Thursday, February 5, 2009

Video Games and the Young Employee

In several articles, The Jan. 3 edition of The Economist looks at the so-called Internet Generation (those born in the 1980s and 90s) and their work expectations. Surprisingly, they tie attitudes of these Net Geners to the amount of time they spend playing video games.

"Net Geners demand far more frequent feedback and an over-precise set of objectives on the path to promotion (rather like the missions that must be completed in a video game)."

"Just as they are used to checking their progress on leader boards when playing video games, so Net Geners want to keep close tabs on their performance at work, too."

Of course there are positives to this, too. Net Geners tend to work well in teams toward a common objective... as long as this objective is clearly spelled out.

My sense is that a similar phenomenon is happening among college students.

For the last several years I have tried to be more transparent in my grading, putting grades online in "Blackboard" so students know immediately how they performed. I have also moved away from course objectives to "Student Learning Outcomes" making the course "student centered," and focusing not on what I hope to accomplish but on what the student will be able to do by the end of class.

Unfortunately, this may not be serving the students who are entering the workplace. Given the economic downturn, employers will not be asking "What can I do for you? How can I make this job a good, open, fun experience for you?" but "What can you do for the company? How hard can you work to accomplish the company's objectives?"

Sure, students like a course that focuses on them, that makes them the center of the learning universe. But the current job market may be a rude awakening for them.

If you are a faculty member, have you noticed some of this video game mentality (as The Economist calls it) among students? If you're a student, is this a fair assessment of your generation?

Update: This article confirms what the Economist suggests... but maybe it's a British thing?

More about it here in the Wall Street Journal. Facebook, one researcher notes, "reduces attention spans" and "infantilizes the brain."

Of course, reading this blog may have the same effect.


Nathan said...

Speaking for myself (a member of the "Net Generation") I have to admit that when I'm given little direction for work I tend to flounder. Conversely, when I understand exactly what is expected of me, I perform much, much higher.

And why shouldn't we get constant feedback? If our primary measurement of "Are We Doing Good?" is whether we're getting a paycheck or not, then we're always doing good. Right up until we're fired because our concept of what "doing good" for the company isn't what the company considers "good enough."

The idea that that people should miraculously know is as ridiculous as the idea that I, given an answer (like 42) can derive the correct question. I can derive a question to which 42 is the answer - but is it the correct one? The more data you have, the better judgement you can make. The better expressed the expectations, the better our ability to meet them.

That being said, I'd be shocked if that wasn't true for the majority of people - from any generation.

Lastly (as a quick aside), I'd like to point out that the question "What can the company do for me?" is equally valid (more valid, depending on your economic philosophy) as the question "What can you do for the company?". Just because the business is more "powerful" (whatever that means) than the worker doesn't mean that it's more entitled to benefit from the relationship of worker and capitalist.

Corry Cropper said...

Nathan, I showed your comment to a couple of colleagues. The one who is younger than me didn't have any problems with your comment, but he did say when he looks for a job (he's currently on the market) he asks both "what can I do for the company and what can the company do for me?"

The other colleague who looked at your comment (and who is about 10 years my senior) said: "He's so into the Net mentality he doesn't see the alternative, he's like the fat people in Wall-E who forget how to walk."

It must be a generational thing...

SM Sprenger said...

Not simply a generational thing, but more like a structural shift in consciousness. It is troubling in that it appears like a kind of "handicap" to longtime observers. Students are more and more incapable of handling complex texts or texts of any length. There's an impatience and a sense of entitlement to rapid accessibility that makes the teaching of authentic critical thinking difficult.

An Oxford scientist who has observed this shift is claiming a change in brain hardwiring due to overexposure to the net at early ages. Have a look at:

Look for a Pixar movie on this phenomenon in the coming years.