16th April 1999 at 01:00
Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation.

by Don Tapscott. ISBN 0070633614 - Price: pound;17.99.

The large amounts of money being devoted to ICT and learning will be wasted if we do little more than learn how to make software function or use it to support our present curriculum. Tapscott's book is an attempt to go beyond that in order to look at the implications of ICT and its impact on young people. The writer, based on the US experience, has the tendency to invent shorthand concepts like "the Net generation" in the hope that they will seize the linguistic imagination in the same way that "baby boomers" and "nuclear family" did. Tapscott leaves you in no doubt that the generation which grows up immersed in a digital culture will be radically different from generations who have gone before.

The section on learning is the core of the book. Tapscott characterises the present system as the "broadcast" mode of learning because, just like a TV programme, education has to suit a wide audience. He argues that with information technology this method is not appropriate - we now need an interactive personalised mode.

He describes eight steps: from linear to hypermedia learning; from instruction to construction and discovery; from teacher centred to learner centred; from absorbing material to learning to navigate; from school learning to life-long learning; from mass learning to customised learning; from school as penance to school as fun; from teacher as transmitter to teacher as facilitator.

Tapscott argues that it is not enough to use computers to improve what we already do; we should be exploring new avenues. He envisages a different role for teachers.

Many will agree with the assertion that a student doing a random stroll through the information world is not a way to learn. Teachers can become navigators, providing crucial support and guidance on how to go about learning. The Internet will not do that; it is the teacher who mediates the student's engagement with the Internet. To do this teachers need to become as fluent in new media as their students.

The chapter on the mind is the most absorbing. There are writers who argue that information technology will have a deleterious effect on the brain: reduce attention spans, add to isolation, impair social skills. Tapscott argues that it will create a generation with acceptance of diversity, curiosity, assertiveness and self-reliance. He also thinks that they will be "contrary" - in plain English, "bloody minded".

One fascinating anecdote is about Cybersitter, one of those programs designed to filter out unsuitable material. One student managed to find the list of sites that were being blocked and discovered that the National Organisation for Women and the Jewish Bulletin of Southern California were on the list. He asked Cybersitter why and didn't receive an answer but was threatened with a lawsuit. That did not go down well in the freedom loving US.

Don't be deterred by its American origins, the book is relevant and readable and threaded through with anecdotes to illustrate the writer's points. Anyone who wants a fast track to what might be happening in some kids' heads will gain a great deal.

The above book is published by McGraw-Hill. Tel: 01628 502500.

Jack Kenny

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