Friday, December 09, 2011

Walls Within the Web?

Several months ago, I coined a phrase to describe the generation of students I have been working with these past few years. I dubbed them the "Control-F Generation." The traits I associate with this generation could be described in several bullet points:


  • These are students who are highly literate in technology. While we are deciphering acronyms (App = application), they are coding new programs and editing elaborate videos that will be posted to YouTube.
  • These are students who have come through an educational system where a premium is placed on test scores. "Test Scores" refers not only to in-class performance, but also to grades earned on standardized tests. From my own observation, it is stunning to consider how much a student's sense of worth is tied into his or her ACT or SAT score. A motto might be, "I am what I scored." 
  • These are students who spend an inordinate amount of time behind a computer screen. Whether it is texting or being on Facebook or playing games or surfing the web, they spend a tremendous amount of time behind the computer. 
  • This is a generation fixated on getting the 'right' answer and fears terribly being wrong. They are generally risk-averse because they associate getting something 'wrong' with failing, rather than as a necessary part of the learning process.
  • They are text-averse in that they are not keen on sitting down with a text. This is a generation that can buy bootleg copies of the latest movies, stream video and music content into their room without having to go to a store to buy it, and they can find resources to make reading a book an unnecessary task: why read it when you can download an outline? 
There are other traits, too, but these give a sense of one person's observation of these students. I use "Control-F Generation" as using the "Ctrl-F" function on a computer keyboard is the way one searches for a particular word or phrase. Rather than read the document, one need only "Ctrl-F + _______" to go exactly to the answer one is looking for. 

This is a generation which contents itself in having right answers rather than struggling with good questions. 

The Dean of Students forwarded on to me a talk by Eli Pariser at the 2011 TED Conference. I attach the video below, because I think it is fascinating:


What follows won't make any sense if you don't skim through the video.

Within the educational atmosphere, there seems to be a rush to saturate our students with technology (iPads and laptops) because "it's the way the world is." As a Jesuit, I cannot help but think this zealousness is misguided: folly are we if we throw our students into the digital morass without first teaching them how to discern. Google and Facebook are engaged in constant "discernment" for us, picking and choosing what it is that we will see. Shame on us if we do not resist this. 

It would be nice to consider the World Wide Web to be an open source of free-range ideas. We are learning, though, that even the forum for our searches is influencing what we see. Rather than confronting challenging points counter to our own, we are more likely to be directed to places where we are affirmed. 

The vastness of the World Wide Web is being called into question and, on the unblemished horizons, there appear more walls than one might have expected. Perhaps it is the case that the Control-F Generation, so tethered to instant access to information, is not so disimilar to each of us who dare to make frequent use of the internet: we all risk being enclosed in a Digital Citadel of another's design, one based on our own preferences, but one that isolates us from the totality of possible viewpoints. 



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