To understand what the Net Generation expects from technology in support of learning, we must first understand how the Net Generation defines technology. To them, technology is cutting-edge software that allows them to do what they want, when they want without restrictions. They know how to adapt and configure a program to something that benefits them even more, they are adept at customizing a widget or formatting their cell phone pad to let’s say recognize commonly used phrases in text messaging.
Technology has empowered them to do whatever they need to do much faster than such “ancient methods” of conducting business as e-mailing: they are messaging to multiple people simultaneously, doing digital research for a course paper while commuting to work or traveling. Technology to them is not limited to computers or the Internet. They view it as any electronically based application or equipment that provides them access to information or communication. Customization is a key feature of technology for Net-Geners, it must adapt to their needs, not something that requires them to change.
Web browsing, instant messaging, and the Internet which are still considered transformative by their parents’ and grandparents’ standards are a basic part of their everyday lives. In fact, to Net-Geners they are only considered technology in the broadest sense of the term. For them technology is what’s new, and the time between “new” and “old” can be quite brief when viewed from a perspective other than the Net-Geners’. Everything that is “new” and “hard to understand” is automatically technology.
Do Net-Geners’ expectations regarding technology constitute a barrier to effective learning with technology? Does it mean that an institution’s “advanced technology” is already viewed as “so yesterday” by them? First and foremost, Net-Geners’ learning expectations begin with the expertise and passion of the faculty members. However, to engage them a professor’s knowledge of a particular field should be “astonishing” and his attitude should exhibit true passion for the field. They still view expert faculty members who are committed to teaching as the key ingredient for personal learning success. However, they have high expectations for their professors’ technology skills to the extent that the latter are capable of customizing the technology-enabled online learning environment and not only using the current well-established technology such as Courseweb, BlackBoard, etc.
Thus, faculty members’ general academic expertise, their ability to use technology effectively to communicate that expertise and customize the learning experience is of paramount importance to Net-Geners. In fact, Net-Geners’ expectations regarding technology customization in education are directly linked to faculty knowledge and skills. Their views on technology in the learning environment implies that without expert use of technology professors cannot effectively communicate their knowledge and engage them in learning. Net-Geners’ views regarding faculty use of technology to support learning are not modest: they do not expect to watch recorded Power Point presentations, and this does not comprise leading-edge technology in the online learning space. Such well-established features of the current higher education as BlackBoard, Moodle, etc., are not considered as “current technology” or PowerPoint as “contemporary software” by them. What they expect is real-time interaction with the professor and other students.
How will educators develop technology-enabled courses when students view technology as encompassing a wide range of mobile options and “education through seeing and listening” is neither worth their time nor useful to them? Moving forward with education, we should consider incorporating applications that help Net-Geners meet their needs for real-time engagement and deliver knowledge through such digital devices that allow them to experience learning. Net-Geners look for virtual tours on a particular topic, they expect to be exhilarated by their learning experience.