I originally posted this on the LTUG site (see links) on 30 April 2008
So, let me get this straight – we all accept that the Web 2.0 matrix of social software has entangled a willing Gen Y in its sticky filaments – or at least those of them who are our current crop of students. But where did we make the non-logical leap that has brought us to the conviction that this same matrix will therefore be accepted by them as an educative medium?
Goerke and Oliver1 recently tested the widely-held premise that students who “equip themselves with convergent and mobile devices, and are heavy users of Web 2.0 social software … can be persuaded to use both not only to socialise, but to enhance their learning experiences in higher education.”
Their research showed that, when given the opportunity to use PDAs for learning experiences and collaboration, students eschewed these handheld devices in favour of laptops and desktops. They also found that “students were unlikely to use social software applications for learning purposes.” Their conclusion was that there is “little transference of social behaviours to learning behaviours”.
“This research also confirms recent international reports that students of the Net Generation are sending clear messages about their resistance to attempts by educationalists to ‘muscle into’ their virtual socialising spaces.”
Leaver2 goes further, saying that students have started “to take matters into their own hands”. Where they believe that universities are not being open enough with teacher evaluation data, students use sites such as ratemyprofessor.com to deliver grass-roots evaluations themselves.
Students are certainly using social software, but on their own terms. Leaver observes that last year in Australia, “over 7500 students joined the UWA (University of Western Australia) network … Facebook. One of the largest groups joined by students in this network was called ‘WebCT is the biggest piece of shit ever invented’ and had over 500 members, many venting their anger at what they saw as failures of the WebCT learning management system.”
Is Barrie Clark3, Swansea University’s UK recruitment manager correct when he claims that “potential students, being very media-savvy, would see universities’ use of social networking and text messaging as intrusion into what they use as a recreational space” ? Will we alienate a generation of students by going too far, too fast by virtually hijacking an innately user-driven technology to achieve a top-down, teacher-driven educational reform?
I hope not. I think we are perhaps seeing the beginnings of a student revolt – emergent behaviour that is signalling an unwillingness to be told how and when their social communication systems are to be used. And that is perfectly understandable.
So let’s employ social software in the way it was designed to be used. Instead of pushing students into those parts of the social web that we feel is educationally desirable, let’s pull them in. As educators, researchers and subject matter experts, perhaps we are the ones who should be authoring more blogs and contributing to wikis in our own fields – with posts that intrigue, challenge, inspire and offend students’ intuition to the degree that they choose to follow what we have to say by willingly becoming part of our social networks. We could earn the right to be respected.
We keep saying that we want our students to construct their own learning experiences, but we don’t quite seem to trust them to do it ‘properly’. We may be micromanaging their learning until they can’t breathe. If we take a step back and provide them with high quality materials that they can use for constructing learning in their own way, chances are that they will be drawn to them like ants to a picnic.
If student perceptions are that we are intruding on their spaces, they might just go away. Baseball’s Yogi Berra is reputed to have said about a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” It would be sad if our social spaces suffered the same fate.
1Veronica Goerke and Beverley Oliver, Will the Net Generation use personal devices and social software for supplementary learning experiences?
2Tama Leaver, Putting windows in the ivory tower: Challenges and changes to university practice in the face of Web 2.0 tool use by students.
[TL Forum (2008). Preparing for the graduate of 2015. Proceedings of the 17th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 30-31 January 2008. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2008/contents-all.html%5D
3Education Guardian: MySpace – The final frontier