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The more things change

January 27, 2012

People like to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m not sure I believe that, unless staying the same means changing all the time. Am I giving you a headache?

I just finished the second week of my Applied Multimedia course and I am amazed by what I discovered regarding student technology use. I know that change should not surprise me. Beloit College’s annual Mindset List reminds us that, among other things, today’s freshmen have never touched a TV dial. It’s one thing that I know changes are happening; it was a different matter when I personally experienced three of them.

1. No CDs

One early class activity involves creating a ringtone from a music track. For years, students have brought in a CD, captured a track, and edited it down using Audacity. On Monday, as I was about to head to class one of my student workers commented, “I don’t have any CDs.” During class I took a poll — only three out of fifteen said they had CDs. They may have left them at home when heading off to school, but this is a big change from a couple of years ago.

FACT: In 2011, online music downloads accounted for more than half of all music sales in the USA.

2. Reading on the screen

I was able to arrange for free online access to two textbooks for the course, courtesy of our library’s subscription to Safari Books Online. I figured most of the students would still prefer paper. Not the case. Nearly all said they would read at least part of the book online. Half of them said they’d use Safari for most of their reading. I followed up with a question about ebooks and was similarly surprised by the level of experience and comfort the students professed. Again, two years ago this was not the case.

FACT: last February, ebook sales topped those of paperbacks in the USA for the first time.

3. Apple of their eye

Finally, I always ask the students how many prefer Mac and how many Windows. This year only two of the students said they were Windows users. That’s less than 15%! I’ve been told that many campuses are now at a 60% rate of Mac ownership.  This is a more subtle change than the first two but still surprised me, even though I knew the Mac percentage on campus had been steadily increasing for years.

FACT: 80% of students purchasing a new computer last summer chose Apple over Microsoft.

So what’s the point? I remember all of these things beginning to change but I feel like all of a sudden I looked up and the changes had happened. The move from Windows to Mac may not be a big deal to teachers, but the other two signal a sea change from use of physical media to consuming content digitally. So far, most digital files are confined to one device – a laptop, MP3 player, or smartphone – but that will change soon. It won’t matter which device you take along; they’ll all have access to every bit of media content you own.

As educators, we need to understand this change. What new possibilities will it afford us? How will we capitalize on ubiquitous access to vast troves of media? Are we ready?

Data sources

Update – here’s a related article by David Pogue: Things That Were Once Amazing.
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