Don Tapscott: How to Teach the Smartest Generation
Don Tapscott, best-selling author of Grown Up Digital and former educational researcher, got laughs and applause for his up-front, optimistic perspective of digital natives and the future of education during Sunday's general session.
In a self-deprecating style with humorous asides, Tapscott urged educators to empower student-led collaboration and to reinvent traditional methods of instruction by embracing technology.
"Internet is not a problem; it is a learning opportunity," Tapscott said. "Don't blame the Internet for how our approach to learning and thinking has changed. That's like blaming the library for ignorance."
Tapscott spoke about the changing generations, explaining that the generation currently making its way through our education system is the first generation born into a major shift in the mode of cognition. "We are creating a generation that is thinking differently from every generation before," he said. "[These students] are not just multitasking; they have better abilities to code-switch. They are constantly searching, storytelling, collaborating, developing, and authenticating."
Tapscott addressed the "negative, cynical" attitudes many adults have about today's young people, who often refer to them as an "army of narcissists" or say that they are dumb. The data, he said, prove otherwise: "They are not the dumbest generation. They are the smartest generation."
Tapscott also noted that the family model has changed drastically from the 1950s cliché of the TV show Father Knows Best. Beyond the increase in nontraditional families, Tapscott described how today's kids are "lapping their parents on the information track." Because of this, relationships between parents and their children are shifting from the top-down, father-figure model to a layered model of mutual respect and partnership in which kids are at the center.
So what do these shifts mean for educators? First, the traditional mode of delivery needs to change, because lecturing is no longer effective. Tapscott noted the irony of saying that to an audience in a lecture from a stage. However, he explained that he was not trying to provide facts, but rather attempting to "change your mind about [the Net generation], and that’s all I can achieve here."
He encouraged the educators assembled to disable the generational firewalls that have been erected between them and their students and to embrace a culture of collaboration, integration, and self-organization. Banning social media such as Facebook says "We don't understand your tools. We don’t trust you," Tapscott said.
Customization is also key. A one-size-fits-all approach to education won't work when kids are used to searching online for exactly what they want, when they want it.
And it's not just pedagogy that needs to change. Tapscott said that we need to shift how we develop content and curriculum so that it's more collaborative and multilayered. Textbooks alone aren't enough. We need rich, interactive material.
“For the first time in human history, kids are the authority," he said. "They know more about the digital revolution and its implications for learning than teachers."