Questioning Assumptions About the Net Generation Published 2007-06-01

In the June/July edition of Innovate, authors Sarah Lohnes and Charles Kinzer relate the result of a small study in which they found a discrepancy between the use of technology by students in their dorm rooms verses their attitude toward use of technology in the classroom.

In general, the article cautions us not to make assumptions on the way Net Generation students view their classroom experiences based on their "always connected" lives outside class. While their study was small (only nine students were surveyed), their observations are worth thinking about.

The technology practices of the students in their dorm provide a stark contrast to their observed and reported practices in the classroom. A theme of resistance to technology in the classroom crystallized in our discussions of laptop use; for a variety of reasons, the students almost universally reviled the idea of using a laptop in the classroom.

"Reviled" is quite a strong word and is inconsistent with my conversations with high school age students on the subject of use of laptops in the classroom. In my experience, there is no clear consensus with regard to technology in the classroom. About 50% embrace the idea of one laptop per student while the other 50% do not see how such programs can benefit their learning or they see the presence of laptops detracting from the classroom experience. The reasons for the resistance to laptops cited in the article are consistent with my experiences.

This notion of a classroom community, fostered by small class sizes, a particular model of teaching based on real-time human contact, and frequent interaction with faculty members outside the classroom, was essential to how these students defined liberal education. ...

And this highlights one of my strongest concerns with 1:1 programs. The sense of an intimate community fostered within a classroom is one of the most important factors affecting learning. The mere presence of laptops will not affect such an environment but their improper or careless use can. As related in the article, laptops should be pushed aside while the class engages in a discussion of Thoreau. But when the teacher is presenting a lesson on the relationship between sine and cosine, laptops provide an excellent way for students to participate, manipulating triangles on their own to get a better understanding of the teacher's points.

Lohnes and Kinzer offer several conclusions from their small study. In general, they warn educators and researchers to question assumptions, especially when relating student behaviour outside the classroom with that inside the class. To this end, this is sage advise. Just because students live in a connected world does it mean that they want their classrooms to mirror the prevalence of technology that they see outside their classes.

But I would caution Lohnes and Kinzer to follow their own advice. Is a study of nine students grounds for making conclusion? Would their results been different had those nine students participated in a well constructed 1:1 program prior to the study? Are all courses within a liberal arts curriculum (the arena they were studying) the same? For that matter are all class sessions within a single course the same? Some courses or classes within a course are some more suited to "push the technology aside" discussions with others benefiting from the use of technology.

I am not yet a supporter of 1:1 programs but my mind remains open. Lohnes and Kinzer's study serves us well in that it does point out that just because students use technology outside of class does not necessarily mean that they want it in class. The issue, a wise colleague of mine keeps reminding me, is the effect technology plays on learning. Is there a pedagogical reason for the technology?

Technorati Tags: