8 May 2011

#H800 A Vision of Students Today

Week 13 kicks off with a video from Michael Wesch, presenting a portrait of today's learners.

The video focuses on the observation that classrooms have hardly changed since the 19th century.  Chalkboards are still used instead of Web 2.0 technologies.  Besides they reflect a model where the teacher possesses the information and students follow.

However, the video seems to confuse technology and pedagogy.  With pedagogy I mean searching for an optimal way to facilitate learning about a certain subject.  Technology can help to realize a desirable pedagogy.  The video suggests that chalkboards and classrooms are obsolete because they are old, not because of a lack of pedagogical potential. Similarly, the video seems to suggest that we should use internet, mobile phones and iPods because students use them in their daily lives, and not because they support better the pedagogies that we want to use.

ECAR is a study undertaken annually with American undergraduate students. The study focuses on possession and use of technology.  Data are collected through a web survey and focus groups.

Some highlights in the study:

1. The commodification of ICT.  Wifi, the CMS and mobile internet become as evident for students as electricity and PowerPoint in the classroom.  Students don't tend to regard them as examples of technology in the classroom anymore (p.18).

Just as it is beginning to make little sense to say “digital cameras” when all cameras are digital, we may stop thinking in terms of “web-enabled” or “technology-enabled” classes and student work when so much of teaching and learning is in some way mediated by technology (p.18)
2. Rogers' technology adoption cycle is still very useful, for example in explaining students' adoption of technology tools- the bell curve - and their opinion about its potential for education.

3. Some technologies are widely used by students such as Social Networking Services (SNS), but that doesn't mean they are also used for education, or that students would like to use them for education.

Fewer than 8% used them [SNS] to communicate with instructors about course-related topics and fewer than 3 in 10 students said they were using an SNS in a course at the time of the survey.  This pattern has not fundamentally changed since ECAR began asking about SNS use in 2008.  While it is a truism within course design and pedagogical circles that “all leaning is social” it seems that learning (or at least courses and student-faculty interaction) is not occurring in the online social spaces where most students congregate.(p.22)
4. The main reason for students to use ICT in education is that it is convenient.  About half of the students is convinced that it improves their learning and one third that is makes them more engaged in the courses.  I wasn't particularly impressed with these figures.
About half of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the use of IT in courses improves their learning … slightly more than a third of respondents agreed that they get more actively involved in courses that use IT. 

4. Students prefer to use a "moderate" amount of ICT in their courses.  
What may be the ultimate question regarding IT in a student’s experience is a question that ECAR began asking the first year of the student survey in 2004: how much IT do they prefer in their courses?  Using a 5-point scale from “no IT’ to “exclusive IT” we have found that responses over the last seven years have been remarkably consistent.  Majorities of students have told us every year that they prefer only a “moderate” amount of technology in their courses.
However, the meaning of "moderate" may have shifted with students over the years, rendering the answers to this question almost useless.   

In general I found very little "new" information in the ECAR study.  It seems to me that a lot of energy has been put to obtain quantitative data with very little lasting value.  However, the rapid evolving nature of ICT seems to make these research results obsolete before they are published.  Changing meanings of concepts (like moderate use of technology) and variations in the questionnaires make the longitudinal data difficult to interpret.  

Personally, I would prefer a more qualitative approach for this type of research.  The Kennedy (2006) paper seems to do just that, focusing on collecting good practices of how students use technology to support their learning and how teachers use technology to support their teaching.

In the discussion on students today, the same "camps" from the Net Generation debate keep coming back.  Their positions can be summarized as follows:

1. Net generation students are fundamentally different from other students, and HE needs to adapt to accommodate these students in their learning.

2. There is no net generation, but technology offers a wide range of possibilities to enhance education.

The Wesch video seemed to support the former, whereas the ECAR and Kennedy studies seem to support the latter.

Shannon D. Smith and Judith Borreson Caruso, with an introduction by Joshua Kim. The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2010 (Research Study, Vol. 6). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2010, available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar.

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