Friday, 13 November 2015

Learner Experience: Kennedy et al (2008)

Kennedy et al. (2008) provide a good critical reflection of the concept of the Net Generation, arguing that today's learners may be technological immersed, but don't necessarily have the academic digital literacy skills they need to harness the power of new technologies for their learning. Read the article and write a blog post summarising the key points of the paper.
This is a paper that makes the weakness of the JISC material even more evident. The researchers took a large sample of students at the University of Melbourne (2120, or 27% of the population) and surveyed them to review access to technology and attitudes.

The study, which of course is very specific to that demographic and time, found huge adoption of certain technologies - almost to the level of universality, and very high availability of others. They also found some kinds of activity were supported by technology for almost all students (e.g. for writing documents). The survey also gathered information about how positive students were about certain uses of technology within their studies.

Some of the things this group of students were not doing though are telling - 70% for example having not made a web page or content in the past year, so it is likely that a learning activity that led to creation of a website would be for the majority the student's first such experience in the year (not intrinsically a bad thing, but the assumption that they would be familiar with the process in planning the learning would be a mistake).

For me the most interesting analysis, and one I would be interested to try with secondary school students today, is looking for association between the extent to which certain technologies are used frequently by the student and the level of interest/ enthusiasm by that student in their being used by the University.

In particular they found that students that actively were involved in blogging were significantly more likely to give a positive response to some of the more peripheral and less "mainstream" uses of IT in their courses.

A key conclusion for me is in this section
"The results of this study highlight the lack of homogeneity in the incoming first year student population with regards to technology and a potential ‘digital divide’ between students within a cohort of a single year level. While some students have embraced the technologies and tools of the ‘Net Generation’, this is by no means the universal student experience."
If we seek as educators to ensure equality of access to learning, and working to 'narrow the gap' in attainment, we cannot blindly assume that the application of learning technology will have strong benefits for all learners, indeed it may well be that those who have the lowest levels of digital literacy are the same ones that have lower levels in other areas; be less engaged with the kinds of activity that are highly associated with positive attitudes to technology and therefore likely to benefit the least from the new technology. Educational technology could potentially widen an achievement gap by benefiting most those who already have the greatest access.

While this is pretty obvious, I find that seeing it set out in that way challenging. How can we implement learning technology in ways that at the very least will have an equally positive impact on all groups of learners, but specifically narrows the gap and supports those at most disadvantage?

Once again, my reading of the research seems to point to a well considered core provision accessible to all as a key strategy.

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