A couple of days ago, I worked with the school district of the Chathams (yep, two Chathams), a few miles west of Newark, New Jersey. It was a facinating and very appealing community and I was reminded, once again, how hospitable people can be and not be from the south (sorry).
Most directly, I worked with a local education foundation, which has funded a number of technology projects for the system, including projectors and interactive smart boards, video game systems (Nintendo DSes, and a cyber social learning center at the high school. They asked me to come and talk about video games, their associate superintendent having met me at an NJ conference a year ago.
I presented an afternoon workshop with educators, sandwiched between two sessions for parents and the community, one in the morning and one in the evening. It turned into a long but very enjoyable day. As you might expect, there was some initial skepticism about the educational potentials of video games, and I did not alleviate all of it– nor should I. We should all remain cautious about new technologies and new techniques. It is too easy to go overboard, blinded by the glare and seduced by the glitz.
We tend to form our opinions about what is new from our past experiences, and when talking about education, we all have fairly rich experiences to draw on — and though they not always positive experiences, they are indelible. It was during the evening session that the most push-back occurred, as I shared some findings indicating that the video game generation is more sociable and better collaborators than the previous generation. This ideas is especially difficult to easily grasp when it goes against the experiences of watching our children spend hours alone, at the screen, game controller in hand.
One particular woman challenged this idea, stating that employers are complaining that young workers are unskilled at personal interactions and do not easily adjusting to work life. I should have asked her where she was hearing this and under what circumstances, but being pressed for time, I simply responded that these video game and social networking experiences do not make our children and that we all had difficulty adjusting to our first jobs. I also brought up one of the studies, published in Got Game, by John Beck, Senior Researcher for the USC Annenberg School’s Center for Digital Futures.
Part of the message of this book is that because of their video game experiences, today’s youngsters are gaining skills and insights that may be especially useful to today’s business and industries. However, those skills may not be easily apparent, that to see and leaverge these skills we have to alter our expectations and even aspects of the work environment and schedule and even the nature of our assignments. The woman seemed less than completely convinced, but I went on.
After the session was over, a young man came up and introduced himself. He has recently taken a new job at a small publishing house, but before that worked at McGraw Hill. He said that he supervised a number of employees and that he found the younger folks to be a delight to work with — that they were creative, good communicators, and eager to please.
He also mentioned that McGraw Hill had offered generational training to its supervisors, informing them of the differences between the work styles of younger workers and older ones. He said that one thing he remembered was that younger workers want to know that they are doing a good job, that they need frequent reinforcement — an idea that makes sense in view of the constant reinforcement provided by video games, and even social networking activities.
This is not to say, again, that the kids are perfect communicators and or collaborators or that they adjust easily to new work environments. The issues are far to complex to express in one hour. However, it is essential that as we continue to value our own experiences and the lessons of those experiences, we must be willing to open our minds to the value of new ones.
It’s not a new lesson!