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December 2005

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Julianne Scibetta

Understanding Millennials: Technology Reconsidered

By Julianne Scibetta, University at Albany

I had to start reconsidering my personal philosophy about new technologies when one of my professors said, "The iPod is a great solution for us downsizing empty-nesters, to be able to put all of our CDs on one portable contraption."

Or maybe it was when I read about a new virtual tutor in the Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks ago. Computer programs that "learn" how you learn and understand, diagnose what you don't, and readjust to fit your needs. A customized "virtual professor" explaining concepts to me as I go along? Could this really be a good thing?

But the final kicker came while I was at my office job one day, and I realized podcasts of National Public Radio programs were available. I could feel the sonic waves of change crashing over me, silently knocking down my conceptions of the connection between life and technology.

Perhaps my hesitancy to embrace new technologies comes from a personal, prolonged vendetta against a mainstream culture that become increasingly difficult to escape. (I admit it - I played my part in putting several department stores and mega-stores back in the black the day after Thanksgiving at approximately 4:55am, thank you very much.)

And that fine distinction of technology as a symbol of a certain "culture" is exactly the marker that is missing from the minds of Millennials and their parents. (Aforementioned professor, after hearing of this column I write, said, "I had no idea they were being called 'Millennials…' I have one of those at home." Ironically, earlier that very same day NPR broadcast commentary on Millennials as parental commodities…) Technology is a given for Millennials; they've always been cognizant of computers, portable and cell phones, and the Internet. Of course they demand both progress and application of technology to every aspect of their lives, teaching and learning included.

Conformity aside, I continued thinking about everything I had heard about the positive benefits of technology and its uses in reputable fields. The military has been using computer simulations for training for decades. Surgeons continue to have better abilities with smaller and smaller operations thanks to the hand-eye coordination developed through video games. Today's students are just simply more adaptable to new technologies and new learning experiences.

Then another sign of this strange techno-karma came to my attention. A coworker who spends entirely too much of her free time answering online surveys for free things, like magazine subscriptions, handed me a copy of "Edutopia." One quick flip-through and it becomes apparent that this magazine is dedicated to helping teachers accept, understand, and use technology in the classroom - or, a (self-proclaimed) guide 21st century teaching and learning. In a further collision of philosophy, conceptions, and fate, I come to find that the founder and CEO of this magazine is George Lucas - yes, that George Lucas. I suppose that's fitting, as he is partly responsible for creating the culture that current students expect.

The cover stories of the magazine read like every article I wish I could have written. "The Visual Literacy Revolution." "iKids: Turned In. Turned On. Teachable? How to connect with a new kind of learner." "Principal Skinner [of The Simpsons] Speaks Out." And, a bit to my chagrin, the Letters page reveals that the September issue had covered the new evolution of computer-based tutorial learning. I am so out of date.

Distance education has already seen the use of video and videocasts to broadcast lessons. I would not be surprised if on some campuses you could already find podcasts of lectures, tutoring, or supplemental instruction sessions - certainly education would behoove itself to begin considering the legalities of such progress. And we've heard it for the last few years - books and textbooks might soon be available exclusively on computers and other digital media.

Later that day, as I tried to heal the wounds and patch up my fractured worlds, I tried to imagine the consequences for my life. Digitized books means I could carry with me in my pocket what took me tens of boxes to pack - what now takes up the better of four large bookcases and a full bedroom closet to store. Look at our own publication here and the connections we have between us, available exclusively in cyberspace. Maybe it's time I swallowed my "I didn't have a cell phone until I was 17" pride.

As we conclude this volume of Learning Center Newsletter and look to start the new year with a new name, the incorporation of technology into learning is unstoppable. It may not even be such a bad thing, either. And if you have your misgivings about this shift like I did, it's about time you got over it, too.

May the force be with you.

PS: If Santa's reading, I could sure use a Shuffle.

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