’t read”, we will have people who don’t publish either. But publishing as a skill is now as commonplace as other activities that were once reserved . . . like international travel for example.
When, and how, will Universities catch up?
Universities know and understand this. At least, educational scholars do. I saw a good presentation from someone at Open University on slideshare a few days ago.
But a fully ‘constructionist’ view of education is still seen as dippy or at best innovatory. It is neither. It is essential. And we have many changes to make in the way we organize classes, assess assignments and understand what is knowledge.
The wheels are not just coming off the old industrial structures of banks and oil companies. The time for decrying industrial age education is gone. We are past that stage. We are in the thick of building the education system of the new age. We need to be part of it. We need to publish to our own account. That’s how we will learn, not just personally, but as a collective.
The point is that a “personal” view of the world is not a mark of a spoiled generation. It is an essential skill and Gen Y has grasped its necessity, intuitively perhaps, but they have grasped it. We have to catch up.