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.