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A personal view of the world is NOT the mark of a spoiled generation

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new cell phone by grafitti with numbers via FlickrEssential intellectual skills of old

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.

Published in Business & Communities


  1. cindy cindy

    you say Gen Y writes. My assumption is, reading, speaking and writing are the 3 skills of language usage or learning. Writing is a skill that most difficult to master because it is in black-and-white and many people is afraid to put things down in ink. My thinking is, there seems to be so many writing going on is because these days we can read for FREE by just going to the interne and read blogs. Long time ago one would have to buy a newspaper, book etc. AND that involve money (printing, payment to the writter etc.) I do not think it has anything to do with because Gen Y writes more. They seems to publish more, but not really. I have many more reasons to argue my thoughts but it will take more time to come up with careful arguements therefore will not write here. Just don’t have the time.

    Take yourself as an example, one point in time you would be writing down your thoughts on a sketch book, or diary. NOBODY would get the chance to read your writing, because as long as it is not publish in print, nobody can find it. Right?

    I think we, the older generation, are overwhelm with the changes and forget the past. Take for example social medias. Perhaps situation has improved. But most people/ organization seems to think that IF I BUILD IT THEY WILL COME. They generally do not have a ‘website manager or client manager’ to oversee the sites, to promote ideas, to bring people together … just would be the same as any club in the physical environment. That to me always is the most strange phenomena of management. They would spend tons of money AND ignore that end-users are still human being? Human needs, behaviour, don’t change much from one communication media to the other. .

    The same goes for e-Learning. Well, we think that IF we put all the information/course materials on the web, students would AUTOMATICALLY go and read and learn. Nobody seems to pay much attention to class-size for manageable learning, or effective learning environment is very important, etc. etc. Do human being really learn differently just because the tools are different? Do we really grow horns because now internet is available? For example right now, I am very sure I would have a much more interesting conversations if we sit in the same room, and the barrier of writing and typing is taken away. My thinking would flow so much more quicker and ‘enriched’ by your input. Instant input. My chain of thoughts is disrupted and slide to nothingness on this particular topic once I stop. To get back to this same level of fluency of my thoughts on this particular topic, is going to take time, and distracted by other factors.

    Just some of my random thoughts

  2. Hi Cindy

    I am not sure I said Gen Y write. But they write in the process of publishing. Quite a lot, I understand, but I’ve lost the reference.

    They are just not using the long structured documents we were taught to write and nor are they waiting to be given endorsements or permission from other people.

    That’s not to say their work as publishers and writers is not evaluated by public opinion. Their work lives or dies by the popularity it finds and their skill at distribution. These are skills to learn.

    What has changed is our role. We all publish. So we all have skills to learn. That’s what has changed. Role. Use/non-use of structure. Less dependence on “authority”.

    And the youngsters intuit these changes. They are doing it already.

    Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it. The sociability of the internet encourages writing and the art of writing is re-writing. That means we must write a first draft first. People who read first drafts contribute a lot. Thanks.


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