Teaching the iGeneration

Larry D. Rosen

Our children and youth are immersed in technologies that give them opportunities no previous generation has enjoyed. How will schools respond?

New Generations

Studying generational similarities and differences can be tricky; no individual completely fits the profile of a particular generation. But research suggests that the majority of people born between a rough set of dates actually do share many characteristics (see Strauss & Howe, 1991).

Those born between about 1925 and 1946 are often called the Traditional or Silent generation. Growing up through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, they are characterized by a belief in common goals and respect for authority. The Baby Boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, tends to be optimistic, idealistic, and communicative and to value education and consumer goods. The next generation, born between 1965 and 1979, were defined by Douglas Coupland (1991) as Generation X in his book of the same name; the label X signifies that, compared with the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers are not as easily categorized.

With the 1980s and the birth of the World Wide Web, the power of cyberspace came to the masses and a new generation of web surfers, very different from their predecessors, was born. The most common label for this generation is Generation Y, simply meaning the generation after X. Some people stretch this generation past 1999 and refer to its members as Millennials. To me, these names are an insult to our first true cybergeneration. This generation should not be defined by the next letter in the alphabet or by the turn of the century. I believe that Don Tapscott’s (1999) term—the Net Generation—better reflects the impact of the Internet on the lives of its members.

On the basis of our research with thousands of teenagers and their parents, my colleagues and I have identified a separate generation, born in the 1990s and beyond, which we label the iGeneration. The i represents both the types of digital technologies popular with children and adolescents (iPhone, iPod, Wii, iTunes, and so on) and the highly individualized activities that these technologies make possible. Children and youth in this new generation are defined by their technology and media use, their love of electronic communication, and their need to multitask.

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