No one can see the future, though it’s fairly common to see how the future will be shaped when you spend a lot of time in the company of young people. When I work with teachers, we often spend a lot of time talking about digital citizenship, cybersafety, digital learning, and the like. It’s actually a big part of my job. However, sometimes, I feel we are not even speaking the same language. Here are a few examples…
Teachers often cite the desire to prepare kids for the “real world,” when they themselves don’t live in it. The “real world,” as they see it is often a pseudo-80’s version of the working world that exists before cloud-based business applications and global communication platforms. Teachers, for the most part, know very little more about the real world than their students. But they talk like they do. Students say things like: “I was online with some friends last night, and we were working on Minecraft servers,” to which many teachers would say, “perhaps if you got off the computer games, your grades would improve.” The fact is, working online on a Minecraft server is far more relevant to what their “real world” will be than anything they will be doing in school. They are making global connections, solving problems, improving their communication, and being culturally responsive.
We talk about the world in terms of stores, taxis, and schools when they live in an Amazon, Uber, and Google world. We just don’t get it. The world is changing and they will never know different. Asking why we say “hang up” the phone or “roll down the window” isn’t
When most teachers think of cyber safety, they think about Facebook and maybe Twitter. They think about social media the way adults do today, not the way teens do, and not the way they will see social media as adults. For instance, most adults couldn’t name some of the most widely-used social networks teens use to communicate: messaging on XBOX Live or Playstation Network, not to mention the countless threads on 4chan, Tumblr, Steam, and all sorts of phone apps not primarily used for communication. When they talk about cyber safety and sound instantly like they don’t have a clue, the students realize that we don’t really know what we are talking about. This is a generation who will always have online communication built into almost every aspect of their lives. We need to start respecting that reality.
Finally, a word on trends. adults in education often make the mistake that youth trends are a passing irritation. They are not. They indicate where their world is going. Yes, it makes us feel old. Nevertheless, we must pay attention. Memes aren’t going away. They will become a major aspect of marketing when this generation is the workforce. The social media generation will grow up, but they will always expect instant connections to other people. They will always expect instant information, instant production, instant gratification. This is going to happen. They will be the majority of adults in society in ten years or so.
We need to stop asking how we can prepare them for our world, and instead start preparing ourselves for theirs. It might help us help them learn. We need to ask them what they need to prepare for their world. After all, we don’t know. They do. Let’s ask them.