Friday, June 26, 2009

Digital Learners in Austria

A study out of Austria provides more evidence that we need to carefully scrutinize the claims about the existence of a generation of digitally literate learners who are demanding new ways of learning and working.

Walther Nagler and Martin Ebner surveyed first year undergraduate students at Graz University of Technology in 2007 and 2008 about their use of digital technologies. Like other surveys of higher education students, they found widespread use of digital technologies and possession of devices such as laptops and mobile phones, but not a sophisticated use of the technology: "Although young students are technologically increasingly well-equipped, they do not exhaust the potential of their devices or the potential of common Web 2.0 applications." What is somewhat surprising then is Nagler and Ebner's conclusion that their evidence supports the need for a "rethinking of essential structural elements at universities."

Read the the paper, Is Your University Ready for the Ne(x)t-Generation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More Research Questions the Net Gen Hype

The results of another study are casting more doubt on the prevailing view of the "net generation". This study, out of Ashridge Business School in the UK, produced similar results to those from our BCIT study and are consistent with research done in Australia and elsewhere in the UK.

The Ashridge study found, among other things:
  • Media hype has produced a largely untrue image of Generation Y, which may be restricting their potential in the workplace and society.
  • Just like any other group of human beings, Generation Y is made up of individuals. There are wide variations in their attitudes and behaviour.
  • The generational landscape is complex, with many different influences and variables. Teasing out real cause and effect is a challenge.
  • Generational boundaries of about 20 years do not accurately represent the backgrounds and behaviours of cohesive groups. Instead, Generation X and the Baby Boomers are better represented by being split into two ten-year cohorts, and the same may be true of Generation Y as it matures.
  • Viewpoint is important. How each person sees him/herself and how others may see that person is often different and leads to stereotyped images of Generation Y and of older generations by Generation Y.
One concern I have about this study is few details of the research methodology are provided and it appears that the full report is only available for purchase.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why the Net Gen Rhetoric is Dangerous

In his article, Making Way for the Millennials: How Today's Students are Shaping Higher Education Space, Persis Rickes relies on the largely unfounded claims about the net generation to argue for re-designing campus physical spaces. Here are some examples:

"Given their comfort level with technology and penchant for team-oriented behavior, Millennials are substantively changing instructional space—as well as the very nature of instruction. Because today’s students socialize, study, and collaborate in groups, the learning environment is no longer place-bound. This translates to a need for multipurpose spaces for group activities, including small group/seminar rooms and blended social/academic spaces. As veteran multitaskers, students do not view spaces as single purpose in nature."

"Because Millennials prefer to learn and work in teams, small group rooms are needed that can be used as breakout space during class or for study and project work after class has ended. "

"To adapt to a new generation of students, the library has become another partner in collaborative learning. Given the penchant of Millennials to multitask, it frequently serves as a quasi-student union space—and vice versa. "

Rickes relies largely on the work of Howe & Strauss which has been critiqued elsewhere in this blog. I do not question the need for learning spaces that are fit for purpose and that meet the needs of today's learners but let's base our planning decisions on what we know about our learners not on questionable claims about an entire generation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Educating the Net Generation - Australian Research Project

It's too bad this research project has the same title as the book by Oblinger and Oblinger because, unlike the book, this research project does a much better job of providing some evidence-based understanding of how this generation is using digital technology and the implications for teaching and learning.

The project, which is based at the University of Melbourne has investigated how "commencing first year students and their teachers use traditional and emerging technology-based tools in their everyday lives and to support student learning and drawn on the expertise of teachers and the results of this investigation to develop and implement pedagogically sound, technology-based tools to enhance student learning in local learning environments."

One of the outputs of the project is a handbook, Educating the Net Generation: A Handbook of Findings for Practice and Policy which is available for download. The researchers have also published a number of articles and made several presentations at academic conferences.

Key findings of this research project:
  1. The rhetoric that university students are Digital Natives and university staff are Digital Immigrants is not supported.
  2. There is great diversity in students’ and staff experiences with technology, and their preferences for the use of technology in higher education.
  3. Emerging technologies afford a range of learning activities that can improve student learning processes, outcomes, and assessment practices.
  4. Managing and aligning pedagogical, technical and administrative issues is a necessary condition of success when using emerging technologies for learning.
  5. Innovation with learning technologies typically requires the development of new learning and teaching and technology-based skills, which is effortful for both students and staff.
  6. The use of emerging technologies for learning and teaching can challenge current university policies in learning and teaching and IT.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Social to Learning Technology Transfer Not Automatic

Back in August 2008 I posted a link to two Australian conference presentations based on research done by Gregor Kennedy and colleagues. Here's an article in the Australian Journal of Educational Technology that reports on that research, First Year Students Experience with Technology: Are They Really Digital Natives.

One of the key conclusions of this study is consistent with the findings of our research:

More research is needed to determine the specific circumstances under which students would like their 'living technologies' to be adapted as 'learning technologies'. The positive association between students' use of technology and their preference for its use at University leaves unanswered the question as to whether students' everyday skills with emerging technologies will correspond to skills associated with beneficial, technology based learning. As noted by a number of authors (Kirkwood & Price, 2005; Katz, 2005) the transfer from a social or entertainment technology (a living technology) to a learning technology is neither automatic nor guaranteed. These issues point to many unresolved issues that warrant further investigation.

Read the full article.