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Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students' use of digital technologies

Citation Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A., & Vojt, G. (2011). Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students' use of digital technologies. Computers \& Education, 56(2), 429–440. Elsevier. Sidewiki
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@article{margaryan2011digital,
author = {Margaryan, A. and Littlejohn, A. and Vojt, G.},
date-added = {2012-03-05 17:19:05 -0500},
date-modified = {2012-03-08 10:13:28 -0500},
date-read = {2012-03-08 10:13:28 -0500},
journal = {Computers \& Education},
number = {2},
pages = {429--440},
publisher = {Elsevier},
read = {1},
title = {Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students' use of digital technologies},
volume = {56},
year = {2011},
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Students were found to not use technology for new styles of learning.

Highlights (10%)

This study investigated the extent and nature of university students’ use of digital technologies for learning and socialising. The findings show that students use a limited range of mainly established technologies. Use of collaborative knowledge creation tools, virtual worlds, and social networking sites was low. ‘Digital natives’ and students of a technical discipline (Engineering) used more technology tools when compared to ‘digital immigrants’ and students of a non-technical discipline (Social Work). This relationship may be mediated by the finding that Engineering courses required more intensive and extensive access to technology than Social Work courses. However, the use of technology between these groups is only quantitatively rather than qualitatively different. The study did not find evidence to support popular claims that young people adopt radically different learning styles. Their attitudes to learning appear to be influenced by lecturers’ teaching approaches. Students appear to conform to traditional pedagogies, albeit with minor uses of tools delivering content. The outcomes suggest that although the calls for transformations in education may be legitimate it would be misleading to ground the arguments for such change in students’ shifting patterns of learning and technology use. p. 429

The study employed a mixed methods research approach, with a quantitative phase followed by a qualitative phase, both of which were ascribed equal status (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). Mixed methods research aims to maximise the strengths of both quantitative and qualitative approaches. An initial questionnaire survey explored the types of technology tools students adopted and the frequency with which they used these tools for formal and informal learning and socialising (extent of technology use). The key question guiding the quantitative phase was: “What technology tools do students use?” Subsequently, in-depth interviews were conducted with students and staff. The aim of this qualitative phase was to illuminate the complexities of students’ choice to use specific technologies, in other words ‘how’ students use technologies. Student interviews focused on the ways in which students were using technologies and the purposes and contexts of technology use (nature of technology use). A key question was: “How do students use technology?” To begin to elucidate the relevant aspects of the pedagogic landscape within which students were using the tools, the qualitative phase also involved in-depth interviews with a selected number of lecturers and support staff. p. 432

Students used mobile phones mainly to contact peers to organise project meetings, to collaborate on group assignments, to prepare for exams or to record lectures. p. 436

Instant messaging (IM) was another popular, but not ubiquitous, tool. IM was used regularly by 4/8 interviewees for both learning and socialising purposes, such as for communicating with classmates about assignments or chatting with friends socially. Students preferred IM to asynchronous communication tools such as VLE-based discussion fora: “I never use forums [sic] because sometimes you just go on and it’s like months old and they just stay up there forever and nobody visits them.” (Gordon, Eng) p. 436

Only one student reported regularly reading and commenting on friends’ blogs. The remaining interviewees never wrote or read blogs, because they “just never thought of using them” (Alen, Eng) or were “slow taking up technology” and didn’t consider blogs “academically useful” (Harry, SW). One student appeared perplexed by the concept of blog: “It seems kind of bizarre to me that so many different people want to say what they did during the day and there’s so many people want to read it. I’ve never really read any [blogs] so I’m probably shooting in the dark here.” (Cathy, Eng) p. 436

We asked students to describe their use of gaming and photo sharing practices which are frequently cited as activities that ‘digital natives’ excessively engage in. The survey revealed that gaming was not a ubiquitous activity. Only two of the students we interviewed played computer games, and of these only one was a regular gamer. Both students preferred to play individually rather than in online, multiplayer games, due to their lack of gaming skills. Photo sharing was limited and mainly took place through social networking sites or email, rather than specialised sharing sites such as Flickr. Only 2/8 interviewees reported engaging in photo sharing via their Bebo/MySpace sites. p. 436

Students did not appear to understand the potential of technology to support learning. Instead they looked to their lecturers for ideas on technology enhanced learning: “If [lecturers] found a way for everyone to use these [tools] then it would be quite good” (Alen, Eng) “If they taught us a bit about it before just saying ‘go and do it’” (Gordon, Eng). p. 436

Students expected “to be taught”, yet voiced critical comments about the quality of teaching: p. 436

When probed by the interviewer, most students had difficulties in suggesting ideas on how they could use technologies to support teaching and learning. A couple of students suggested lecture podcasts, but most students were unsure how they could draw upon p. 436

technologies to support their learning. p. 437

For example, the interviewer’s probing for ideas around the use of collaborative technologies to support group work and knowledge sharing resulted in the following response: “I am not really bothered by what other groups are doing. I know what my group is doing and sometimes I think something else might be quite conflicting or put us off course. For everybody to share their knowledge might cause confusion or make it harder” (Tracy, SW). p. 437

In another example, when asked if it could be beneficial to use a wiki in a team project, a student responded: “I don’t know because the chances are that the things we’d be doing would have been already explained in whatever notes we are getting and I could maybe see a reason to do that if we were breaking new ground and wanting to keep other people informed, but if the notes are there why not use the notes rather than trying to write our own notes” Cathy (Eng) p. 437

When the interviewer suggested that a wiki could be used to share and co-develop materials to support team project work, the student replied: “I hadn’t thought of that.it might be useful to go through the process and to keep a log of it or to keep updating”. Cathy (Eng) p. 437

Staff interviews showed that while some lecturers recognised the potential of personal, mobile devices and publically available web- based tools in supporting learning (principally mobile phones, texting and instant messaging), they believed these technologies were “too crude for organised educational use” (Peter, Eng. Lecturer). In their view texting and IM did not allow a clear delineation of the personal and the educational and the blurring of boundaries between the two was undesirable. p. 437

An Engineering lecturer described his experimentation with a virtual world: “I have showed [sic] a group of students Second Life. After we had all stopped laughing and we used it for weeks - and these are techy engineering types - they just said ‘no and we don’t ever want to use that again’. My experiment just showed that it’s not just for the techy types, it’s for the ultra geeks who’ve got the time to put beards and hairstyles on and fly around the landscape”. p. 437

Technology adoption is influenced by complex interdependencies p. 438

Students’ expectations of learning are influenced by lecturers’ approaches to teaching p. 438

Students have a limited understanding of how technology may support learning p. 438

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ref/margaryan2011digital.txt · Last modified: 2014/07/05 00:29 by ryan