Customization Generation

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Derek walked into technology class like he does every A day on his schedule. A quick “Hello Mr. U” and off to his computer. By the time I greet the other students and we begin class Derek has done the following to his class computer:

1. Change the desktop background to another picture in the sample picture folder. Why? Because the one that was there was not his.

2. Change the settings of the Windows menus to reflect his colors, font, style. Why? He didn’t pick those colors.

2. Quickly go into the control panel and change the cursor to a twirling dinosaur. Why? He likes it that way.

3. Get the height of his chair just right, move the mouse and mouse pad where it is comfortable for him.

This is a customization generation.

I watched this happen last Wednesday and then asked Derek to put all the settings back to the default, the way there were when he came in as that’s the rule of the tech lab. What interested me most was Derek was only one of about 8 students who did this exact thing. Come in, sit down, customize!

Interested in this customization generation I watched and witnessed these same actions over and over again, student after student. In the computer lab they customize their computer. Everyone has a cell phone with a customized ring tone, customized start-up screen and customized settings. Their iPods are customized with the type of ear buds they choose, the type of cover they choose and of course the type of content they choose to download.

Every person customizes their life. We customize what we feel belongs to us or is a part of who we are. Clothes, bedroom, backpack, pee chee folders, mechanical pencils, etc. That’s what my generation customized in school. I remember when the old yellow pee chee folders like my dad used came back in style in high school. It was cool to have just the basic yellow pee chee folder with the sports players on it. You customized it by coloring in different sports players.

To my generation those where the extensions of ourselves that we customized. That made us stand out, or blend in. Today it’s the customization of the technology these students use that does the same.

What I am starting to see is that if these students can not customize a technology device to their way, their style, than it does not interest them. If you want to engage todays students in technology, you better make it customizable. Which is why later today, I will set up me elective class using netvibes. Each students will sign up for a netvibes account. We will talk about RSS, and customization. Each student will be able to customize their netvibes page. Decide which content comes first, how many tabs they will have, how they are going to divide their content and the color of each RSS feed. It will be interesting to see if the student take to it. A fully customizable home page, with their links, their web sites, their information.

I’ve also been looking at the profiles that students are setting up within our Moodle site. This is another place where students get to customize who they are. Sure they like learning online and they love using the program as a learning platform, but it’s the being able to customize their profile that gets the most attention. What picture represents you? What information do you want to share, what do you want to keep private. What do you want your description to say about you? I’ve had three girls who have spend more time changing and customizing their profiles at home then they have in the class. (Thanks to the activity log kept by the Moodle system) I figure they will continue to tweak their profiles for awhile yet until they are just right, and then they’ll move on.

How do we take this customization generation and apply that customization in the classroom? Allow students to choose their method of presentation, choose where they go to find their information, and choose to learn in a way that meets their needs. Can we have customized classrooms? Where each student, has access and uses the tools they need to learn. Where the teacher is customizable giving each student just what they need to succeed. How would our student react if we gave them the control to customize their education.

Update: Finished class about an hour ago and the students loved netvibes. Not one of them knew what RSS was, but of course they caught on in about 30 sec. My favorite quote from the students was a 7th grade boy who said. “You mean I can have all my information in one place?”


[tags]21st Century Learning, Reflecting[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Interesting post. I would agree that today’s generation has the tooIs for customisation, but I’m not convinced they all use them.

    I wish my sons would adopt Derek’s take-charge attitude. My elder son would sit on the uncomfortable chair, twist his wrist at whatever angle the current position of the mouse required, ignore the wallpaper and the mouse. He is the sort of kid who might plonk his homework down in a puddle of milk he spilt at breakfast time, and ignor the fact that there is a pencil underneath the book, creating a great big lump in the middle, where he is trying to write. He is very laid back and takes everything in his stride. This is both a great strength and a shortcoming.

    My other son is more likely to pay attention to what is wrong, but would get very annoyed that things aren’t exactly as he wants them to be. He would be likely to take it all very personally and get into a bit of a strop because he had to make all the adjustments to his workspace. For him everything is black and white and he struggles to cope with things that are not as (he thinks) they should be.

    I think Derek has the right approach, but I’m not sure he’s truly representative!

    A also find that today’s culture of the tall-poppy syndrome seems to be that kids should not stand out, but should just try to be like everyone else. It’s stomping all over their competitive instincts and quashing their creative individuality. Perhaps it is less prevalent elsewhere in the world (our limited experience of the US would indicate that it is gloriously absent there), but it has been a source of great frustration to us since we moved to the UK, and my cousin who teaches in New Zealand complains of the same culture there.

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