Educating the Net Generation and What To Do About Printed Publications?

There is this new book that you must read. It is edited by Diana G. Oblinger of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, and James L. Oblinger of North Carolina State University. It's called Educating the Net Generation, and you will find it completely available online, at no cost to you, in HTML and PDF--but EDUCAUSE is not printing, warehousing, and distributing printed copies.

Instead, on the home page for the book there is a button for "Professional Printing Options." When you follow it, you'll find a note that suggests that you can (a) download the PDF to a local print shop and have them print it or that you can contact one of three companies that can print, bind, and ship copies in a variety of ways. Not that most of my readers will want to, given that the eBook version is free and full of links and other features.

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I'm intrigued by EDUCAUSE's method of solving the print versus digital dilemma and it helps me think through some issues, but it still d'esn't solve a dilemma I have in my day job at the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP).

SCUP also publishes books, interesting and useful books, but it's very, very difficult to make money on books with small print runs. Not that 501(c)(3) organizations are supposed to make money, but when we put $10,000 into the development of a book product, not including the time of our staff, we've got to find ways to recoup those dollars and pay that staff. It's getting harder and harder to do.

Herein lies the problem. There is a lot of good stuff in books, especially books published by professional organizations like SCUP and EDUCAUSE. Our members are where the real expertise is, in higher education administration, and finding ways to connect members, get their knowledge shared, and stimulate communication is a primary goal of the essential knowledge organization that is a professional association.

Personally, I am very excited by the technologies that encourage digital ways to do all that. However, I have not yet (with help, even) figured out the best way to deliver written products to SCUP's constituency, which can and d'es use the tools they find most useful, such as Blackberries and Treos and laptops, but very little so far in the way of Web services. We're experimenting with Wiki and Blog technologies and a number of virtual working group tools, but our members are on average in their fifties and very busy people with little time for potentially frustrating learning curves.

There is no doubt in my mind that by the time the kids in college right now constitute the bulk of SCUP's membersip, SCUP will have not printed a book in decades. Which brings me back to Educating the Net Generation: The EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI), which Diana Oblinger heads, has been doing plenty of good work directly focused on the academic core of higher education's mission: learning. There are plenty of eye-openers in such chapters as: "Is It Age or IT: First Steps Toward Understanding the Net Generation," "Convenience, Communications, and Control: How Students Use Technology," and "Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles: Implications for Investment in Technology and Faculty."

The ELI is not alone in focusing on the student and learning. Quite a few other professional organizations, including SCUP, whose membership is not overwhelmingly professorial, have refocused at least a part of their professional development efforts on the impact of what their members do on student learning. At SCUP, although we have a good many budget and resource planners, as well as architects and physical facilities planners and IT folks, we consider the academic plan the structure on which all other planning should take place. It's why we're all on campus in the first place.

Diana spoke at the closing plenary session at SCUP's 40th Annual, International Conference and Learning Marketplace last July. A lot of what she presented, in a very moving experience for our members, is within the scope of this new book. She was speaking to an audience that many people might think is fairly removed from the hands-on issues relating to learning, but you could have heard a pin drop in the room during her pauses.

If you're an experienced conference-g'er, you know that the late morning closing plenary brunch session is often one where many of the several hundred in attendance bring their luggage, and presentations are often interrupted by people getting up, saying goodbye to friends at the table, and heading out for the airport. Frankly, it's something I worry about each year. Since I read up on the topic of who our students are regularly, and also employ several undergraduate work-study students, I didn't focus on Diana's speech so much as on the audience and its reaction. I don't think a single person left the room while she was at the podium. These people want to understand their customers!

I made an interesting observation during this time. Because I was watching the audience, and sometimes Diana, I was able to see that nearly 100 percent of the audience was watching the large screens with her slide show on them rather than watching the speaker, even when a slide had been up for a while: clear evidence that this generation did grow up with television. :-)

Education the Net Generation is a must-read. Without negating its value, though, as a practicing association management professional, what I want is the book or the road map, right now that tells me how to keep a publications program solvent--and even make it a net revenue generator for organizational sustainability--as we get from here/now to there/when the Net Generation constitutes the Society for College and University Planning's membership.

If you know where that book or road map is, please let me know.

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