03 March 2015

Two teenage girls taking a selfie with their mobile phoneIt may not be the hallowed halls of Hogwarts that they are entering, but when the Class of 2015 step into university this year their tutors will do well to recognise that the cultural icons this class grew up with are a world away from their own. 

The magic of Harry Potter and the magic of mobile communication are hallmarks of their lived experience. 

University of South Australia lecturer and researcher in the social impacts of communications, Dr Collette Snowden, says the Class of 2015 has vastly different points of reference even from their relatively youthful tutors. 

“1997 babies came into being the same year that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was published, the first in a seven book series that reignited an interest in reading for children around the world,” Dr Snowden says. 

“As importantly, they share their birth year with Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin were working on a project arising from their PhD research, and registered the domain name Google.com in September 1997. 

“The years from 1997 have seen communications technologies develop at high velocity. Playfully that kicked off with the craze for Tamagotchi in 1997 – a preparation for a lifetime of button pushing and urgent responding to devices. 

“But in the same year, internal antenna appeared in mobile handsets setting a precedent for lighter, more compact devices, including the first clamshell phone; Palm Pilot released the first affordable Personal Digital Assistant (PDA); and it was also the year that the first image from a camera in a mobile phone was transmitted – an initial step into the world of the selfie. 

“From the magic wands of Harry Potter to the ‘wand of narcissus’, their lives have been dominated by personalised technology.” 

Culturally, along with the magic of Harry Potter, the year saw the release of the Wiggles Movie and the sci-fi comedy Men in Black become an international hit.  

Meanwhile this class were probably watching Teletubbies and cuddling up to Tickle me Elmo and their parents were enjoying the local film The Castle, so much so that phrases such as, ‘that’s going straight to the pool room’ and ‘tell’em they’re dreamin’ entered the Australian vernacular.  

“As teachers trying to communicate ideas and set up discussion and analysis we need to be aware of the cultural landscape in which our students have grown up. That doesn’t mean we can’t analyse things beyond their lived experience, but it does mean we can’t take for granted that the class will understand cultural or historical examples and comparisons that we take for granted,” Dr Snowden says. 

For the Class of 2015, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Gianni Versace, Michael Hutchence, Jeff Buckley and Allen Ginsberg, have always been dead. 

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Bringing Them Home report on the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families was released. It brought into common understanding the notion of a ‘stolen generation’ and  set in train a broader debate about the treatment of indigenous Australians, the narratives of Australian history and the institutional abuse of children. 

This generation grew up only knowing Hong Kong as part of China. Climate change has always been on their agenda - the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon emissions was signed by 150 countries the year they were born. 

They were born before we considered the threat of global terror a priority and were at kindy when the World Trade Centre was attacked.  Under John Howard, Australia's Strategic Policy announced a maritime focus for defence. The policy analysed the potential for future security problems, noting “our largely benign environment today”. Terrorism on a large scale was not among our future threats in 1997.

In one of the most politically stable, culturally diverse countries in the world, migration, multiculturalism and national identity have been a dominant public debate all of their lives, marked by the registration of One Nation as a political party. 

In 1997 Diabetes was declared a National Health Priority by the Federal government, and debates about food and its relationship to health have been a constant in their lives. 

Dr Snowden says it is invaluable for educators to take a look at what was happening in the world when their students were growing up. 

“We are all marked and influenced by our times, there are iconic events and points of culture that carry meaning for each generation,” she says. 

“Increasingly there are technological changes that influence the way people learn and communicate. 

“We can never assume shared understandings and meanings. By being aware of that we have better starting points for learning and a better idea of what will have meaning for each year of students we teach.” 

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli office: +61 8 8302 0966 mobile: 0418 823 673 email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au




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