Category Archives: Students

Digital Natives/Immigrants Divide Not Supported By Evidence

Thanks to Stephen Downes at OLDaily for this. First up, the story links to the ‘Net Gen Skeptic‘ blog – how could I have not know about this blog?

In turn, Net Gen Skeptic summarises a new report from the University of Melbourne, on a project which has been investigating how

commencing first year students and their teachers use traditional and emerging technology-based tools in their everyday lives and to support student learning and drawn on the expertise of teachers and the results of this investigation to develop and implement pedagogically sound, technology-based tools to enhance student learning in local learning environments.

Skeptic summarises the findings mentioned in the report, starting with the key note that:

The rhetoric that university students are Digital Natives and university staff are Digital Immigrants is not supported.

Read more, with links to a handbook on good practice for ‘Educating the Net Generation’ and research papers, over at Net Gen Skeptic.

Universities: Healthy or on Last Legs?

Related to the recent post on the death (or otherwise) of Universities, Bill Kerr pointed me to this post by Eugene Wallingford – “Revolution Out There — and Maybe In Here“. Eugene is similarly worried if Universities have had their day:

Were I graduating from high school today, would I need a university education to prepare for a career in the software industry? Sure, most self-educated students would have gaps in their learning, but don’t today’s university graduates? … What if I worked the same 12, 14, or 16 hours a day (or more) reading, studying, writing, contributing to an open-source project, interacting on-line? Would I be able to marshall the initiative or discipline necessary to do this?

In my time teaching, I have encountered a few students capable of doing this, if they had wanted or needed to. A couple have gone to school and mostly gotten by that way anyway, working on the side, developing careers or their own start-up companies. Their real focus was on their own education, not on the details of any course we set before them.

There are more points than just these – a worthy read. I also have seen a few students such as those Eugene describes. But not many. There are some concerns that in the UK schools are not doing a good enough job of helping children develop into this kind of self directed learner. See here for just one recent story.

In fact, I spend a part of many of my modules pointing out to students that there is more information freely available on the web than I can teach them in the hours given. I encourage them to go well beyond the material in class. I try to give them a useful set of links to get them started. And the best students either take the hint or are already ahead of me on this. The average student however… is much like the average student from my own days. The availability of material has not significantly affected human behaviour in this regard.

I ask them to view the material we cover in class as the start, as a beginning, and to use this only as a base for further exploration and learning. A proportion focus instead on the pass mark – on doing what is necessary to pass and try hard not to learn anything if they can help it. To a student whose goal is the pass mark, what use is the wealth of free material on the web? Something to crib from or cut-and-paste if it helps minimise the time spent on coursework?

In The End of Education, Neil Postman quotes an article by Diane Ravitch which looks forward to a time when todays wealth of knowledge and experience is instantly available anywhere. Quote of a quote of Ravitch:

In this new world of pedagogical plenty, children and adults will be able to dial up a program on their home television to learn whatever they want to know, at their own convenience. If Little Eva cannot sleep, she can learn algebra instead. At her home learning station, she will tune into a series of interesting problems that are presented in an interactive medium, much like video games”

Well, the content is definately out there on the web. Statistics don’t appear to be showing the significant improvements in numeracy that we might hope for. Why-ever not? Neal’s comment on this scenario?

“Little Eva can’t sleep, so she decides to learn a little algebra? Where did Little Eva come from, Mars? If not it is likely she will tune into a good movie.”

Until we replace students with martians, I suspect universities will have a role to play. There is no shortage of role-models that ably demonstrate that you can do well without a university education. John Harrison or Alan Sugar for example. But today, as in the past, many of these people are quite simply exceptional individuals. Meanwhile, students will continue to try to learn software development by enrolling on courses and doing what is required of them rather than immersing themselves creating software at home and online and by becoming software developers without the extrinsic motivation of a semester deadline.

A large part of me hopes to be proven wrong.

But Eugene’s closing comments are also worth noting:

People come to us eagerly, willing to spend out of their want or to take on massive debts to buy what we sell. Some come for jobs, but most still have at least a little of the idealism of education. When I think about their act in light of all that is going on in the world, I am humbled. We owe them something as valuable as what they surrender. We owe them an experience befitting the ideal. This humbles me, but it also Invigorates and scares me, too.

Its in this light that I also think that there is a real challenge for universities to meet, a challenge that may well be unmet by most.

Universities: Death not impending after all

Over at Edge, Don Tapscott appears to have a flawed and somewhat limited understanding of teaching and learning at universities as he predicts their imminent demise (though not without some truths in there). For all that he derides lectures, he might be surprised of the extent to which students sometime prefer to attend lectures. [Another similar story].

Actually, I’d happily drop most of my lectures for more discursive forms of interaction – though I can only do this if students adequately prepare and take steps to learn enough of the subject so we can actually have a discussion. Some of my trials with this have not been totally successful, others have worked a little better. Without any hard statistics to back this up I’d say the success of such an approach depends a lot on many contextual factors: the students, the institution, the delivery mode (online vs campus), the tutor (maybe I’m just not that good at this?) and perhaps most significant of all the course itself (to what extent does the core content of the course suit such a learning mode, and do students need to gain some degree of technical knowledge before discussion becomes possible?).

Anyway, there are two replies to Don’s piece on the Edge website, both making quite strong cases to illustrate that Don is somewhat out of touch. One of these is by Marc Hauser – whose weighty volume on the Evolution of Communication I referred to a lot back when I was doing my PhD. In his reply, Marc says:

Tapscott’s article thus underestimates the ingenuity of good teaching, that from my perspective, continues to thrive in many universities, and is not based on the premise of a blank slate student, waiting for professorial scribbling. Although I realize that many universities are turning to online classes, with virtually no personal engagement with the students, I find this trend sad. There is nothing more riveting than the dynamics of a class, when it is buzzing with discussion, to and from student to professor.

Indeed, in Don’s piece he seems strangely ignorant of the extent to which many universities world over are trying to adapt to new technologies to supplement and enhance teaching and learning. It’s not as if there is a shortage of material out there. If Don is serious about understanding how the internet may be changing education – and how some universities and leading academics are actively trying to extend the reach of their material out to users who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend university then I would recommend the MIT Press book Opening Up Education – and he doesn’t even need to pay for it, as the book itself has been published online for free:

Links for the week… #clex09 and BJET VW

Last week I managed to remember to buy the Guardian on Tuesday for the education supplement. But didn’t find time to read it all. And so I managed to miss news of the release of JISC Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) report “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” till the day after. Brian Kelly covered it here, and included the following quote from the Grauniad:

The “Google generation” of today’s students has grown up in a digital world. Most are completely au fait with the microblogging site Twitter; they organise their social lives through Facebook and MySpace; 75% of students have a profile on at least one social networking site. And they spend up to four hours a day online.

It looks like a good report, but it’s going to have to wait for reading time – I have marking to do. But I think the Grauniad got it wrong with the claim that Most [students] are completely au fait with the microblogging site Twitter – I think the reporter got students and edu-bloggers mixed up on that one. Some students, but not most. Not yet, at any rate. For the record, the report itself only has two instances of the word twitter – one in the index.

If you want the report highlights, you can grab the podcast here.

Then as if I wasn’t already feeling overloaded, BJET’s special issue on Virtual Worlds is now online. Lots of excellent papers – including a colloquia paper by yours truly and friends. Subscription required – if you work in HE, your institution might already subscribe.

And lastly, the ning group “The Future of Education” is hosting a series of webinars – some excellent speakers lined up. Tomorrow night (though too late for me, sadly) is Chris Dede. His talk is titledEmerging Interactive Media: What to Use, When, and How? If you attend, tell me how it was.

Do students like technology X? Do they need to?

Judy Robertson at Heriot-Watt has been using Second Life for first and second year programming classes, as revealed on Virtual World Watch. She notes that Second Life was an effective and engaging environment for students learning programming due to the rapid feedback and the ability to see what other students were doing. She also notes:

We have questionnaire data which indicates that our students don’t like SL very much. It has had negative publicity recently which makes some of them think it is “sad”. However, the students do on the whole like our module. They seemed to enjoy making their pets and are proud of them. There is not a straightforward motivational effect for SL itself, and it would be a mistake to use it on the assumption that the students will like it because it is fashionable.

Meanwhile, my own most recent class on Collaborative Virtual Environments has a range of comments from students including:

Second Life, the website, the forums and the video conferencing were all useful…

even though i loathed them [forums and blogs] when i started this module (and to a degree i still do) i feel they have played a very important role to the CVE module, and the CGT course.

We should avoid using technology because it is ‘cool’, or we think it might be trendy. Decisions should be based on how they might help student learning… and I’m glad that this year at least my students (and Judy’s, from the sounds of things) were able to see beyond their personal likes and dislikes and benefit from the use of Web 2.0 and virtual worlds in the classroom.

This again takes me back to Sarah Robbins keynote at last year’s SLEDcc conference (slides here) where she emphasised the importance of making explicit bargains with students… explaining why the class is doing something, and bringing them onboard.

Digital Students and Serious Virtual Worlds

Grauniad feature on digital students. Includes a piece on education in Second Life, and comes not that long after a piece in the same paper claiming that Second Life was kind of dead in a piece titled “Why’s it called Second Life when there’s nothing alive there?” – which annoyed many of the UK education community active in SL.

Also just out, JISC report on Serious Virtual Worlds… More on this below.

Continue reading

Scottish Learning Festival 2008

Only made it to the last afternoon of the Scottish Learning Festival due to teaching and other work commitments. Made it to one presentation on using a computer game to help children develop a winning mentality – and a set of psychological skills which can help lead to success. I also bumped into Derek Robertson who revealed that the first results from LTS’ 32 school trial of Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training (16 test, 16 control) have been released – and having had a look at the results they are very encouraging indeed.

More on both, below. Continue reading

PhD Opportunities – Games research, Copenhagen

Fall 2008 call for PhD scholarships at the Center for Computer Games Research (;
IT-University of Copenhagen.

Further info:

Areas of research interest include (but not limited to):
- computational intelligence and games
- player modeling
- human game interaction
- affective computing
- game aesthetics
- game ontology
- game design theory

Georgios N. Yannakakis
Assistant Professor, IT-University of Copenhagen

Education for Industry?

My colleague John Sutherland (who amongst other things founded the first games industry specific degrees while at a former employer) has started a new blog, Akademos Gamer. In his opening post he considers the relationship between universities and employers (specifically in relation to the games industry).

You can catch John’s biog here, on his home page.

I found his experience of Skillset accreditation (at a previous employer) different to my own at least. I recall some deliberation here on whether to apply – as it seemed like a lot of work with an uncertain outcome. In brief, teaching staff and line managers met and discussed what was required. I drafted one of the sections, and reviewed what paperwork we would need to put together. We met again, decided to proceed and shared out responsibilities for the final proposal. As a group we managed to put it all together, just in time.

When the accreditation panel did visit, they certainly gave the impression that they needed to be convinced – no sign of it being a mere formality. When we got notification that we had accreditation, we were very relieved!

Digital Futures 2008

Local self-promotion…

The annual Digitial Futures degree show for animation, media and game technology students from the University of the West of Scotland will be happening on the 9th of June at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. More details here.

This is a good opportunity to see the show-reels, demos, animations, movies, sound-reels, and to chat to the students who created them. I know that at least three of the small number of Games Technology students have job offers already, and hopefully this will provide an good opportunity for the remaining students to meet up with potential employers… last year there were two recruiters from Blitz games. Now, three of that years class are working at Blitz having been offered second round interviews directly after the show.