Does it seem like the traditional (18-22) students showing up at your college or university are behaving more rudely than past generations of students? If you said yes it’s not necessarily an indicator that you are getting more crotchety. It appears there really is some truth to the notion that incoming students are more rude than past generations. But some new sociological studies suggest the students’ rude behavior isn’t intentional. Rather, they are simply exhibiting a more isolated form of behavior in which they are oblivious to adults like you. A new book documents the phenonmenon, and explains some of the reasons. What are some of these significant behavioral changes?:
Living in a technology dominated world, with social lives that are revealed online, the new generation has a different concept of privacy and personal boundaries.
Making a good impression means far less to them.
Exhibiting rude behavior, such as listening to an mp3 player or playing a video game while others are present, is thought to be part of living in a technology bubble.
You may recall the “Me Generation.” This late seventies – early eighties phenomenon spawned a generation with an egocentric life perspective characterized by a materialistic lifestyle. Today’s “Generation Me” is quite different. Generation Me has access to ubiquitous technology, and can always be in touch with peers even though they are isolated in their own technology bubble. Think of students who maintain contact with friends primarily through IM or social networks while alone in their room. So what can we do to better connect with Generation Me? What are good strategies to use the next time students are text messaging during your instruction session? Start by taking a look at this article that introduces some of the issues. It may be an issue that will take an organized effort on a campus geared towards developing more civility and community. Perhaps the best thing is for academic librarians to understand this phenomenon, realize that there’s more to uncivil behavior than meets the eye, and to work with academic colleagues to develop programming that will encourage students to emerge from their technology bubble.
What Should We Call Them?
Every academic librarian has their own personal preference for what to call them. At a library I once worked at one of the other librarians called them “readers.” Well, readers is probably less descriptive of the people who come into our libraries these days – it may have worked well in the fifties but now I’m not so sure. What I do know is that we sometimes struggle to find a good term or phrase to describe the folks who use our libraries. I have tended to call them “users” or “my user community”. According to Don Norman, design expert, I may need to find another word to describe them. In an essay titled “Words Matter” Norman states that we depersonalize the people we serve by calling “user”. In fact, it is derogatory. He doesn’t like custormers or consumers either. I think we agree on that. So what should we call them? Norman says we should just call them people. He says we’re people, we create system for people, and resolve the needs of people – so why not just call them people. Or do we call them library people. I will have to give this some thought. To me, saying my “user community” just sounds a whole lot better than “my people”.
No Technology Replaces Critical Thinking
I recommend you read this brief essay by John Stuckey, an Associate Editor of Ubiquity. It resonated with me because I too worry that we sometimes feel pressured to jump on technology bandwagons for fear of having users desert us if we hesitate. In his essay “Critical Thinking for the Google Generation” Stuckey focuses on a similar issues; faculty fears about being left behind or left out if they don’t incorporate technology into the teaching and learning process. He’s not opposed to teaching technologies. He says used correctly it can enrich and strengthen education. In coming to the conclusion that we do our students more harm than good when we pander to their desires for “digital dessert and candy” in order to keep them pacified he says:
…they still require education in learning how to ask the difficult questions that most likely have no simple answers. That is what critical thinking requires.
We owe it to them to explain the differences among a Google search, a literature search, and research.
Good education is still hard work and not usually glamorous.
So while it is no doubt easier to convince ourselves that we are doing good things for our students when we give them Google-like search boxes on the library’s home page – and tell ourselves that by making it all easy for them there will be no need for user education, I think we are perhaps taking shortcuts to avoid that hard work Stuckey speaks of and as a result we do a disservice to those we are here to help.
Meet An ACRLog Blogger At ALA
I don’t expect that to be the highlight of anyone’s conference experience but just in case you are at the conference and would like to share your thoughts about the blog, make some suggestions, or whatever a good time to reach me is on Saturday afternoon (6/24) in the exhibit hall. More specifically I’ll be at the ACRL booth between 4 and 5 pm. I hope you stop by to say hello.
Be An ACRLog Blogger At ALA
Maybe you’d rather be a blogger than meet a blogger at ALA. Thanks to those who responded to our call for bloggers, but there are plenty of ACRL programs to go around and we could still use some additional bloggers. It’s easy. Just take some notes, write it up, and send it in. It’s not too late to get in touch. Even if you don’t contact us in advance, if you decide to send in some notes after the conference that’s fine with us.
Kate Wittenberg, Director of the Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia, has an essay in the Chronicle Review urging scholars and their publishers to think about the implications of social networking software and student preferences when planning for the future. She thinks scholarly publishers need to stop spending their energies fighting the threat of losing control of their content and think creatively about the possibilities of interaction. In fact, she wonders if content is important, or “are the tools, functionality, and access built on top of the content what are of real value?”
We need to get serious about developing online publications that allow students to freely explore the vast array of content and tools available through the World Wide Web, while still allowing an appropriate level of guidance concerning how to select and evaluate the sources that they find. And we must look at methods to deliver and store content in ways that allow students to use their remote devices to access it and that work through and enhance the online communities where they spend so much of their time.
I agree whole-heartedly that there needs to be more collaboration among librarians, scholars, and publishers; after all, we’re in this together. But think about textbooks as a cautionary tale. Students have pretty much voted with their feet when it comes to electronically-enhanced textbooks. Forget the bells and whistles, give me the basics at a reasonable price, and let me sell the sucker back at the end of the year if I so choose. Some “enhancements” have the devilish habit of eliminating the students’ ability to do what they want with the material. And students are not buying it, literally.
And I also wonder – is it wise for publishers to develop “tools and functionality” that will guide its users down certain paths? As a reader, I tend to resist functionality other than the narrative provided by the author, which is the kind of guidance I’m happy to take. And it seems to me one of the most essential memes of social networking is that the way a text (or image or thought) will be used depends on what people choose to do with it.
So sure, let’s invent new approaches to publishing that enables students (and the students who will grow up to be our next generation of scholars) to find and use scholarly texts employing the tools they prefer. But don’t spend a lot of resources designing tools and layers of functionality. Give ’em the content and the freedom to use it, and they’ll do the rest.
And whose LIBQUAL+ feedback you heed . . .
If there is one request that I have seen from students in every user survey to which I have ever been privy, it is the request for more hours. Here at Kansas, we have two 24-hour facilities, and our feedback from students remains: “More hours at Watson Library” (one of the two that is not already 24-hour).
Now, on the other side, today’s Inside Higher Education reports on the concerns of campus health care professionals, who worry that 24/7 access to libraries and computer labs may result in increased physical and mental health problems among students due to lack of sleep. It’s an interesting argument, but it seems to me that I spent plenty of nights in college not getting enough sleep even before libraries were 24/7 and, yes, before the World Wide Web!
I’m not sure how this is our fault.
Other reasons to stay up all night that are perfectly legitimate: (1) being involved in theatre (my college pre-occupation; rehearsals and tech calls routinely lasted until 3 am); (2) working (more and more students have to work 20+ hours/week to afford college – see this week’s CHE – my first job in college was working library security from 12-3 am); (3) being involved in undergraduate research, esp. bench science (those experiments often have to be checked regularly all night long; hence the long-time call for 24-hour science libraries); and (4) being a student in Engineering or Architecture (I don’t know why, but those students are always up all night working on projects).
There are some good opportunities for collaboration here, though, around real Information Age health issues, e.g., repetitive movement disorders, Internet (now video poker) addiction (see last week’s story in the NYT Magazine), etc., but I don’t see them shutting down the libraries or labs, and I don’t see them turning off wireless access to the residence halls after 10 pm.
CHEPA is the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at USC. Every few months, I check out the new issue of its newsletter, The Navigator. The Spring 2006 issue had an interesting piece on the digital divide that suggests a new opportunity for collaboration between academic libraries and student affairs.
A report on a forthcoming study of low-income, urban high school students that suggests that the ongoing digital divide can have a significant impact on student access to financial aid, i.e.: “students increasingly have access to financial aid information on school computers . . . [but] lack the practical knowledge needed to complete the application process . . . . Because of little to no training of college counseling staff and/or students at the high school site, many students engage in financial aid processes online without a clear understanding of how to be a proactive advocate for one’s own financial aid needs.”
Now, imagine: instruction librarian + financial aid office + diversity recruitment officer + Office of Civic Engagement = workshop provided at urban high schools (or at convention of high school guidance counselors) aimed at making high school counseling staff and first-generation college students more information literate about the financial aid process.
There’s also a little piece on new research on Video Games and Student Learning – another hot topic on the conference circuit this year!