Is “Generation Y” an Age Away? Social Media, Distraction, and Learning

The following post is an excellent submission to our general call for posts from undergraduate students. Nicholas Ashmore, a student at Trent University’s Oshawa campus, offers insight into using digital tech in the classroom. We sincerely thank Nicholas and we hope you enjoy this submission.

On behalf of the digitalcommunitas team,

Dr. Sara Humphreys

I just finished my second year of undergrad, and have now gone back to my old high school to build my teaching portfolio. I’m helping teach two courses at the senior level, and while I have expected countless questions about my university experience from my students, I’ve found that for every one question from them, I’ve gotten about five from fellow teachers. Most of these teachers graduated with their bachelor degrees and teacher certification around the time I was born (which was in the mid-90s, though I am always careful not to mention this fact), and their most common question is this: what’s university like now? This usually evolves into a conversation about technology and its use in the classroom, and I’ve found that the reactions are truly a mixed bag between those who have underestimated the so-called digital revolution, and those who seem to believe that I have microchips implanted in my neck and Google Glass lenses in place of eyes. In other words, there are about equal groups of my peers who have both over and underestimated the advancements that technology has made in the lives of students.

I study at a small satellite campus (and wouldn’t trade this experience for the world), so it is sometimes difficult to relate my experiences to someone who graduated from a larger school. Regardless, of my five professors in second year, three were very invested in social media, one was passively interested, and one has not ever given it the time of day (I find myself doubtingthat there are any other groups in which we could categorise modern undergraduate professors).

Personally, I own a smartphone, tablet and laptop, and am very active on my phone and computer at home (less so with my tablet). However, I am in the minority amongst my fellow students in the sense that I do not take my computer to class unless I know in advance that we are doing a technology-based project in class that day (finding articles in class or something similar). I use the calendar in my phone to punch in due dates for assignments—I have also linked my computer to this software so these alerts show up there each morning—but that is the extent to which I use my personal devices in the classroom. For me, printing my class notes has proven far more effective for retaining lecture material, and I can intuitively draw arrows or make notes for myself anywhere on my pages. One of my best professors this year told me to annotate everything I read—I’ve taken this a step further and also annotate everything I write.

I’ve found that, with regards to social media and technology in my classrooms, students are either introverted or extroverted. I consider myself an academic, technological extrovert in the sense that I engage with professors and other students through social media, and am constantly checking my class websites and student email for academic updates. I would be lost without these programs. Alternatively, some students are more technologically introverted; that is, they rarely seem to check their email and rarely use social media for school, if at all.

So, given my experiences, I tell my fellow high school teachers (it feels strange saying “fellow”) that technological success depends on the student. It is easy to become distracted by the technology available, but I have personally had no such issues. I rely on my phone both in and out of the classroom, and I firmly believe that a student’s success nowadays is reflective of how they utilise the technology at their disposal. Simultaneously, I highly recommend handwritten lecture notes—at least try them out and see how you do. Basically, digital technology does not divide or distract, if the user knows what he or she is doing. Maybe it’s up to us, as teachers, to inform students how to use tech decorously.


  1. Get Your Head Out of Your Asana, We’re Still Rockin’ it Old Skool. | Digital Communitas - December 3, 2014

    […] haven’t replaced our organic vision with Geordi La Forge visors, or as Student Voice Nicolas Ashmore suggests, Google Glass. After all, it is certainly easier to pull up a clip on YouTube and project […]

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