Digital natives? Digital slaves? Digital disaffected?
Are the Net Generation native/instinctive users of e-learning technologies that infuse their whole way of life; are they slaves to the technology with little or no control over what, when and where they use it; or are they the digital disaffected, choosing not to use such technologies because they don’t see the point? For one thing, it is clear from the early findings of the research presented by Dr. Chris Jones from the OU that they don’t all spend their time writing blogs and using SL (Second Life) as people would have us believe. And they mainly use Facebook to chat to friends socially…
To investigate this whole issue further, Lancaster University is currently participating in a research project “The NetGeneration: Encountering e-learning at University”, led by Dr. Jones.
There are five Universities taking part in this project. An Urban ‘Red brick’, a 1970’s ‘New University’, a large Metropolitan post ’92, a recent University (ex-University college), and a distance University. First year students were initially asked to complete a questionnaire towards the end of their first year of study at University.
Chris presented interim findings from this first data collection activity, highlighting the difference between perceptions of what we think such “NetGeneration” or “Digital Native” students (usually referring to those born after 1985) will expect of e-learning at University and what their actual experiences and expectations are of e-learning for both study and social purposes. Key amongst these differences are the very few numbers of students, even among the more IT/Computing-oriented subject areas, who are actually making use of blogs, wikis and virtual worlds for social purposes, rather than the large numbers one might expect. He also noted that “although there are age related differences, there doesn’t seem to be a single Net generation or a generational group of Digital Natives” and so one should approach such claims in the literature with caution.
This initial survey has since been followed up with a two rounds of questionnaires at all participating institutions. This data collection began at the start of the Michaelmas term, surveying first year students in Computing, Accounting and Finance, Spanish and German, within the first few weeks of their arrival at University to capture their expectations of e-learning at University. The second round of questionnaires have been distributed at Lancaster at the end of April. Findings from the project will be made available on the project website over the coming months and we intend to invite Chris back in Michaelmas term to present the analysis of the full data set.