Saturday, November 17, 2012

Comparing Digital Learners in Face-to-Face and Virtual Universities

The digital native/net generation hype has quieted down in recent months and thankfully has given way to an increasing amount of solid research into how learners are using digital technologies and what the impact might be of their growing social and educational use. One of the more positive features of some of the new research is that it is not just coming out of conventional North American University contexts.
Beyond the Net Generation Debate: A Comparison of Digital Learners in Face-to-Face and Virtual Universities reports on research conducted by BegoƱa Gros, Iolanda Garcia and Anna Escofet who compared the behaviour and preferences towards ICT of face-to-face students and online students in five Spanish universities (one offers online education and four offer face-to-face education with LMS teaching support). Their research attempted to answer the following questions:
  1. What are the differences between the use of “living” technologies and “learning” technologies by younger and older students?
  2. What kinds of activities are supported by those technologies in everyday life and in academic life among younger and older students?
  3. In which way does the university model affect learners in terms of ICT use and preferences? 
Their conclusions are similar to those of many of the other studies that have examined digital technology use in higher education: age or generation is not the issue and there are more important factors at play that educators need to consider:
"Although access to and use of ICT is widespread, the influence of teaching methodology is very decisive. For academic purposes, students seem to respond to the requirements of their courses, programmes, and universities, as suggested by Brown and Czerniewicz (2008). In all cases, there is a clear relationship between the students’ perception of usefulness regarding certain ICT resources and the teachers’ suggested uses of technologies. The most highly rated technologies correspond with those proposed by teachers. In face-to face environments, the pedagogical model seems to be based on a traditional model in which the teacher provides the content and students value the use of ICT to present this content. In online environments, students perceived technology as supporting learning and communication. In this case, the value of ICT is not related to the content but to the learning process."
This is remarkably similar to the Digital Learners in Higher Education research which is guided by the following research questions:
  1. Do postsecondary students distinguish their social and educational use of ICTs?
  2. What impact do students’ social use of ICTs have on postsecondary learning environments?
  3. What is the relationship between social and educational uses of ICTs at in postsecondary education
In particular see Learning in Digital: An Approach to Digital Learners in the UOC Scenario which also examined the use digital technologies in a Spanish virtual university and Digital Learners in Higher Education: Generation is Not the Issue which examined the issues in a Canadian technical/vocational institutional context.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Researchers of Tomorrow Lack Digital Skills

In the UK, JISC has just released a large study of the research behaviour of doctoral students born between 1982 and 1994. This is the supposedly digitally fluent "net generation". The digital natives who live and breath digital technology. Not so according to this study. Here the key findings:
  • "This generation of doctoral students operate in an environment where their research behaviour does not use the full potential of innovative technology.
  • Doctoral students are insufficiently trained or informed to be able to fully embrace the latest opportunities in the digital information environment.
  • Doctoral students are increasingly reliant on secondary research resources (eg journal articles, books), moving away from primary materials (eg primary archival material and large datasets).
  • Access to relevant resources is a major constraint for doctoral students’ progress. 
  • Open access and copyright appear to be a source of confusion for Generation Y doctoral students, rather than encouraging innovation and collaborative research. Authentication access and licence limitations to subscription-based resources, such as e-journals, are particularly problematic. "
The three year study was jointly commissioned by the British Library and JISC and began in 2009. It involved 17,000 doctoral students from 70 universities at various stages in the project.

Read the full report.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Students Confused by Digital Technologies

"New research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has revealed that some university students are confused by the array of technologies available to them during the course of their studies. The report, led by Dr Christopher Jones from the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, also found that whilst many students are distracted by social networking sites during study, a small minority of their peers do not even use e-mail."

Read more:

Friday, April 20, 2012

The New Net Generation Myth

I guess it was bound to happen. As new technologies develop and spread, new myths are created.  We have had 10 years of unfounded hype about the "net generation" which we were told was fundamentally different than previous generations because of its exposure to digital technology. Never mind that most of these claims are not supported by research. Now we have many of the same claims being made but about the specific impact of mobile technologies and as a result we have new generational labels like the "mobile generation" or the "re-generation".

According to Tammy Erickson, in How Mobile Technologies are Shaping a New Generation, "the "Re-Generation" began to take shape around 2008. Individuals at the formative ages of 11 to 13, those born after about 1995, were part of a substantively different world than the one that had shaped 11 to 13 year olds over the preceding fifteen or so years...they are the first unconscious participants in an era when everyone has access to everything, everywhere, at every time. This is the generation of mobile technology, wireless communication, and clouds of constant content.

And what are the characteristics of this generation?

A pervasive sense of connection
Options (not obligations)
Anonymity and the ability to hide
Confidence and control . . . to be an initiator, designer, problem-solver

Sounds familiar. It is too easy to look at statistics on use and make all sorts of inferences but what good research has shown is that using a computer, tablet or smart phone for one task doesn't necessarily translate to others, doesn't make the user a sophisticated user of the technology and doesn't necessarily have any impact on other skills and traits.

Yes, the data clearly show widespread use of digital technology and mobile technology but it is a big leap from this to claims like,  " a generation of  unconsciously competent users of both computers and of the Internet. " or "a generation that is used to asking big questions — and is confident of finding answers. ... They have had the experience of digging deeply into a burning
question because they have access to a mountain of information."

We have only just managed to debunk the net generation myth. Let's not start again with a "regeneration" myth.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Role of Digital Technology in Learning

Here's another study that suggests student use of digital technology in higher education is more complex and nuanced that the net gen discourse suggests. Gabriel et al's approach and findings are very similar to ours in the Digital Learners in Higher Education project. Among other things, like us, they found differences in how students thought about and used digital technologies in their academic and non-academic live:

"Students' most frequent use of technology outside of school was email, Internet, social media, texting on cell phones, instant messaging, and talking on cell phones. The focus was on communication and socializing with others. The students' most frequent use of digital technologies in school were (in descending order) accessing information on the Internet, using email, word processing, math and science programs, texting on cell phones, and accessing electronic databases. In school, the students tended to use digital technologies to collect, select, and work with information. The differences between these two lists are significant. Some students felt that there was a place for all technologies in an educational form, while others wanted to maintain a separate digital footprint for inside the classroom as well as outside the classroom digital technologies."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Students Oppose Online Learning in Ontario

It's interesting that some of the most outspoken criticism of Ontario's plans to use more online learning in higher education is coming from.....students. Weren't we told that today's learners want more technology and less lecturing? That the current model of education is outmoded and that students wouldn't put up with it anymore?

From the Canadian Federation of Students:
"The fact that they're talking about such a massive overhaul without having reached out to faculty or students is cause for concern," said president Sandy Hudson.
"To think that three in five of all courses — the majority of courses in a year that students would be doing — would be online, that is definitely harming the quality of education," she added.
"If this is a measure to save money ... how far behind are Ontario students going to be with the rest of the country, with the rest of the world, if most of the learning that we're doing isn't even in front of a lecturer that we can then approach for assistance?"

So much for the net generation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Understanding Digital Learners

David White and his colleagues at Oxford University are doing some interesting research that parallels what we have been doing in our Digital Learners in Higher Education project. Like us, they are finding there is much more to how learners are engaging with digital technologies and digital information than age and technology. This interview provides an overview of their findings to date and explains the digital visitors and residents framework that is guiding their research.