The Post-Google Generation

Last April I attended E for Enhancement 2009, an all-Wales e-Learning conference in Cardiff. During his very inspiring keynote, Prof Stephen Heppell related some facts about the online behaviour of the very young. In one of his projects, Prof Heppell, in perhaps an excessive burst of trustful enthusiasm, handed out iPhones to young teens and set them to work on a series of tasks which took several weeks to complete. At the end of the project, the students reported that they had used every feature of the iPhone “except this one button which has something to do with work” — email. Prof Heppell also stated that for children younger than 10, the search engine of choice is YouTube. Indeed, as of January 2009, the number two search engine, after Google of course, is YouTube.

I don’t recall whether Prof Heppell used the term “the post-Google Generation” in his keynote, but it is most appropriate for the age group (probably those born after 1990) which does not even recognise the need to use the all-pervasive Google to find things on the web. Marc Prensky gave us the term “digital natives.” The “Google generation” has been used to refer generally to those who seem to know no other way of finding information than to “Google it.” But I find it fascinating that very young people, who have never known a world not just without the internet but without full multi-media, go directly to the multi-media offerings of YouTube. Indeed, until I heard Prof Heppell quote this statistic, I did not even consider YouTube to be a search engine.

But of course it is a search engine. Need a recipe for macaroni cheese? YouTube not only displays the recipe but shows just how the butter should look when it’s time to stir in the flour to make the sauce. Just getting started in Second Life? There are innumerable “Beginning Second Life” tutorials on YouTube, some posted by higher education instructors for their own university students.

The truly fascinating question for me is: why is it that very young people who grow up with digital multi-media seem to think differently about how to search, how to learn, and how to do just about everything? Why do they skip Google when older surfers can’t live without it?

My post-Google-Generation daughter decided to learn to play the piano – well, the digital keyboard. We were ready with a piano teacher and the traditional regime of “one lesson per week, then nag daughter to practice.” Daughter had other plans. “I’ll just teach myself from YouTube,” she announced. As a child, I learnt piano the traditional way, and after one or two years of lessons, I could still only play fairly boring pieces. Yet after only a couple of months of YouTube, Daughter can play a handful of fairly impressive pieces. Perhaps her relative success can be attributed to the fact she chose exactly what she wanted to learn to play, then just learnt it, and enjoyed it, and therefore got results more quickly. The downside is that Daughter has not learnt to read much music from YouTube. But in a very post-Google way, she achieved what she wanted: musical enjoyment for herself and her listeners through playing the piano.

In “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” Marc Prensky suggests that prolonged exposure to immersive digital multi-media actually results in fundamentally different thinking processes. The onus is on the educator, therefore, to be prepared with learning tools suited for the post-Google Generation, as well as with the research to inform and support the use of such tools.

Terese Bird

How Many Students In University After The Recession?

Almost half of British industries have no intentions of employing any of the hundreds of thousands of new graduates who will flood the job market in the next three months, according to a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and KPMG, reported in today’s Independent.

Gerwyn Davis, public policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has said:  “It is going to be a long, hot summer for many of this year’s graduates and school leavers, as they sweat over their chances of finding work. Employers have for a long time had doubts about the employability skills of those leaving education, and this year’s crop face employers in a more choosey mood than ever before. Against this backdrop, graduates and school leavers need to sharpen their case for being picked ahead of their classmates – and fast.”

The question is, what will be the lesson learnt for those who are still in high school, but who observe what is happening to their older peers after graduation. In all likelihood they will take it into account when deciding whether to go into higher education when their time comes.

What will be the outcome for universities in the future, when government targets of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education are weighed against consideration that the average graduate today, who is likely to be leaving university owing £16,000 for tuition fees, is considered for employment by only 50% of employers? And given that bodies like the very Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, mentioned above, come forward with advice like “Employers have for a long time had doubts about the employability skills of those leaving education… students need to get work experience, demonstrate a broad range of non-study related skills…” A university degree is no longer the surest way to a good job. In fact, the winner of the “Best Job in the World”, (care-taker of a tropical island with a salary of 70 000 UKP) advertised by the Australian Board of Tourism landed the job in tough global competition, after an innovative marketing campaign that highlighted the power of social media, rather than qualifications and diplomas (you can see some of the applications on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=islandreefjob&view=videos&start=40).

The first universities were institutional innovation centres which emerged in the 12th to 14th century Europe as a result of the need to consolidate and expand intellectual resources in response to increasing demands for knowledge and skills in the economy and society. Despite debates whether universities have remained these “medieval organisations,” unchanged over the 700-800 years of their existence or have been transformed by major changes, consensus seems to prevail about intensifying pressures for reform in higher education institutions today. It is important that planning and management are not dominated by short-term thinking about immediate problems and maintaining established practices. Neglect of the long term is increasingly problematic in meeting the challenges of complexity and change in higher education. In order to be able to look beyond the constraints of the present, especially when the investment of significant resources is concerned, higher education institutions need to sharpen their capacity to systematically explore and connect together various driving forces, trends, and conditioning factors so as to envisage alternative futures for themselves and for higher education.

Sandra Romenska

BDRA, 26 May 2009

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