College campuses were some of the earliest adopters of ubiquitous high-speed wireless networks. That's because students expect to be connected anywhere and everywhere. To that end, many colleges are trying to make other essential student services available online around-the-clock. These services include adding money to meal accounts, making doctor's appointments at the student health center and renewing library books online.
Net Generation students expect the same availability from college administrators, staff and professors. They want to e-mail the director of the study abroad program and receive an answer quickly. Net Generation students work fast and make plans even faster. They need institutional infrastructures that can keep up with their pace.
For students who have grown up in a 24-hour news environment, they want to be the first to hear about events that affect them personally. In response to the Virginia Tech tragedy, more campuses are signing up for emergency notification services that send weather alerts, security warnings and class cancellations directly to students' e-mail addresses and cell phones.
College professors understand the traditional "lecture, read and test" method is failing to reach the Net Generation college student. Large lecture courses are regularly broken up into small group discussions. Microsoft PowerPoint presentations are popular, as are posting all presentations, lecture notes, assignments and syllabi online.
Many traditional college courses now have online discussion components powered by software and services like the recently merged Blackboard and WebCT. Students and professors are pushing for these online course components to include more of the multimedia Web experience the Net Generation is accustomed to -- the images, audio, and video that make the information come alive.
But not everyone in academia is buying into the idea that the Net Generation represents a great departure from all previous college students. If anything, say some educators, it's the students who should adapt their attention-deprived learning styles to fit a traditional college education, not the other way around.
In an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education, American University linguistics professor Naomi Baron says that Net Generation students have confused effective communication for self-expression at all costs. Their writing and thought process lacks depth, since no time is set aside for proper reflection. There's something to be said, argues professor Baron, for the ability to sit still and think.