ED506 – The focus of my examination

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the focus of my M.Ed. is on educational technology, specifically the prescriptive application of the appropriate technology to achieve or improve an educational experience. Over the past 6 months or so, I have found myself exploring an explosion in innovative web-based applications which have been assigned the unofficial moniker of Web 2.0. Blogs, podcasts, wikis, social bookmarks, aggregators and virtual communities (the online equivalent of social networks) are just some of the latest trends in the online experience. That is all well and good you might say, but why is this important to me as an educator?

Two recent research studies have led to some startling revelations about our current generation of young learners. In early November 2005, the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) published the ECAR Study of Students and Information Technology, 2005: Convenience, Connection, Control, and Learning in which they describe the characteristics and aptitudes of the generation that has been termed the “digital natives.” Other monikers include the “net generation,” the “twitch generation” and the “Millenials.” Around the same time, the Pew Internet & American Life Project published their report, “Teen Content Creators and Consumers.”

Each of these studies identified trends in this generation of learners that are important for educators to bear in mind. The ECAR report shows that among the participating colleges and universities:

  • 96% of student respondents own at least one computer
  • 55.6% of these computers are laptops, an increase of 10% over the 2004 results
  • Yet only 14.1% of the students actually bring these laptops to class
  • 90% of student respondents had access to broadband connections
  • The average student spends 11 – 15 hours per week on their computers.

One important item to note is that while students self-reported that they were sufficiently versed in computer and internet technologies, ECAR data

“…suggests that students are possibly rating their skills higher than they ought. Students report difficulty with new kinds of applications or technology, and troubleshooting their computers.”

As educators we should bear in mind that comfort with computers and applications does not necessarily imply an ability to employ those skills for academic purposes. In addition, a technology proficiency gap already exists between the skill levels and technology preferences of the incoming freshman and outgoing seniors. In a span of only four years, there is already a significant difference in the aptitudes and comprehension of our learners. This gap is borne out, at least allegorically, by my experiences working with students at both ends of the spectrum in my role as the coordinator of the Technology & Learning Center on my campus. Couple this with the fact that sum of our human knowledge has grown more in the past ten years than at any other point in our history and according to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD) continues to double every 18 months (Siemens 2004), it is clear that if this is a challenging time to be an educator, just imagine how overwhelming it can seem to our learners.

Unlike the ECAR report which identified trends in students’ use of and comfort with technology, the Pew Report examined the role of teens in content creation on the internet and summarizes their findings as follows (this is a national study; I have not yet found international statistics for correlation):

  • 57% of online teens are creating content for the internet
  • 19% of online teens keep a blog, 38% read them
  • 15-17 year old girls are the predominant bloggers
  • Teen bloggers are tech-savvy and heavy internet users

While ECAR identified four themes in student expectation of information technologies: convenience, connection, control and learning, we will, for the purposes of this project, focus on the aspects of connection and learning as they apply to educational technologies. The prevailing theme in the Pew Report is that our millennial learners are no longer satisfied with being content consumers, they are becoming content creators. These trends, connection and learning, and content creation, will become pivotal as we explore the potential impact that Web 2.0 applications can have on facilitating the learning process for this digital native generation.

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