Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Will Practice Catch up to Research?

Two items that appeared in my news reader this week that make me wonder about the educational profession. First there was this one:

"Open University Research Explodes the Myth of the Digital Native"
It's not like we need any more evidence to put this discredited discourse to bed but this study does more than simply add to the growing pile of research that shows how thoroughly unsupported the digital native claims are. It also provides a glimpse of the kind of interesting issues that emerge when we look beyond the generational stereotypes and start to explore exactly what is happening with learners and digital technology (something we at Digital Learners in Higher Education are doing, by the way). So while this study of 4,000 UK Open University students simply confirmed what others have already found in other institutions - "no evidence for any discontinuity in technology use around the age of 30 as would be predicted by the Net Generation and Digital Natives hypothesis", the more interesting findings were the ones that have nothing to do with age. For example, the researchers discovered a correlation between attitudes to technology and approaches to studying. "In short, students who more readily use technology for their studies are more likely than others to be deeply engaged with their work."

So, after reading about this latest research I start thinking perhaps, finally, the tide has turned and that the digital native hype may be on the wane. Then I read this:

Mastering the Millennial in Seven Easy Steps. A workshop that will teach you how to connect and engage with this notoriously difficult generation. All in seven easy steps and only for $345. According to the seminar organizers:
"Millennial students have a unique way of seeing the world and often have high expectations of how others should work for them. This generation has the distinction of being seen as hard to work with and engage, while at the same time being extremely passionate and technologically savvy. This seminar is designed to help faculty and staff better understand and motivate millennial students in and out of the classroom."

It puzzles me why it is acceptable to stereotype based on age when we would never get away with doing this based on ethnicity or gender. Replace "millennial" in the above description with "female" or "asian" or "african-american" and you'll see what I mean.

The research is clear: there is no evidence to support the major digital native claims. Millennial students are not a homogeneous group who can be treated like a species of animal. One day, I hope, practice will catch up to the research.

Friday, August 5, 2011

And the beat goes on....

 While futurists and pundits continue to crank out the books portraying the "digital native" as some kind of newly-discovered tribe whose habits, language and culture we need to understand (see, for example, Dancing with Digital Natives), researchers continue to show how unfounded the generational claims are. And the research is coming from all parts of the world.

The latest piece of research I have read comes from the Caribbean, where Emanule Rapetti and Stewart Marshall have completed a study of learners at the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies. Their study, which is remarkably similar to our Digital Learners in Higher Education research, sought to determine whether UWIOC students fit the "digital native" profile and to develop a deeper understanding of how UWIOC students are using ICTs for learning.

Their results show that, while younger students are more familiar with ICT use in non-educational contexts,  there is not a clear gap between younger and older students in terms of their use and familiarity with digital technologies for learning. They also found that older students tend to prefer e-learning slightly more than younger students. They conclude, "it is necessary to contextualize the discourse about learners and to avoid generalizations about their - supposed - technological skills; our research shows that it is highly risky to split the tech-savvy learners simply according to the age factor."

Read the full article, Observing ICTs in Learners' Experiences around the World.