Want to reach them? Forget telephone or email; try social media instead.
They were born in the year that could have ended it all – right before the turn of a new century and the potential chaos the so-called Y2K bug could bring. They are the final babies of the 20th Century and next week many of them – students, largely born in 1999 – will be starting university.
And as they arrive for classes – both on campus and online – University of South Australia researcher Dr Collette Snowden says it is important for lecturers and tutors to consider the unique life experiences and perspectives of this new cohort of students.
An expert in the social impacts of communication, Dr Snowden says the Class of 2017 is no stranger to technology, communicating voraciously through mobile devices with a preference for text and social media rather than email – preferably with images or video.
“These students are digital natives, who are more likely to use YouTube to find out what they need to know rather than dig for text based information, even online,” she says.
“They have grown up with constant access to technology, even as their parents and wider society debated its impact on behaviour, communication and employment.
“While the role of technology in their lives has always been ambivalent, beginning with global concerns about the potential of the Y2K bug to destroy the world, these students have few difficulties with negotiating the virtual world.
“Throughout childhood, they have borne witness to a stream of new and evolving technology which has transformed local and global economies and challenged convention at every step. In this environment, the future has become less secure and less certain for them.
“Yet they thrive in fast-paced, ever-changing environments. The key for this cohort of students is constant adaptation to changing technology.”
According to Dr Snowden, every student cohort has unique social and cultural experiences that correspond to milestones in their lives that educators must consider when referring to case studies and historic events.
“The year this cohort was born saw political debate dominated by the referendum on whether Australia should become a Republic with the Australian Republican Movement led by our current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull,” she says.
“Internationally, Vladimir Putin has always been the leading figure in Russian politics, and the Class of 2017 has no experience of a pre-Putin or Soviet Russia.”
Dr Snowden says popular culture also changes rapidly, and there are marked differences year to year.
“For these students, Frank Sinatra and Dusty Springfield have always been dead, while Mr Squiggle and Friends aired its final episodes after 40 years on air in 1999,” she says.
“Britney Spears was a dominant force in popular music with three entries in the ARIA top 100 charts, but was beaten for the song of the year by Lou Bega, with Mambo No. 5.
“David Bowie's Hours became the first complete music album by a major artist available to download over the Internet in 1999, heralding a sign of things to come regarding how people consume music, movies and television in the new century.”
Dr Snowden says universities now use the technology these students are so familiar with in combination with traditional teaching methods but she also stresses the importance of truly understanding each new generation of students.
“We need to be aware of the cultural context of their lives and ensure that the content of courses and reference points at university are just as relevant to them as the technology of delivery,” she says.
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