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Higher Education, TTSK

The Needs of Our Learners are Changing

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Here is an excerpt from a talk I gave about being leaders in faculty development with technology…

Challenge: How do we adapt to the changing expectations and learning experiences of students who have come of age in a connected environment?

We are living in a profound technological moment in time. Let me give you an example: On a practical level, we all are producers of language, but to think that we have the ability to publish our ideas, that are ideas are worthy of publication, is new to modern civilization. To be an author was something to be coveted/prestigious and usually the elite were the people; an author was someone else who was creative and had won the trust of a publishing company and an editor who would publish their work for them; now students have access to blogs, wikis, social networks interactive applications—these are predicted upon being an author, engaging in a discussion, and putting your opinion out there in order to share and collaborate. And youth are producing different kinds of texts with these relatively cheap tools:  documentaries, fan fiction writing, creating their own video games and Android apps, becoming web designers, publishing comic books, and living their lives online.

With this production-centered focus, what Henry Jenkins’ refers to as a “prosumer” identity or disposition, of today’s youth comes a larger discussion about media consumption: from my generation to the current generation, we have moved from a relatively passive role in media consumption to active participation in creative production; I grew up watching television and making home movies and mixed tapes but these weren’t things that I shared beyond my family and friends. My creative productions were confined to a few people and then lost in my bedroom or in the garage rarely to be found again. I was a consumer. Youth are growing up as prosumers— where the Internet gives them license to create and share; and their creations can have a permanent home online. And this can have both positive and negative ramifications. Growing up as a prosumer is a very different outlook compared to being just a consumer—I believe they have a different relationship to text, and the digital technologies they use provide them with a constant invitation to engage, contribute, and learn based on their interests, their peer groups, and their expertise.

And the realities of living and coming of age in a digital and networked world is that “youth are finding more opportunities for customized and opportunistic learning outside of school”(Connected Learning ReportConnected Learning Principles). Add to this that there are increased opportunities and challenges afforded through the use of digital technologies–esp. as it pertains to reading, writing, and engaging with texts, and we need to confront the fact that the needs of our learners are changing.

  • “Digital technologies shape the way students write and think about writing” (Pew Research Center)

And I know that one response might be to suggest that “the students have to change, we don’t have to change.” I acknowledge  this perspective. But, we can’t foster the relationships with students that is so important to our mission at Sonoma State, and within the CSU, if we don’t attempt to meet students where they are at. We are part of a vibrant community and we will continue to serve the community by continuing to adapt, adjust, and innovate, because it isn’t about our content; the goal for all of us at SSU, regardless of position or rank, is that it is about student learning, and we need to create the best learning spaces we can for students. We can do that by understanding who they are, by understanding their needs as learners, and by being open to change.

About Jessica

Associate Prof of Education at Sonoma State University.

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