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The Medium is the Message: Educating Generation M

25 January 2010 13,190 25 Comments

Today’s young people (8 to 18 year olds) spend on average 7 hours and 38 minutes a day with media: watching TV (TV, videos, DVDs, pre-recorded shows), playing video games, listening to music, talking on the phone, and chatting with friends online, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation report Generation-M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds released on January 20, 2010. This is an hour more than the group found in 2004, when young people were found to spend nearly 6 and half hours a day on entertainment media. And because of multitasking, young people actually consume a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content in those hours.

That, indeed, is a lot of hours, practically all their waking hours outside school. In comparison, they spend 25 minutes a day reading books, 9 minutes for magazines, and 3 minutes for newspapers.

“The medium is the message,” said Marshal McLuhan. The heavy use of media by young people today undoubtedly has significant impact on their lives. While we contemplate the profound impact of media use, I have three immediate reactions to these findings:

First, it may be futile to simply consider how parents and educators should find ways to limit media use by children. Nor is it productive to argue whether it is good or bad. As Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health, said in an interview with the New York Times, we should just “accept it as part of children’s environment, like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

Second, given the migration to modern media, the education establishment, schools, textbook publishers, government education agencies, policy makers, teachers, and parents, must consider how to deliver educational content using new media. Apparently, the print medium is becoming increasingly irrelevant to our children but is still the primary platform for educational content delivery. To engage our children, we must use their platform. And that requires major transformative actions and efforts.

Third, we should also prepare our children to become media producers, not only consumers. With an estimated annual revenue of over 1 trillion dollars, the Media and Entertainment industry has already become a significant economic sector in our society. In addition, in our daily lives, we will be much more likely to use modern media for communications, socializing, and conducting businesses. The ability to create media products and use media to participate in social and business activities has become essential in this new world. But unfortunately, most of our schools underestimate the importance and complexities of media literacy, often reducing it to the teaching of technical skills.

There is a lot more to media literacy or what I call digital competence than the technical skills. In my book, I define “digital competence” as:

  1. Knowledge of the nature of the virtual world
    1. Understanding the differences and connections between the physical and virtual worlds; the ability to tell fantasy from reality.
    2. Understanding that the virtual world is dependent upon technology and that all technology can break and things can go wrong.
    3. Understanding that online/virtual activities are fundamentally psychological.
    4. Understanding data representation in the virtual world and how different media work together.
    5. Understanding data management in the virtual world and basic file structures
    6. Understanding that the virtual world is a global network of individual and collective participants
    7. Understanding that the virtual world is evolving and constantly expanding.
  2. Positive attitude toward the virtual world
    1. Appreciation of the complexity and uncertainty of the virtual world
    2. Positive attitude toward technical problems
    3. Effective strategies to approach technical problems (knowing where and how to obtain assistance)
    4. Effective strategies to learn new ways of communication and information sharing
  3. Ability to use different tools to participate and lead in the virtual world
    1. Ability to use different tools to participate and lead online communities
    2. Ability to use different tools to entertain, learn, and work
    3. Ability to use different tools to obtain and share information
  4. Ability to create products for the virtual world
    1. Ability to use different tools to express views in the virtual world
    2. Ability to use different tools to create products (such as music, digital games)
    3. Ability to use different tools to create, manage, and lead online communities
    4. Ability to launch, manage, and promote businesses in the virtual world?

To do any of these requires a shift in thinking, requires us to accept that world our children live in and will live in has changed. How and what we should teach them should also change. But the current education policy priorities are clearly not on preparing our children to enter this changed new world. The Common Core standards and the Race to the Top funds seem to have completely missed the reality of today’s children and the future world they will enter.

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25 Comments »

  • Haisen Zhang said:

    Thanks for getting me updated with the “digital competence.”

    Quite recently, I’ve been pretty much interested in the investigation of how virtual worlds (Second Life) can benefit English language learning, particularly the learning of speaking and writing skills. Your comment seems to be a rainbow after a heavy rain for me to better understand the future of learning for the next couple of years, as predicted by Gartner.

  • Steve Covello said:

    Thank you for posting your work on the subject. I am a student of Dr. Jing Lei at Syracuse University/IDD&E, and have been exploring the semantic impact of network media on the “spiritual” impact on information as it passes through the transactional distance. I have a lot of questions about how the factors you describe might be measured, as a forefront to implementation in the Distance Learning environment, and the 21st Century Skills imperative in general. I will read your work more thoroughly and respond to it on my blog. Much of it is influenced by McLuhan and Anthony Wilden. – Steve

  • Hannah R. said:

    I really appreciate your thoughts on technology in the classroom! I am a college senior studying to be an elementary teacher and it is very frustrating to be learning so many great ways to use technology in the classroom and then to come up against so many walls when I actually get into the classroom. The numbers that you gave for how much time students spend on media are overwhelming and really eye-opening to how schools really need to be changing. As you said, “to engage our children, we need to use their platform”. Those words ring so true to me as a teacher. I hope to make a change in my own classroom someday based on these thoughts. Thank you so much again for your opinion!

  • Shela Morgan said:

    I totally agree with your message. Incorporating technology in education is very important for today’s children. I’m twenty, and even since I’ve been in school, I’ve noticed a huge movement in the impact of computer technology on children. It’s so much a part of their life (and ours too, let’s be honest), why would we not use what they know and enjoy to help them learn? The purpose of schools is to prepare children for the future. Their future is in technology. That alone makes it essential to teach not only about it, but using it too. As a future teacher, I realize the importance of this. I can only hope that by posts like yours, other teachers will realize it too, and do what they can to change the way they teach to foster the technological needs of their students. Thank you for dedicating your time and effort to spreading the word.

  • Derek K. said:

    I personally am not that good with technology, but as a future educator I am willing to learn because I realize that we live in world that is becoming more and more dependent on technology. I completely agree with your message. Today’s children thrive on using technology because it consumes a large part of their everyday lives whether it be computers, cell phones, televisions, etc. I am curious to see when textbooks become obsolete. I believe it is important for teachers to embrace technology because it can provide many more opportunities to learn and make it more fun for the students. Also, since students are always around technology they will probably learn better and appreciate lessons more because it is geared towards their generation.

  • Melissa D said:

    I really liked what you had to say. In today’s age children honestly know more about computers and technology more than we do. I know some things about technology, but I am so glad I am in a class now at college finally learning how to use different things and how to use them in my classroom. It amazes me so much how little 3 year olds (I watch one so this is just him) can work a computer and know where everything is. He also knows how to work the television and press all these buttons to turn everything on and I can’t even do that. I really liked the quote from the New York Times: we should just “accept it as part of children’s environment, like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.” That is so true because ususally when kids get home from school all they want to do is go on the computer or watch TV and its like a natural and normal thing for them to do. Thank you so much for your thoughts!

  • Sarah M. said:

    My favorite part of “digital competence” was #2. I have heard about a lot of advances in the virtual world, but I have no idea how to use the majority of them. I am currently in a college class called “Computers and Technology for Teachers”, and I love learning about all the different ways to use technology in the classroom. Sometimes I get frustrated with technology because I can’t figure something out, but your ideas are another encouragement to keep a positive attitude about the virtual world. Your ideas also made me think of current teachers, and how some of them have negative attitudes towards incorporating technology in their classroom. They are so set in their ways that they aren’t even willing to give the virtual world a chance.

  • Justine M. said:

    I really enjoyed reading your article. I think it was very true and a good reminder to us all. I think as teachers,adults, parents etc. we need to accept that technology is a massive part of our world today and it cannot be ignored. Your statistics were staggering about the amout of time students spend a day with the media. I think it definitely goes to show that to relate to children and really help them learn we need to us technology. As you said “To engage our children, we must use their platform. And that requires major transformative actions and efforts”. Your article definitely gave me some good and helpful information as a future teacher. Thank you.

  • Danielle J said:

    I was surprised by the statistics, though I should not be. As I add up the time that I am viewing media throughout the day, I see that it is true. I am interested to see just how long it will take things to change in the education realm. Textbooks are still the main platform for content delivery, but I would hope that soon it will change. I’m curious to see the changes in education by the time I graduate from college. Obtaining digital competence as an educator is so key–students have it and will continue to utilize media whether we implement it or not. So we might as well implement it. Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciated reading this!

  • Ian G said:

    I am not surprised at all with the statistics of media use for children today. I smirked at a child’s ability to multi-task to pad the numbers even higher! However, I used to be at a position where I would say, “I’m proud that I don’t match that statistic!” Indeed, I used to view heavy use of technology as somewhat of a waste. I’m interested in considering wise use of technology and your “digital competence” gave me a better lens of how to approach the topic. I will always be a fan that we don’t use technology for its own sake but for its efficiency, for its advances, and for its expanses in the educational forum.

  • Heather M said:

    I think you are right on. This world is becoming more and more dependent on technology. Teachers should be teaching kids how to use technology wisely, safely, and for good. However, because many teachers did not grow up with these things it is hard for them to learn and incoporate them. There needs to be more opprotunity for the older generations to learn about the the new technologies. You are right in saying limiting kids use of technology is difficult, on the other hand we do need to monitor it and make sure they are using it responsibly. I am reminded of a segment on saw on where you live by Maranda (woodtv8)that our kids have a full time job, and that job is sitting infront of a screen. She then goes on to tell about how we can monitor kids use of technology and also aid them in using it for higher more responsible purposes.
    I agree with what you are saying. I am currently trying to change myself and get more invovled in the use of technology.

  • Adam L said:

    I absolutely agree that with everything you wrote and I think incorporating technology into our teaching would helps our students. The only issue is teaching us, as future educators, how to incorporate technology in our classrooms. To be honest, it is easier said than done. I believe teachers will have the tendency to teach like they have been taught. I can take a class showing me all the awesome educational websites in the world, but I still don’t know how to use all of it in the classroom. When I see myself as a teacher trying to teach students algebra, I only how using a textbook because that is how I was taught. I think we need to stop talking about the importance of technology and actually start implementing it starting in the colleges and universities.

  • Josh W said:

    As a current student in education, I struggle with technology as much as anybody. I understand enough to get by. My digital competence would be relatively low. As a person with lower digital competence it is hard for me to want to use technology in the classroom. I have been able to open my eyes to more opportunities with technology in an educational setting. I have been willing to accept the world that children now live in and connect with them through this world.

  • Matthew Kimball said:

    I am an active hands on person and dread the time I whittle away at the computer. I understand how it is necessary for me to stay strapped to a computer in an uncomfortable position, but in trying to free myself by using cell phones and other electronic web access portals I realize how expensive this can be. I love technology and I see many immediate benefits with conducting business with it. I communicate regularly with my fellow coaches, and my junior Marines, as well as class mates and instructors. I am sadly not very ‘competent’ in the ways of the digital media monster, and I feel that it’s due to the ineptness of my teachers while growing up. However, when I went through school the big push in the education area was ‘get the kids outside’ ‘be active’ ‘eat right’ and all sorts of other mantras that were geared towards kids loosing weight and being healthier, and becoming disconnected from the television. Now we are going to push for them to become more integrated into their bedrooms? I understand the importance of where life is heading. Kids need to understand technology, but I feel torn because this will undoubtedly lead to less healthy living. Where is the balance? I feel we should be pushing for more mobile computing than what we are. I do agree with the competency guidelines and the call for a shift in thinking of education. I would just caution that we try not to create perfect cubicle techno kids; where they can live their entire social, professional, and educational lives in a box.

  • Matthew R. said:

    I like what you have to say. It is so true that today’s education policy falls ever so short on the idea of our children being educated to enter the world we life in. However, from my perspective, going into the field of Physical Education, I see those numbers that a young person spends and average of 7 hours and 38 minutes in front of some sort of multimedia device (not to mention all the time they spend multitasking), and the only thing I can see from it is more proof that our children are living sedentary lifestyles. So, from an education standpoint I feel we should meet our kids at their level and really pursue a way to teach them through the avenues of technology, however, we must not forget the importance of exercise and daily activity.

  • Jenna C said:

    I agree with everything that was written here. I was not surprised by the statistics that were presented because of all the new technology that is out there. However, I do think that people today spend too much time using different forms of media. As a current college student I know I would save a lot of time if I were to not spend as much time on the computer, watching T.V. etc. I do believe that it would be helpful to bring more technology into the classroom because the children would be able to relate better. Technology can be used as a good thing and can be used as a bad thing. It is a good thing when it is being productive and helping with homework and learning, it is a bad thing when it starts to take over and more important things get put behind it. Even though technology can be used as a good thing it is important to remember the importance of still needing to interact with students and people in the classroom and in real life.

  • Anna O. said:

    I really enjoyed reading your post on educating this generation! I found it encouraging and knowledgeable as I am a student who is studying education. Reading this passage encourages me to think about and change the way I want to teach my students someday. I need to teach them the way they learn best. Shown through your statistics, I believe that children are highly influenced by technology. I also think that people need to understand how the world has changed throughout time. I am always interested in learning new ways to do things and think that there are several technology sources that can be used in a classroom to help students learn better.

  • Justin Y said:

    I have never been good with technology or computers, but as a future teacher I want to learn to be good with this type of stuff so I can help my students learn in new ways. This is a new generation of learners, so I believe it is important to connect with my students on what is comfortable for them. Growing up in school, many of my teachers were afraid to let us students use computers because it gave us too much freedom. However this isn’t the case because technology provides so many opportunities, even more than when I was in high school and it’s only been a few years. Also, I believe that learning with technology could possibly be considered as another learning style because so many students are comfortable with it and also enjoy it.

  • Anna-Marie B. said:

    Even though I am not that skilled with technology, I completely agree that we need to incorporate technology into our teaching. The students now are growing up with technology as a part of their every day lives and we don’t want to alienate them by keeping technology out of our lessons. I want to learn how to use technology creatively in my classroom so my lessons will be interesting to my students. Since children spend so much time in technology and media, they are likely to learn best through technology and media.

  • Hans VV said:

    I thought that this article was interesting! However I think that if we do decide to change the medium through which children learn or gather information we need to do so quickly. How much of that 10+ hours is spent learning anything relevant to what they will be doing as adults? If it is not something that is helping them then the logical conclusion (at least in my mind) is to say that they are wasting away. Even in spite of this wasting away I think that students are at least gaining technical skills. In retrospect these technical skills need to out weigh the lack of knowledge that would other wise be learned if they were not surrounded by so much electronics.

  • Ronald B said:

    I believe that everything that is stated above has much truth to it. Technology is a trend that has progressively grown, and it should be implemented into the classrooms. There is no point in trying to battle students with using technology because they have access to it multiply ways, and the time and energy wasted into trying to prevent the use of technology could be directed into a more productive source by finding ways to use technology in class. I agree with the statement that students should eventually learn how to create products seeing how they are always using it. Taking one step further to create something new shouldn’t be hard if they take a small portion of the time and energy to think of the next best use of technology. Seeing that technology is beginning to start at younger ages than in the past, I believe that students could easily create products for the virtual world.

  • Ted A said:

    Coming from a school district that does everything the “old fashioned” way, I did not come in contact with a lot of new tactics that are being taught and used today. It is important that I stay up-to date with technology in the classroom because it is obvious that is the direction education is headed. I work at a cell phone store and it literally is unbelievable how young parents are buying cell phones with 2 year contracts, unlimited texting, internet access, and virtually everything an adult has on their business phone. If we dont stay ahead I’m afraid the students will be teaching us during class instead of the way it should be.

  • Zach R. said:

    As some have already touched on, the third point, regarding teaching the actual production of media, seems to be the missing component in most realms of education. Those teachers who have actually conformed to the “new age” trends of using interactive media in the classroom do merely that: they use interactive media in the classroom.

    What actually needs to happen, as I understand from your post, is that students are the ones who need to be using it. As educators, our most important role is to teach students how to learn. We need to instruct them in the realms of actually finding and using interactive media to produce their own digital repertoire.

    The task is not to teach with media, it is to teach the use of media. The more we are able to put creation in the hands of our students, the more equipped they will be to advance their own learning independently.

  • Sarah D said:

    I agree with your thoughts. I think that incorporating technology into the classroom is very important. Although it is, at times, very confusing, there are huge advantages that can come from learning to use it correctly in the classroom. To view technology so negatively these days not only will hurt you and your teaching, but your students and their learning. Especially since children and teens these days thrive so much on technology, we would be foolish to ignore it. I do think that sometimes children can be using technology a little too much for non-educational purposes, it is a good thing. We just need to get creative with what they do on the computer. Maybe introducing them to more educational game sites could be the answer.

  • Child Therapy Houston said:

    Many will disagree if we see our modern technology negatively since most of our young generations cling to it. I think that is their way of life. I guess, we should taught them how to use the technology positively.

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