01 March 2013

Young people in 2013Around Australia this week a new generation of university students is being freshly minted and they have their own cultural reality. The Class of 2013 are the Wiggles generation and they expect education to be entertaining, interactive and colourful.

Having grown up through the Wiggles era in which approaches from early childhood education were successfully combined with popular music, entertainment and marketing they want excitement in their learning.

Dr Collette Snowden, at UniSA School of Communication, International Studies and Languages has considered the differences between the life experiences of the cohort of students who completed Year 12 in 2012 and their tutors and lecturers.

 “For the majority of this year’s undergrads (born in 1994 or 1995) Kurt Cobain, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Hollows and Rudolph Nureyev have always been dead, and newspapers have always been a medium in decline,” Dr Snowden says.

“Kylie Minogue and Elle McPherson are older than many of their mothers.

“So for academics teaching the Class of 2013, the case studies, examples and references to people and events used  in the classroom require careful consideration if they are to hold any relevance for these students.

“Our assumptions about what constitutes ‘general knowledge’ are challenged when we consider their life experiences, and reflect on how different they might be from our own.”

The Class of 2013 are in the tip end of the generation defined as ‘Generation Y’ or ‘Millenials,’ and there are clear generational differences between them and the average academic aged between 45 and 55 and even their even slightly younger colleagues.

“The one clear defining feature that characterises the Class of 2013 is the transition from an analogue to a digital world,” she says.

“And while they are effectively ‘digital natives’, it doesn’t mean that they completely understand or appreciate how the technology they use works. But they do expect it to work.”

For this generation of students there has never been a time when the rich graphic interface of computers and video game consoles have not been available.

The Simpsons, once touted as undermining values, have been their cartoon family companions since birth and they cannot imagine life BMP – Before Mobile Phones. For many of these students, their first mobile was a smart phone, their first computer was a laptop and their first camera was digital.

They have grown up with reality television and its message that everything in life is a competition.

They have also grown up with fear of terrorism as a constant.

With the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report issued in 1994 debate about climate change has also been a constant presence in their lives.

They will enter the workforce as Babyboomers retire and Generation X consolidates control of government, business and other institutions. 

While they will have a different set of values and aspirations, they share the same desire for peace and happiness of previous generations. And while they may express them in new ways – lol, ftw, omg, rofl – they have the same emotions and frustrations.  

Their first 18 years have been a time of technological progress and growth, but also uncertainty in global politics.

Economic conditions in Australia have been good for most of them, for most of their lives.

“As their teachers we need to be aware of their socio-cultural reality,” Dr Snowden says.

“That doesn’t mean they can’t learn about the icons and experiences of the past, but we need to be engaged and refreshed by the experiences, trends and issues that matter to them now.”

Their undergraduate years should prepare them to be active participants in the Australia they want to live in, she says, even if that includes singing The Wiggles catalogue at Karaoke nights and reminiscing about NAPLAN tests.

The following list, based on Australian news reports and events from 1994, gives some indication of the life experiences of the Class of 2013.

1. Kurt Cobain, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Hollows, Weary Dunlop and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, have always been dead.

2. The Wiggles won the ARIA award for Best Children’s Song in 1994 and were performing up to 500 shows a year, so chances are that these students went to at least one of them.

3. Qantas has always been privatised.

4. They might just know who Paul Keating was, but they can’t remember a time when a Labor Prime Minister was not only despised by opponents, but also respected.

5. Pay television has always been available to this generation of Australians.

6. The average wage was $658, and a litre of petrol was about 60.8 cents.

7. They believe that it’s possible to be successful at anything as long as you “want it badly enough.”

8. Following years of negotiation between Steve Jobs then at Pixar, and Disney, Toy Story, the first feature-length film created using computer-generated imagery rather than traditional animation finally went into production.

9. Popular toys included everything and anything concerned with Power Rangers.

10. The Australia Science and Technology Prize was awarded to American ecologist, Gene Likens, for work on Sustainable Land Management.

11. The name of Australia’s largest Telecommunication provider has always been Telstra.

12. Nick Leeson was not giving advice to businesses about risk and Corporate Social Responsibility, but was the notorious Rogue Trader who brought down Barings Bank.

13. Newspapers have always been a declining media business. The Class of 2013 do not read them anyway. But they do watch The Project.

14. Thanks to Netscape Navigator, the use of the internet without graphics and point and click interactivity is largely unknown to them.

15. This is the first generation to have grown up with accessible home video game technology.

16. Computers started to get faster following the introduction of the Pentium Processor.

17. A controversy was ignited when Cathy Freeman carried the Aboriginal flag on the lap of honour after winning the 400 metres track event at the Commonwealth Games in Canada.

18. They are more familiar with Prince William than Prince Charles, and with Kate rather than Diana.

19. Their first camera was digital.

20. Bob Hawke has always been an avuncular, silver haired, ex-Prime Minister – any references to his radical past require archival footage.

21. The Fremantle Dockers have always been in the AFL, and the AFL finals have always been based on a final 8 following the introduction of the McIntyre Final Eight System.

22. The Wollami pine was discovered by bushwalker David Noble.

23. The Shawshank Redemption and Four Weddings and a Funeral, began the journey to constant repeat showing, although Forrest Gump won out at the Academy Awards  with best picture.

24. Peter Andre was not a UK reality television celebrity, but the winner of the 1994 ARIA awards for the Highest Selling Australian Single, “Gimme a Little Sign.”

25. The term ‘on the spectrum’ has always referred to people, rather than rainbows.

26. Nelson Mandela, is elected President of South Africa, and is known more for his role as a statesman than for his role as a dissident prisoner.

27. Michael Jackson goes from the triumph of performing at the US Superbowl and Grammy Award ceremony, to the disgrace of child abuse accusations that haunt the rest of his life.

28. They really don’t know who Monica Lewinsky is, or anything about her relationship with the US President, Bill Clinton.

29. In Lillehammer, Norway, Australia won its first Winter Olympics medal with a bronze in the men’s 5,000 metres short track speed skating relay team of Steven Bradbury, Kieran Hansen, Andrew Murtha, Richard Nizielski and John Kah.

30. Francis Giacco won the Archibald Prize for portraiture for his homage to cellist John Reichard, while Bill Leak won the People’s Choice Award for a portrait of Malcolm Turnbull.

31. In Afghanistan, the struggle for power between various groups, including the Taliban, resulted in the collapse of the central government. Pakistan provided refuge for 1.5 million refugees.

32. The first genetically modified food, the Flavr Savr tomato, was approved for commercialisation in the United States, but proved not to be viable.

33. Shorts are a suitable item of clothing for every occasion, whatever your age.

34.  It was the start of the Mark Taylor era of Australian cricket.

35. There has always been a Big Day Out in the summer.

36. The Miles Franklin award for literature was won by Rodney Hall for The Grisly Wife.

37. The David Unaipon Award for literature was won by Valda Gee and Rosalie Medcraft for The Sausage Tree.

38. The Australian Opera performed for the first time outside of Australia, at the Edinburgh International Arts Festival.

39.  Silvio Berlusconi was elected as Prime Minister of Italy for the first time, while John Major was in the middle of his term as the British Prime Minister.

40. There has always been an obesity epidemic.

41. Kerry O’Brien has always been a journalist on the ABC, but they don’t know Jana Wendt.

42. The Class of 2013 have no idea who Christopher Skase was, or why he was pursued for most of their childhood.  

43.  There has always been a Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

44.  Despite gloomy predictions about the environment there were signs of hope in the rediscovery of Gilbert's Potoroo after nearly 100 years.

45. There is a good possibility that their name, if male, is Michael, Christopher or Matthew, and if female, Jessica, Ashley or Emily.

  *** In the process of researching information for this list it was impossible not to encounter and acknowledge the US Mindset List produced by Professor Tom McBride and Ron Neif at Beloit College, Wisconsin. The Mindset List has been produced at the start of the US Academic Year since 1998.

By necessity there is some commonality of material, but differences between Australia and the USA required an original compilation of data from a range of publicly available sources. 

Contact for interview

Dr Collette Snowden mobile 0414 769 382

Media contact

Kelly Stone office (08) 8302 0963 mobile 0417 861 832 email Kelly.stone@unisa.edu.au

Michèle Nardelli office (08) 8302 0966 mobile 0418 823 673 email michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

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