The Kids Are Alright

One lesson we continue to learn with regard to social media is that what was normal yesterday is old-fashioned today, and from where one stands today, it’s hard to picture what will come tomorrow. It’s easy to forget that email and the web have had mainstream users for only about a generation. Remember MySpace? Remember when Facebook was “in” until everyone migrated to Instagram and then Snapchat and then………

At the same time that all of these social media transformations have inundated us, if we visited schools, colleges, and universities, we would still not see that many changes. John Dewey was 92 when he died in 1952. But the American university classroom in the year he was born, the year he died, and today is not that different. Sure, there’s electricity and smartboards and other cool gadgets—just like we thought in 1952 when overhead projectors became ubiquitous in America’s classrooms. The basic structure didn’t change, however. We still had—and have—the sage on the stage lecturing to hundreds and the Socratic seminar with a handful.

Steve Weiland’s cautions in our book ring true. Social media is not creating a revolution in America’s classrooms, and we ought to get over the prophets who claim a revolution in learning is right around the corner. It’s not.

What we’ve learned from our book, however, is that access to higher education, and graduating with the training that can lead to employment, is more important than ever. How administrators, faculty, staff, and students respond to games and social media is one key ingredient that facilitates learning and engagement. The key word here is “facilitates.” People still matter. Robots are not going to replace teachers. Students still need one another and a professor to help them in their quest for learning. The problem-solving of today, however, is not simply done by putting pen to paper. As Jenkins, Kahn, and Gee note in their chapters, intergenerational learning and shared learning can be significantly facilitated by the array of games and social interactions we all can have on the web. The distinction between formal and informal learning gets lessened, and the definition of a class gets changed.

All of these changes are exciting challenges. We’re not expecting a revolution, and our book is not a “recipe for [internet] radicals.” But it’s facetious to think that everything is standing still and tomorrow will be predicated entirely on yesterday’s lessons. Instead, based on what we learned from the book, these three lessons are key:

  1. Employed strategically, gameplay and technology have the potential to meaningfully engage learners in ways that resonate with youth culture.
  2. One size does not fit all—the context of game and technology use matters. Universities are well-served by taking a holistic look at how game-based interventions best interface with their students in formal and informal environments.
  3. Evaluation matters. Far too often, educational institutions implement technology tools without thoughtful reflection and assessment of how the tools work, for whom, and under what conditions.


William G. Tierney is the Wilbur Kieffer Professor of Higher Education and co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. Zoë B. Corwin is an associate professor of research at the Pullias Center. Their book, Postsecondary Play: The Role of Games and Social Media in Higher Education, co-edited with Tracy Fullerton and Gisele Ragusa, is now available in paperback.