Our Learning Futures Festival and those digital natives

The BDRA Learning Futures Festival Online, entitled ‘Positively Disruptive’, is only a few weeks away:

www.le.ac.uk/beyonddistance/festival

I’ve decided whom to invite to ‘attend’, but few of them would call themselves digital natives so I visited a first-year Oxford undergraduate at University College, founded in 1249. Her study is in buildings (see photo) once frequented by Harold Wilson, Stephen Hawking and Bill Clinton. Her history essay, due that evening, was on: Was de Tocqueville right in saying that religion is not inimical to democracy?

University College

FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter are daily diet for her, but books, she felt, held the key to her answer. Fresh from school, she is definitely a ‘digital native’, with wi-fi access from her study to all the Internet’s resources, yet she turned to the college library:

College Library

Nearby is the Bodleian Library, dating back to 1602 and containing more than 8 million volumes. E-learning has to be positively disruptive in such a situation.

A few days later, I noticed the abstract of a talk, “The Net Generation encountering e-learning at university”, by Chris Jones (Institute of Educational Technology) at the Open University: it was about an ESRC-funded project that started in January 2008. The research took place with first-year students in five English universities who were studying a broad range of courses. The project took a critical view of the idea that there was a distinct generation of young people that has been described using various terms including the ‘Net Generation’ and ‘Digital Natives’, and explored age-related differences amongst first-year university students.

The talk drew on evidence from three surveys and a range of qualitative data including interviews and a cultural probe called the ‘Day Experience Method’. Overall, Jones and his team found a complex picture amongst first-year students with the sample population appearing to be a collection of minorities. These included a small minority that made little use of some technologies and larger minorities that made extensive use of new technologies. Often, Chris said, the use of new technology was in ways that did not fully correspond with the expectations that arise from the Net Generation and Digital Natives theses. He argued that whilst there are strong age-related variations amongst the sample it is far too simplistic to describe first-year students born after 1983 as a single generation. His team found that the generation age group was not homogenous in its use and appreciation of new technologies and that there were significant variations amongst students that lay within the Net Generation age band.

I’m sure these issues will crop up during the Festival. Meantime, I’ll keep in touch with that native at Oxford University.

David Hawkridge

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