Generation Like and The Digital Diet

Recently, the Tech Knight had us watch a 2014 FRONTLINE film, Generation Like, which left me baffled as to the legitimacy of the quest this generation of students seems to be on- for digital likes.

Right off the bat, I’m prone to saying I DON’T UNDERSTAND what the thrill of it all is (700 likes on a Facebook profile picture?! Because, recently I generated 43 likes on one picture and thought that was pretty swell… apparently I was ghastly mistaken).

Yet, the reality of life in the 21st Century classroom is that our students are thriving and loving (or, should I say, liking) life in the ‘social web’. If we understand how and why our students are so obsessed with the ‘social web’ environment, we can use this knowledge to create a format for delivering instruction to students that will allow them to genuinely engage with the content, simultaneously promoting and practicing critical thinking skills. With a developed understanding of how students are using the ‘social web,’ comes the responsibility of offering students the opportunity to unplug and engage in a full range of experiences, within and beyond the classroom. Understanding how our students use the ‘social web’ helps us, as educators, prepare for instruction in a classroom full of tweets, texts, and technology.

There is no question that today’s students are immersed in a world of limitless, instantaneous interactions via the ‘social web’. As much as we may try to fight it, the ‘social web’ is invading our classrooms, with many schools and school districts instituting BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) or 1-1 laptop distribution programs. With these programs we give our students and ourselves access to information and resources that educators of the past could not have even dreamt of. However, we have to be able to understand the ‘social web’ our students are caught in to know how to effectively interact with them in the classroom, or we are simply embracing technology for technology sake. Educators can prepare for classroom instruction by embracing and engaging with the platforms that students are already using, gaining credibility with them (and, the education cyber world). Once functioning on the ‘social web,’ teacher-tailored technology can assimilate into instruction, to either coincide and fit with or question and challenge what students are doing within and beyond the classroom ‘social web’. As our schools as institutions catch the technology wave, our pedagogy and instructional methodology need to stay hip (as the teenagers say) to effectively reach the generation of learners cruising through our classrooms.

In preparing our classroom instruction to withstand the onslaught of our students’ ‘social webs,’ we take on the responsibility to lead students to understand that a balance must be struck between the online digital world and the ‘real’ world before them. Part of this entails making it clear to students that they have the option and ability to make the conscious decision to put their devices away when it is not the best tool. We need to understand how students use the ‘social web’ so that we can be prepared to offer solace from the constant infiltration and influx of technology. The advice in a 2011 Washington Post opinion article, The Digital Diet, is still relevant today; the author, Daniel Sieberg, asserts

“[I]t is time to make peace with all our gadgets and fold them into our lives more effectively. We need a strategy that that puts us back in control, rather than letting technology overwhelm us.”

As an educator to students who are members of Generation Like, it is important to give explicit instruction in how to unplug and detox from technology and their devices. As someone who is on the moderate side of device use and technology consumption on the ‘social web,’ I am able to see the value in “the digital diet,” and it is important that we communicate this philosophy to students. When you understand how students are using the ‘social web,’ you can prepare for how and when is a useful and appropriate method for classroom instruction- and then challenge students to decide.

In presenting content in a format similar to what they experience using the ‘social web,’ we help our students navigate the digital world using higher-order processing skills. However, the classic proverb from the Spiderman movies comes to mind when strategizing on how to integrate technology and the ‘social web’ into classroom instruction: with great power, comes great responsibility. With that in mind, it is ultimately our job to understand (the pros and cons) of students’ use of the ‘social web’ and develop healthy, balanced instruction for use in the classroom. Truth be told, in a classroom full of tweets, texts, and technology, understanding and embracing the obsession with the ‘social web’ can only better prepare an educator for classroom instruction.



FRONTLINE Generation Like

The Washington Post The Digital Diet




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Robyn W

Marymount University graduate student. Future teacher, lifelong learner. Brunch enthusiast.

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