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.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Small Study Finds Gap between Educational and Informal Use

Only 29 students were surveyed in this study by Swapna Kumar so we have to be cautious about the results. The undergraduate education students at a large private university were asked about their perspectives on Web 2.0. technologies, specifically about their informal and educational use of these technologies.

The results confirm other studies that show that technology use is multifaceted and that we need to look more deeply at how the technology is being used. Like other studies, this study found students consumed far than they produced with technology. In other words they were primarily passive users of the technology and not making full use of the affordances of Web 2.0 technologies.

On the other hand, Kumar's finding contradicted other studies in finding that the students were able to transfer their personal expertise with the technologies to the academic context:

"the qualitative data summarized earlier in this paper reveal that students in this group use Instant Messenger when completing assignments, and Google Docs for archiving and group work, even if their professors are unfamiliar with Google Docs. They suggested innovative and relevant ways in which online videos, podcasts, and wikis can enhance their educational experience in contrast to research reported by Caruso and Kvavik (2005) and Kennedy et al. (2008). Students’ voluntary descriptions of how these resources have been used in courses that they have attended, as well as their enthusiastic suggestions, signify their interest in the use of new technologies in higher education."

But as Kumar points out, this interest in the academic use of the technology may have been driven by the students' interest in teaching and the fact they were enrolled in an educational foundations course. As we have said, the context is critical.