Growing Up Online

Watch the PBS Frontline Special Growing Up Online: Just How Radically is the Internet Transforming the Experience of Childhood?

Ask any teacher with more than fifteen years of teaching experience about the current generation and he or she will typically respond with a single word – different. Different, because the traditional way of teaching is a striking contrast to the way in which most students interact with technology during their leisure time. I think my own educational experiences as a child are similar to that of most Americans on the wrong side of 30 – absorb facts via lecture, read the textbook, memorize terms and definitions for the test…repeat. Definitive knowledge was canonized in encyclopedias and textbooks and was meant to be mastered for those with enough diligence. The idea of “media consumption” was unheard of and was primarily encapsulated in the form of radio programming and network television – both mediums limited for me. Cable television was a luxury and not something that held much value for my parents. I spent many afternoons and weekends reading or exploring the neighborhood with my friends and siblings.

Contrast that image with today’s student inundated by technology. Social networking sites, texting on cell phones, on-demand entertainment, portable gaming…it’s all a little much for most adults who grew up much the same way I did. Many teachers and parents are unfamiliar with the virtual world and are so intimidated by the pace and volume of all things digital that they simply leave their students/children to traverse this world alone. This disconnection has become more than a generational gap. The ubiquity and ease of Web applications has made socializing easy and very addicting. It is vital that parents and educators familiarize themselves with both the potentials and pitfalls of the Internet, particularly the social aspects. Children need adult guidance in the virtual world as much as they do in the physical world.

PBS’s Frontline program aired a special in late January 2008. If you missed the original broadcast, you can view the program at the PBS website by clicking here. This program is a primer of sorts on current trends. We educators are always pressed for time, so I suggest starting with part 2 of the program (9 minutes long) – A Revolution in Classrooms and Social Life. There is also a teacher’s guide if you would like to incorporate some of the activities into your classroom.

One final thought that will not be pursued in this post, but is important nonetheless. Education does need to change. I strongly suggest reading the article from Marc Prensky titled Backup Education.


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