Friday, September 11, 2009

Don't believe the hype

It's wonderful that the world isn't as simple as it seems sometimes. It's easy to make sweeping and comfy generalisations that seem to explain something but then discover that the truth is frustratingly complex. If all the simple explanations were true we wouldn't have much left to discover and discuss.

In the last few months the whole net generation issue has been turned on its head as we realize that generations can't be categorized in such simplistic terms. It sounded plausible for a while as it was a good way of forcing the establishment to notice what was happening on the net and realize that it was going to radically change the way we run education. However we now see that the net generation is more complicated than that. Many young people do use new technology intuitively but very many do not. The same holds true for all age groups basically; it's mostly down to interest, curiosity and peer influence. Indeed it seems to me that the driving force behind the growth of social media is not teenagers as previously assumed; it's net enthusiasts over 30 and often well over. Some of the most innovative people I know are older than me! Indeed I've read that many young people are abandoning Facebook because it's full of their teachers and parents.

Who decides what tools to use on courses - the students? We hotly debate the pros and cons of different systems but do the students really care which learning management system we use as long as it is well-structured and reliable? If teachers try to use, say, Facebook as a communication tool on a course isn't there a risk that some students will resent their studies encroaching on their social arena? I read of a teacher who wanted the class to hand in assignments as audio files but met with resistance on the grounds that students were there to learn the subject and not a lot of technology. There have to be convincing reasons for using technology and the learning curve cannot be too demanding. However, the right preparation and motivation can work wonders. One course at my university is held completely in Second Life and the students are all SL beginners at the start yet it works well thanks to good groundwork at the start.

I love testing new tools and write enthusiastically about many of them but it is easy to get carried away. It's rather sobering to show off a new discovery to colleagues expecting them to share your enthusiasm only to be met with a resounding shrugging of shoulders.

People's attitudes to "technology" vary greatly. To many the word has very negative connotations; something that is unreliable, complicated and to be avoided. Anything we don't really like or are intimidated by is immediately dismissed as "technical". Many people still debate whether we should use "technology" in education at all (aren't whiteboards, OH-projectors, pens and microphones also technology?). I meet people who work successfully with complex Excel spreadsheets or administrative systems (that scare me to death!) but are wary of, say, Skype, wikis and blogs because they are too "technical". Beauty is in the eye of the beholder indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alastair,

    Interesting post about student resistance to college professors using technology or expecting them to use technology for assignments, etc. It reminds me of a tweet I received from someone at the University of Saskatchewan yesterday (where I am a grad student). She identifies herself as an educator in the College of Medicine. She said in the the tweet that her students were upset when she used two minutes of the class to talk about social media tools. If, as I suspect, her students are future doctors/physicians, you would think they would want to use social media to build their PLN (Personal Learning Network) in order to stay current in their learning.
    Ruth Elliott
    Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada