Rewiring Education & Connecting with the iGeneration


This morning I had the opportunity to finish reading Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn by Larry Rosen.  Over the next couple of days I will be writing about some of the connections I made as I completed the text.  However, with this post I wanted to share (and solidify in my mind) Rosen’s thoughts for “rewiring education.”  Throughout his book, Rosen calls on educators to connect with their students through technology.  While he never uses the phrase “rigor, relevance, and relationships” the belief in those three principles guides much of what he writes.  On the final page Rosen writes:

“”We can no longer ask our children to live in a world where they are immersed in technology in all parts of their lives except when they are at school.  We must rewire education or we risk losing this generation of media-immersed, tech savvy students who are often brighter and more creative than we realize.”

Interestingly, those words tie directly with a few experiences I had earlier in the week.  Like many districts, my school district is dealing with demand for increasing student performance on high-stakes, multiple-choice tests while at the same time trying to create authentic, meaningful 21st century learning experiences for our students.  This week all of our site leaders attended a day-long workshop on improving their roles as instructional leaders.  These events are new for us this year and have provided phenomenal opportunities for principals and district-level administrators to deepen their knowledge about shared reading, disciplinary literacy, and coaching.  However, I wonder if they’ve done enough?  Have we really helped our leaders see, appreciate, understand, and connect to the world in which or students truly live?  For example, take a look at the above picture.  This kid is using an video found on YouTube played on his iPod Touch to learn how to play the piano.  Need another example?  Last night Justin Bieber was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live.  Out of curiosity I Googled Bieber to find out how this 16 year-old got his musical start.  Imagining some early childhood role on the Mickey Mouse Club or Barney, I instead found out that his mom accidentally launched his career by creating YouTube videos for the rest of the family to see just three years ago!  This is the generation we’re teaching – individuals who can leverage the Internet to jump start a career before they finish high school and learn anything they want to using increasingly common technology.  Are improved print-based literacy strategies enough?  Will a teacher or administrator who thinks social networks are a teenage evil, views cell phones as nothing more than a nuisance, and has no clue how YouTube or any other user-generated content website works ever engage and relate to iGeneration students?  At the end of the final chapter in Rewired Rosen lists eleven ideas or recommendations for drastically improving the education we provide the iGeneration.  Below is his list (in italics) with some of my additional thoughts and notes.

  1. The iGeneration is a Creative, Multimedia Generation – Mutimedia must be used when teaching this generation.  However that does not mean simply transferring your lessons from overhead transparencies to PowerPoint presentations.  Teachers need to make use of multiple digital modalities and not place limits on the way students learn just because “that was the way we learned.”
  2. Education Must Respect and Mine this Generation of “Content Creators” – Any classroom of iGeneration students contains within it experts on creating digital media.  Teachers can engage students by giving them choices in demonstrating content-area knowledge through different tools, whether it be a movie, podcast, digital poster, or webpage.
  3. This Generation Thrives on Social Interactions – Teachers must make use of the iGeneration’s desire to connect and communicate both in their real and screen lives.  This might be accomplished through social networking study groups and online discussion forums.  Interestingly, this generation does not just want to be put into an online class either.  Under multimedia learners (#1) Rosen writes, “Students do not like the idea of having a class totally online.  This is somewhat of a version of school, without the socialization and without multiple learning modalities.  Its too static an environment for an entire course.”  In other words, the iGeneration is striving for a social balance.
  4. Restricting this Generation to One Writing Style will Stifle this Generation of “Communicators” – I plan on writing more about this tomorrow (so check back), but basically the iGeneration needs to write in multiple modalities.  There is some research showing this actually makes them more prolific and proficient writers.
  5. This Generation Thrives on Feedback and Lots of It – Teachers need to provide immediate and timely feedback.  This generation demands it.  Electronic tools, such as classroom response systems, cell phones, online forum, and blog posts can help to provide quick feedback.  With access to the Internet that feedback can come from peers inside and outside of the classroom that are part of a global audience.
  6. They Want to be Given a Job and then Set Free to Complete It at Their Own Pace – Don’t micromanage the iGeneration.  They tend to be nonlinear in their thinking and often just need guidelines and told to “go.”  I imagine this varies based on the grade level and specific set of students.  I also imagine effective assignments should also have multiple check in points.
  7. iGeners May Be Media-Saavy, but They Often Lack Media Literacy – The iGeneration must be taught how to effectively evaluate online information.  However, this does not mean turning off the Internet or allowing them to only have access to limited resources.  Instead teachers, all teachers, need to formally instruct strategies for evaluating the content of various sources.
  8. Now There Are Four R’s” – Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and “Realistic Technology” – Technology, similar if not the same as the technology they use outside of school, must be used to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic.
  9. Actively Seek Out Support from Techie Teachers and Students – Every teacher has 30-35 technology experts sitting in their classroom.  Quite often all they have to do is be willing to show themselves as learners and ask.
  10. Recognize that the Internet Provides Access to a Global Perspective – The Internet allows teachers to literally show their students the world with Google Earth, connect to experts via videoconferencing, and work on global collaborative projects using wikis, blogs, or Google Docs.  Instead we’re limiting ourselves by the way in which we think things “should be taught.”
  11. Teachers Wanting to Rewire Their Teaching Have Lots of Support on the Internet – Whether its Classroom 2.0, Edutopia,, or blogs like this one every teacher has support of fellow educators through the Internet.

As I mentioned in my very first Rewired post, the book appeared on my doorstep over Spring Break and while I can’t really recall who led me to this text, I am glad that they did.  For me Rosen’s work helped tie together various projects I’m working on for next year…and you might hear me talk about it from time to time now.  :-)  It has also reminded me that I must continue to challenge teachers to understand technology so that they can connect with, relate to, and engage their students.


Photo: Ryan Using an iTouch/YouTube to Learn a Song #FB by K Todd Scorch


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