Saturday, March 12, 2011

Systemic Shredding?

According to Stephen Downes, Jim Shimabukuro,  does a "systemic shredding" of my research and other research that is reaching the same conclusions. Well, if by "systemic shredding", he means attacking my motives, misreading our research and selectively choosing the statements and conclusions that support his perspective then he may be right. But if he means that Shimabukuro has systematically reviewed our research and all the other research on this issue and revealed methodological flaws that make our conclusions suspect then he is wrong.

Shimabukuro biggest beef seems to be that our research at BCIT is not generalizable and that our sampling methods are suspect. Well, we never claimed that our BCIT research was generalizable beyond our institution. We make that very clear in all of our written work and presentations. As for our sampling methods, readers can judge for themselves. We followed accepted sampling procedures to produce a random sample of BCIT students.  All the details are spelled out in our article.

Shimabukuro then resorts to an attack on our motives. Surely if we are spending so much energy on this research there must be something going on. We couldn't just be doing it because we want to understand the issue better. So he checks my website and finds out I am a Dean and have been in this field for a long time so he concludes, "In short, he has invested a lot of his time and the colleges’ resources in developing and maintaining current practices, and one has to wonder if this track record might explain his efforts to defend the status quo against the real or imagined dangers that the Net Gens represent." This attack is hardly worth responding to but let me just say a) it is not true and b) this isn't just me. I am working with colleagues in three other institutions and there are well-regarded researchers in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, South Africa, Australia and the US who are reaching similar conclusions. Links to these studies are available on our research website.

The most annoying part of Shimabukro's "shredding" is his bizarre logic. It goes like this: a) the net generation discourse is one that advocates educational change via educational technology, b) we need educational change and greater use of educational technology, c) by exposing the fact that the net generation discourse is not based on evidence we are opposed to educational change. In his own words:

"Regardless of whether or not Net Gens are different, colleges ought to be looking at ways to use technology to improve learning. In other words, change and improvement, as goals, are independent of generational differences or similarities. To use the lack of difference as justification for continuing business as usual is missing the point of technology altogether. Technology is here to stay, and its presence will only grow exponentially in the coming months and years. This fact alone ought to motivate educators to explore ways to adapt or adopt it in innovative ways. The quibble about Net Gens is, at best, a distraction. "

While I disagree strongly with his deterministic conclusion, I do agree that change and improvement are independent of generation. And that is the whole point of our research: finding out what kind of change is needed, what impact digital technology is having, how students are using it in different contexts and not basing decisions on unsupported generalizations. We are in the midst of in depth interviews with our students about these issues and our findings are quite revealing. So far they confirm our survey findings: our students do not fit the net generation profile, they are not pushing for greater use of technology or radical changes to teaching. Does this mean all is well and nothing needs to be changed? No. But it does mean that making sweeping institutional changes based on the assumption that our students want and need it would be a mistake. Each institution has specific needs that are tied to its particular students, faculty and programs. Change needs to be grounded in the context not hype. But if you're skeptical of me because I've been doing my job for too long, then check out the nearly 30 other studies and articles that have been published from researches in seven different countries.

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