Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What's the Big Deal?

That's often a question I get asked about our research around the net gen and how learners are using new technologies for social and educational purposes. The implication being that it really doesn't matter if this net gen thing is overhyped and not very accurate. Well, here is an example of why it does matter.

The University of Missouri appears to have grounded its new online learning initiative on the misguided and ill-informed view that all learners in the net gen age group are technology addicts who constantly multitask, communicate digitally and want to use these technologies in their learning. "That's how they learn. That's how they think," says Steven Graham, senior associate vice president for academic affairs at the University of Missouri. Well, actually, it's not, at least not all of them. In fact we know very little about the impact of digital technologies on thinking and learning. What we do know is that all the credible research suggests this isn't a generational issue and that viewing it in those terms hides more important differences. There is a fair amount of survey data on student preferences for technology in learning and it tends to show that, in general, they prefer a moderate amount and face-to-face teaching is the preferred mode. As an example, the 2009 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology concludes that students, "are more likely to describe themselves in terms of mainstream adoption of technology, and they consistently report that they prefer only a moderate amount of IT when it comes to their courses."

Despite that the University of Missouri is spending nearly half a million dollars to develop 124 new online courses because that's what they think students want.

That's why this is such a big deal.


Zanne said...

And there are more. The U.S. has a long history of pseudoscience informing educational policy and practice. Two of the most infamous are the assumptions underpinning the bell-curve and IQ testing. That was the 20th century. It was uglier in the 19th. Some of our most popularized constructs have been (and still are) grounded on racist and/or sexist assumptions and ideologies. In addition, the unfilled promises of educational technologies transforming teaching and learning have been documented since the 50s if not earlier. Skinner's teaching machine comes to mind. In short, ample precedents have been set for which skepticism towards sweeping claims is necessary.

I point to this blog often :)

Mark Bullen said...

Thanks for your comment Zanne and good point about IQ testing. I recently read 'IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea' which details the unfounded assumptions underlying this. Despite that, it is still widely used.