One of the most significant factors portending a coming disruption in education are the students.

Currently in elementary and middle school, our youngest students are the first to be raised in a completely wired world. While it will take generations for brains to be “rewired” by the changes happening with technology today, there are immediate realities that are having a significant impact on how we communicate and interact with each other and information.

Researcher Don Tapscott has been studying this youngest generation for years and developed what he calls the eight norms for the net generation.

A few thoughts on each briefly.

Freedom: The Internet has opened up whole new worlds on how we buy things, where we work, how we communicate. Google encourages their work force to spend 20% of their time on projects of their own choosing. Students get more choice than ever before, and they are coming to expect it from the most unlikely of places (school).

Customization: With digital technology and just-in-time manufacturing, it seems everything is customizable now a days. We Build Our Own Bears, get monogramed M&Ms, and have more personalized web portals than we can keep track of.

Scrutiny: With more access to information, we expect to be able to check facts and get peer reviews on about any topic. Patients arrive for meetings with their doctors having already pre-diagnosed themselves and children have no fear of fact checking anything an adult tells them.

Integrity: Following right on the heels of scrutiny is integrity. Generation Y and Z students are idealistic and have a strong notion of social justice. We have seen service learning become integrated into the curriculums of most independent schools.

Collaboration: While adults may lament the seemingly poor social skills of our youth, behind the scene they are collaborating like never before. More importantly, because of the amount of information available at their fingertips, students today are quick to gather information that used to take hours of time in the library. We may call it plagiarism, but might call it “sampling.”

Entertainment: This is probably the most publically lamented aspect of our recent culture. The Daily Show is a fairly sophisticated blend of entertainment and news. While it is fairly easy to recognize Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live as humor, a large number of people report getting their “news” from Jon Stewart.

Speed: We can organize, communicate, and change things faster than ever before. For youth new to the work place, the pace of change in many larger organizations seems glacial.

Innovation: If you pull together some of the above characteristics (customization, collaboration, speed), you can understand how the net generation embraces innovation.

Whether or not you agree with all of Tapscott’s eight norms, the reality is that our youngest students are interacting with the world in a way that is fundamentally different than earlier generations. As a result, schools are dealing with both internal and external forces that are pushing for radical change.

In my next set of posts, we’ll look at some of the ways schools are embracing these new possibilities.