Thursday, February 02, 2006

Reflections on the "The Net Generation Goes to College"

I found the "Net Generation" article to be interesting but also a bit unnerving. Though I truly do not foresee the demise of the face-to-face interaction in the traditional classroom setting, the suggestion of technology's diminution of the spatial learning experience seems dangerous to the fundamental fabric of academia--that of the ongoing acquisition of what Putnam in his work, Bowling Alone, termed "social [or human] capital." Human capital is a sort of tacit knowledge that we gain from personal social interactions throughout our lives and that serves to inform our lives as academics, professionals, and as people.

It has been my experience that the multiple technologies referenced in the article (and its attention span deficient user base) contribute more to the learning process in a sort of subsidiary role. Email, online assignments, and even online classes can serve as excellent tools in the classroom, but they fill, in my opinion, a limited niche. Human and social interaction is a latent goal of education. We forge essential relationships and learn how to adapt to even mundane social settings through personal encounters with our professors and fellow students. To suggest that the depersonalization, the removal of the spatial and physical element, of education is a trend toward which we should resign ourselves to gravitate is an unacceptable proposition. The "multitasking" and restlessness of the "Millennials" are perhaps not the symptom of an obsolete educational setting so much as they are the malady themselves. Education should not focus on catering to the short attention spans if this means removing coursework from a piece of paper--and more importantly, a desk in a room full of classmates.