Listening to a Webcast from the Open University on "The Net Generation" I'm struck again by how much time we spend trying to categorise and label technologies and usage of technology which are used innately by those who are the most active participants. It reminds me of David Attenborough, high on the African plain doing a softly worded piece to camera about the behaviour of the animals he's observing... all the while the animals in question are simply getting on with their own thing and merrily ignoring his insightful, considered words.
The talk by Judy Caruso on the 2008 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology highlights this, revealing some interesting attitudes from students. Not least that the things which might be counted as use by one generation aren't counted as use by younger students - 'just checking my e-mail', 'just sending a text' etc are not counted. It seems to me that so often use of technology in education comes from the outsiders' perspective. We're attempting to make policy and procedures for things which, regardless of what we come up with... will be used anyway. Come up with a policy on Web 2.0 usage in Higher Education and it's like trying to hold back a tide of use, collaboration and distribution which will continue whatever we do. Information Systems departments seem to try to cling on to the last vestiges of control in a world where the user can happily exist outside officially installed products, licenses and policies. Academics worry about the demise of the lecture, claiming that putting their slides online before a lecture (which would be of benefit to students) will mean students don't attend. But this isn't borne out in reality (ECAR, 2008). The fears of one group do not match with the reality of what's happening with another.
I have doubts as to whether or not there is a "digital native", a net generation who 'gets this stuff' and, conversely, a group of outsiders who don't... but the consistent lack of real engagement with new technologies / communication channels by those making policy decisions is baffling. 'I haven't got time'. 'I don't get it'. 'But we provide a perfectly acceptable solution'. 'It's really not my thing' etc. I wonder when we're going to stop observing students' use of technology as if it came from an alien species and stop resisting the changes which are happening and will continue to happen. Me, I don't care if someone studying on one of my courses uses official discussion forums, Facebook, chatting to their mates down the pub... if they're learning. They're learning. And that's good... right?