In August 2017 a once in a lifetime total eclipse will take place in the United States. I have personally witnessed only one partial eclipse in my lifetime. I was seven years old and marveled at the disappearing sun’s reflection in my shoebox. It was scary and exciting at the same time-I wished I could look right into the heart of the eclipse, but I didn’t want to go blind. In 2017, there will be a specific “path to totality.” Needless to say I am making plans to be in Nashville at that time so that I can experience the full magnitude of the total eclipse and look at the sun through naked eyes.
In August 2017 another major eclipse will take place. Across nearly every campus in this nation, freshman classes of majority Digital Natives will swarm our campuses toward their own path to totality. Oh sure, there was the partial eclipse that began some years ago with the arrival of Millennials on campus. All Digital Natives are Millennials. But all Millennials are not Digital Natives. An important distinction to make is that Millennials may have been born as early as the late 70s. Their exposure to technology developed over time–perhaps in their teenage years and early 20s. It wasn’t until Marc Prensky coined the term Digital Natives in 2001, that we had a term to adequately capture student characteristics for those who were born after 1980. These students were exposed to technology from birth and the Digital Native has used technology in some form throughout his/her entire life. Millennials marked the end of a century while Digital Natives marked the beginning of a new one.
And in education, it has been hard to look into the future and prepare for the total eclipse that we know is coming. Digital natives will arrive with very different expectations from their predecessors. Their expectation of acquiring a good job after graduation as a return on their investment is quite understandable since they were exposed to the recession at a formidable time in their early years. And certainly their self-confidence which bolsters their self-esteem is an important factor in student persistence. From my own experiences I know that a student will not seek services nor support from your retention office in the first place if they are not interested in self-preservation.
What is blinding for educators is hearing terms like “entitled, immature, narcissistic, and social media.” The challenge for educators is to accept these terms as opportunities to shape more meaningful learning opportunities for these students. Students’ entitled natures have been shaped as much by fast-food drive-thrus, on demand tv, and K-12 education programs where everyone gets a trophy as my generations’ was by Domino’s 30-minute or free guarantee when I was in college. In translation, they are “entitled” to personalized learning opportunities, or competency-based learning if you prefer in college. Universities will do well to invest in student information systems that integrate advising, credits, and degree plans at students’ finger tips. We have VIP services for student recruits? Why not for enrolled students? Retention anyone? Kudos to Northern Arizona University as a pioneer in this movement among universities with its Personalized Learning Division.
So they lack maturity because Google never lets them complete the search bar to develop their thoughts and they like looking at themselves on Instagram? Poor communication skills and inappropriate social media posts can impede employment which is a prime goal for this population. Therefore, we must walk-the-walk and move beyond “digital literacy” as a buzzword and use resources to actualize this concept by incorporating digital literacy with first-year seminar, career services, and success courses. Equipping Digital Natives for a future means preparing them not only to be good digital citizens, but also to be the best possible representatives of themselves that they can be. After all, even politicians have used social media to win major elections and Vidcon is now in its 6th year where you can meet and greet YouTube videovators who earn full-time salaries youtubing!
Finally, there is a fine line between insanity and genius when working with social media. Research indicates that students are as skeptical about social media for class as teachers are (Levine & Dean, 2012). In addition, they will not like social media use if the class has poor directions, is disorganized, and has a lack of guidance (policy). I encourage faculty to explore only using social media aligned with their course objectives, seek support and development opportunities, and implement only tools which they can demonstrate competency and demand. MERLOT II is an excellent source for connecting with peers to assist in getting started with social media.
In looking over my career, I feel privileged to be in academe at this time in history. And thankful I still have a little time left to prepare and position myself to face the Digital Native Eclipse of 2017 with naked eyes. Hopefully I won’t go blind.