Monday, December 29, 2008

Bits of Honey

The holidays...they've been oh so least online. This means that the Web 2.0 and other assorted news items that have caught my attention are sparce. Here are a few that made the cut...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bits of Honey

As I was out for my jog this morning, I realized that I've been posting some really cool links to Twitter lately. While I can view just my Twitter posts, there isn't a search tool to locate them later. "Bits of Honey" will hopefully be a solution to that problem. This will be a weekly feature that outlines the links of the week - ones that might eventually develop into a full post at a later time. Without further ado, here are the links for December 14-20...

Monday, December 15, 2008

More on the Digital Natives "Myth"

According to the findings of a study conducted by UK researchers, Margaryan and Littlejohn (2008, December 11), digital natives may not be the tech-savvy multitaskers portrayed in the literature. These authors continue by suggesting that moves to integrate technology into the curriculum simply to satisfy this new group of students may be a mistake.

Margaryan and Littlejohn begin by presenting some of the claims made about today's students and their relationship with technology. In the academic literature, as well as the mass media, scholars argue that the adoption of emerging technologies (i.e., the Web 2.0) has created an ever-widening gap between young people and the educational institutions they attend. But as the authors of this report note, the claims have yet to progress beyond the rhetoric. In fact, very little is known about the reported transformations that supposedly occur in young people due to their exposure to and use of technology.

While empirical research on this topic has started to surface, the conclusions are far from clear - some of the findings support the Millennial claims, whereas others run counter to them. Following their review of the research, Margaryan and Littlejohn conclude that evidence to support the digital natives rhetoric is lacking. Thus, the goal of their research is to investigate the ways in which students and instructors use technology to support learning. Students (Year 3 individuals in Social Work and Engineering) completed surveys and a selected group (students and instructors) participated in semi-structured interviews.

First the survey results:

Overall, more males than females participated in the study (39F, 121M), which is not surprising given that there are more males in Engineering than females. What is perhaps more interesting is the upper level age range of the students: the maximum age of the Engineering students was 38; in contrast, the maximum age of the Social Work students was 50. Margaryan and Littlejohn note that most of the Engineering students were around 20 years of age; however, the fact that there was quite an age spread, especially with the Social Work students, suggests that these were not the typical undergrads (age 18-22). It is worth mentioning that the authors do acknowledge that they had both "digital natives" and "digital immigrants" in their study.

In terms of technology, one of the first findings is that the students have home internet access. In addition, the students make use of the internet in the library, labs, and cafes. The top technologies owned by the study participants include: mobile phones, computers (PCs and laptops), portable media players, and digital cameras. When broken down by age, the digital natives owned mobile phones, portable media players, laptops, and game consoles. The digital immigrants owned similar technologies, yet were more likely to own a PC than the digital immigrants. A higher percentage of the digital immigrants owned a digital camera in comparison to the digital natives. Google and websites were the top technologies the Engineering and Social Work students used in the classroom. Course sites and text messaging were near the top as well. A much higher percentage of Engineering students mentioned the use of Wikipedia when compared to the Social Work students - 84% and 47% respectively.

One point that surfaced during the course of the interviews is that the participants had difficulty distinguishing between formal and informal learning situations. When asked about informal learning technologies, once again websites and course websites ranked the highest in use. The use of mobile phones and Google/Google Scholar were also frequently noted. For this question, the Engineering students ranked Wikipedia as a technology they consult for their informal learning activities. When looking at informal learning technology through an age lens, the findings suggest that older students are more likely to use Google Scholar, text messaging, and mobile phones than the younger students.

This study also examined technologies used during personal time. The Engineering students used video sharing, blogging, Wikipedia, and YouTube more than the Social Work students. Recreational access of virtual worlds such as Second Life ranked the lowest among the students as a whole. When comparing the students by age, the main difference is in their use of photo sharing and file sharing sites. Digital natives use photo sharing more; digital immigrants use file sharing more. The least frequently used technologies by the digital natives include virtual worlds, chat rooms, and discussion groups; digital immigrants infrequently used virtual worlds, blogs, chat rooms, and internet gaming. Overall, the difference between the digital natives and the digital immigrants includes the use of virtual worlds and internet games. And, as the data suggest, a small percentage of students is accessing virtual worlds.

And now the interview data:

Almost all of the students owned a mobile phone. Desktop computers appear to be more popular than laptops. (Students mentioned adequate access to computers on campus.) When asked about portable computing devices such as a PDA, several students mentioned that they didn't know what that was. Very few of the students owned game consoles.

In terms of technologies used for learning, virtual learning environments (VLE) such as Blackboard ranked the highest. Many of the students indicated that they use these spaces as content repositories. Lecture slides, notes, and course readings are commonly uploaded to the VLE. While the VLE reports by students were positive, they were puzzled by the inconsistent use of these online repositories by instructors.

Moreoever, when asked about Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and other similar tools, some students were not familiar with them. In fact, some of the Engineering and Social Work students had never heard of Google Scholar or Wikipedia. The terms podcasting and blogging were unfamiliar to a few students as well. Interestingly, those who were familiar with Wikipedia, for example, use it in a passive rather than active manner. In other words, they consult it for information but do not contribute to its content. Further, there was no evidence that digital games were used for learning.

The students were also asked about the advantages and disadvantages of technology in a learning environment. One suggestion was that the students should be taught how to use a particular technology rather than being told to go out an use it for an assignment. Several did suggest that the use of technology to improve course communication would be a positive thing.

What were some of the barriers to the integration of technology into the courses? 1) Students' lack of technological skills; 2) instructors' lack of technological skills; and 3) instructors' lack of engagement in teaching.

In addition to the student responses, the instructors were given a chance to contribute to this study. An interesting finding came from the Engineering instructors who viewed the Web 2.0 as a fad and not worth investing the time and energy needed to integrate these tools into the curriculum. One Engineering instructor admitted that he experimented with technology in his classroom but reported that he received negative feedback from his students. Some of the instructors noted that the Web 2.0 technologies are for "soft" subject areas and for pre-college education. Other barriers included time, reluctance to change, and lack of student/instructor IT skills. Of this group of instructors, handheld devises, wireless networking, texting, and instant messaging were considered to have the most educational potential.

Overall, students are using the Web 2.0 in a very limited manner. In contrast to claims that suggest they are demanding technology in the classroom, these findings suggest that students are content with the more traditional pedagogies. Many students are looking to their instructors for guidance in their use of technology; however, the instructors report that these tools are merely fads or indicate that they are simply unaware of them. Thus, this study provides empirical evidence that not all digital native are demanding an educational revolution - one that involves the integration of technology into the curriculum. Was this group atypical or is the rhetoric wrong/skewed/biased/etc.? If the digital natives (individuals who may not be as tech-savvy as they are portrayed in the literature) are not driving the revolution, then who is?

The Future's Not Ours to See, Or Is It?

The folks at the Pew Internet and American Life project, with help from Janna Quitney Anderson, Elon University, have examined what the Internet might look like in the future. In this December 14, 2008 report, the authors outline the results from a survey of more than 1,000 Internet specialists, critics, and analysts. Based on the responses, the following picture of what the Internet might look like in 2020 emerged:
  • Mobile phones will be the way we connect to the Internet.
  • Social tolerance will not grow as a result of the Web 2.0; in fact, these technologies may expand hate, bigotry, and intolerance.
  • There will be advanced touch, talk, and typing options. A "thought-based" interface may be on the horizon too.
  • IP law and copyright issues will remain problematic.
  • There will be no distinction between personal and professional time.
  • It is unlikely that a "next-gen" Internet system will be developed.
  • Will more transparency make the world a better place? The results are mixed.
  • More than half of the respondents think that virtual worlds will impact a large number of individuals, which means that a little less than half disagree. However, the consensus among the respondents is that virtual and augmented reality user interfaces will have to become more intuitive for there to be wide-spread adoption of these technologies.
In addition to these nuggets, the report also includes a series of quotes from respondents such as Howard Rheingold, Steve Jones, and Victoria Nash.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Value of E-learning

Caroline Haythorthwaite, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believes that higher education courses that take place in the physical classroom could learn a thing or two from the world of online learning (or e-learning). According to Haythorthwaite, higher education tends to rely on the lecture or "broadcast" model, whereas e-learning is a more shared and democratic activity. For example, she describes in this brief article the way in which e-learning can foster an immediate discussion between students and the instructor - the instructor posts an article from the news and the discussion begins immediately; in contrast, for students in the physical classroom option may have to wait several days to discuss an article sent out via email by the instructor.

But why can't the discussion begin immediately with the physical classroom students too? If you take a blended learning approach to teaching, a discussion thread could be added to a course management system (CMS) such as a Moodle or Oncourse - tools that are typically available to e-learning and physical classroom instructors in higher ed - and the physical classroom students could have a conversation about that piece prior to the class meeting. No access to a CMS? No problem. Just start a conversation through email or IM. Another point Haythorthwaite makes is that the role of the e-learning instructor changes; instead of a lecturer, the instructor is more of a facilitator.

While I think Haythornthwaite makes a valid point about physical classroom instructors adopting some e-learning strategies, I also think her experience with e-learning is somewhat different. The LEEP program that is mentioned in this article begins with a "boot camp" experience, which occurs in a face-to-face setting. Prior to the online component of the program, the students get to know one another and work together in a physical setting. Many online courses do not anchor the instruction in this manner. Thus, creating an environment where students and instructors feel comfortable adopting roles outside the norm may be more challenging, at least at first. Also, there is much institutional support for the LEEP program, which may not be available for many e-learning instructors, particularly those who hold adjunct or part-time positions.

While it's easy to say that higher ed should adopt e-learning strategies, I would argue that some instructors have already integrated some of those techniques into the curriculum. I would also contend that without support, it can be a struggle to experiment with alternative approaches to teaching and learning.

Gaming and Gender

Williams, Consalvo, Caplan, and Yee have produced a piece (pre-pub version) that touches on the gaming and gender issue. As you may recall, Williams, Caplan, and Yee published in July 2008 an article that attempts to debunk the gamer gender stereotype. In other words, the image of a young boys playing video games alone in their parents' basement is no longer an accurate one. The latest article, which has been accepted to the Journal of Communication takes a more obvious gender approach due to its use of gender role theory as a lens with which to view the data. The data used in this analysis came from a large survey dataset and unobtrusive behavior data from one year of game play. The focus of this work was on the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) EverQuest 2 (EQ2), and the primary research question centered around the basic differences between male and female EQ2 players.

Starting with some of the demographics, 80% of the sample were male (N=2,006) and 20% were female (N=434). Williams et al. found that the females were older, less likely to be students, less likely to be employed, but played more hours than their male counterparts. Females played for social reasons, but the males played to beat the game. Also, the females typically played with a romantic partner, whereas the males played alone. In cases where the males and females played together, the males were often less happy than the females. Why? Maybe the males felt like their space was being invaded? Maybe they didn't like their female partners interacting with other male players? Maybe the females were as skilled (if not more so) than the males, and they didn't like being shown up by their partners? Questions, lot of questions.

There's more. Both genders underreport the amount of time they play video games. However, the female players underreported their gameplay activities at a substantially higher rate than the males. In terms of the players health, the males thought they were healthy and fit. Interestingly, even though the females played for longer periods of time, which means they were engaged in prolonged periods of sedentary activities, the females were actually healthier than the males. The health and fitness levels of the males were aligned with the assumptions but the female levels were not. Could this be the result of inaccurate self-reports by the females? The authors claim that more research is needed to further investigate this issue.

One demographic question the authors asked was related to sexual identification, which produced, according to Williams and his colleagues, unpredicted results. The analysis found that female players were more more likely to report being bisexual; in contrast, males were less likely to report being homosexual. These findings were surprising in that they did not match the general population estimates. Almost 4% of the males and approximately 7% of the females declined to respond to the question put forth by Williams et al., so the difference between the EQ2 players and the general population estimates could be even more pronounced.

Gender differences among individuals who venture into virtual worlds is a rather untapped area. Thus, research like the Williams et al. study is important to further our understanding of gameplay activity. This is a first step, and more research is definitely needed to investigate the plethora of questions that remain. Are EQ2 players unique or do they share characteristics with World of Warcraft (WoW) players or even Second Life (SL) residents? Longitudinal research is needed as well to determine whether these characteristics represent a snapshot in time or whether they persist over extended periods of gameplay in virtual environments that continue to evolve.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hypertext - A Blast from the Past

A professor in my department recommended an article to me by Dr. Andrew Dillon about hypertext. As you may guess by the topic, this is not a recent article; in fact, it was written in 1996. However, much of what Dillon talks about in this piece is very much aligned with the issues I've been wrestling with as I've been reading the virtual world literature, writing my qualifying exam paper, and beginning to outline a proposal for my dissertation research.

Dillon begins this piece by discussing the three sides of a triangle that scholars fall into when debating the integration of technology into the curriculum. First, according to Dillon, are the educationalists who prefer a technological approach to education and who advocate a virtual, networked, and non-linear learning environment. Next are those who hold a counter viewpoint and dismiss the educational potential of technology. And finally, there are those who view the technologies as a tool that can be a powerful learning aid when used correctly, and nothing more than plastic and electronic circuits when not. Dillon falls in the third category and wants to see evidence of the impact of technology on education.

Dillon highlights a definition of acceptable technology that was put forth by Shackel (1991). Based on Shackel's definition, a technology must satisfy specific criteria in terms of functionality, usability, and cost. Dillon also notes that the physical world can be an important shaper of theory. Further, he contends that just because a learning has replicated the instructor's representation of knowledge does not mean that a meaningful learning experience occurred. To me, this calls into question the value of Vygotsky's (1978) zone of proximal development in that just because a learner can accomplish tasks with assistance from a more knowledgeable individual (e.g., instructor, more experienced peer) - ones that the learner could not complete alone - does not mean that this individual actually had a meaningful learning experience.

One of the myths Dillon points out is that that paper, as opposed to hypertext, is constricting for the learning. While on this surface this notion appears to have nothing to do with virtual worlds, Dillon's follow-up statement does: that it's not the technology that frees us from the constrictions of the physical world, but rather the methods. (Sounds a bit like Clark's 1983 position on technology, doesn't it?) Dillon continues by suggesting that as the arguments for technology move from advocating that these environments are liberating for the typical learner to one that claims that they are good for beginning learners, which may not be the case.

Much of the literature "pretends" that technology will solve all our current educational problems. This, as Dillon rightly notes, is aligned with technological determinism. Dillon concludes that educators need to view learning at the task level. In other words, how do learners complete tasks in the physical world. By moving to the task level, educators can conceptualize the technology as a supplement, and not a replacement, to the learning process.

Socrates in the Boardroom

Should the top university officials come from academia? In the past, these individuals were selected from among the pool of research faculty; however, many institutions are now drawing candidates with business experience instead of academic experience. They claim that leaders in the upper levels of university administration need a wide variety of skills to be effective in their positions.

However, based on Dr. Amanda Goodall's interviews with 26 university leaders, the response to the opening question is yes - top university officials should come from academia. She notes that top research institutions such as Standford and MIT would never consider hiring an outsider to fill a leadership position. In addition, she points to the fields of law and accounting, and argues that no one would consider fill a top job in a law firm with a non-lawyer; similarly, a top job at an accounting firm would not be filled by a journalist, for example. Nonetheless, institutions, like the University of Colorado and the University of Missouri have hired business executives to fill the job of university president.

More on this issue can be found in Dr. Goodall's forthcoming book published by Princeton University Press titled, Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should be Led by Top Scholars.

Adults, Video Games, and Contradictions

Pew just released a new report that focuses on adults and their video game playing activities. The data were collected October - December 2007 as part of a gadget survey. Information on video games is very popular, and it is surprising that it took Pew almost a year to process these results. This is a rapidly changing area, so I wonder whether the figures present an accurate assessment of the current population?

Regardless, the findings do represent at the minimum a snapshot in time of video games and the adults who play them. Here are some of the numbers:
  • 53% of adults (age 18+) play video games. In fact, the 18-29 age bracket includes the largest percentage of game players.
  • While the younger generations are more likely to play video games than older groups, the length of game play time increases with age.
  • A slightly higher percentage of males play video games than females, 55% to 50% respectively.
  • A higher percentage of students play game in comparison to non-students - 76% vs. 49%.
  • Younger people prefer to play video games on consoles, whereas older individuals prefer games on a computer.
  • Parents are more likely to play video games than non-parents.
Overall, the largest percentage of video game players are between the ages of 18-29, their estimated salary range is between $50,000 and $74,999, they have completed some college or are a college graduate, they are more likely to live in urban areas and be Internet users.

Questions: One question I have is related to the findings about virtual worlds. According to this Pew report, only 2% of gamers say they visit virtual worlds like Second Life (SL); 11% of teen game players responded that they have visited a virtual world. However, in an earlier Pew report on video games and teens, the percentage of teens visiting these worlds was 10%. A rounding error? The other numbers mentioned in the two reports match.

Next, Williams, Yee, and Caplan (2008) recently surveyed EverQuest (EQ) players. Their data from 7,000 participants suggests that the average of of game players is a little over 31 years of age. Stated another way, these researchers found that more players were over 30 than in their teens or in the college age range. So, are the game players younger or older? Like the current Pew study, however, Williams and his colleagues found that game play increases with age.

Another question deals with gender. The survey conducted by Williams et al. found that a large percentage of game players are male - 81% male in contrast to 19% female. The Pew findings were more balanced at 55% male and 50% female. Who's right? Or, is there a right answer? Is it possible to get an accurate assessment of video gamers given that it's difficult, if not impossible, to survey the entire population?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I Read the News Today...

In the past week, there have been several articles in the mass media about Second Life. The interesting thing about the following pieces is that they take a more negative/cautious stance on this virtual world - the first two in particular.

Second Life's Second Wind: Has Second Life moved away from the hype and into a gloom stage?

Why is It Called Second Life When There's Nothing Alive There?: "Wandering around Second Life today is like visiting Blackpool in February; all sad empty shops, deserted car parks and the stench of loneliness..."

Is There a Second Life for Teaching?: Two sentences in this piece sum up part of my dilemma with educators appropriating technologies designed for non-educational purposes in hopes of making the learning process more palatable to students.

"Salmon believes that Second Life constitutes a good example of 'edutainment' - the idea that students are more likely to learn if they are first amused."

"A recent Jisc/Mori report indicated that Second Life remained the least popular technological pursuit among students. As many as 76% have never, or only rarely, stepped inside a virtual world, and some students polled thought that environments such as Second Life were 'sad'."

And finally...Studies in Second Life: "Duncan Innis stands in front of the class wearing a suit and a semi-up hairdo longer than the real professor’s real-life hair. It’s 11:35 a.m. and class is in session. Of all the students, Deerhunter immediately makes an impression. Maybe it was because he raised his hand before anyone else in class to discuss the media empire of Cosmopolitan."

The instructor stands in front of the class, and the students raise "their hands" to speak. How is this different from the physical classroom. This article concludes by noting that the educators interviewed for this piece recognize that SL will not replace the physical classroom. Nonetheless, they believe it (or another three-dimensional virtual world like it) will become a part of the educational curriculum, at least in Canada.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Snapshot of SL Educators

In May 2008, the New Media Consortium (NMC) asked individuals on the Second Life Educators (SLED) discussion list to complete a survey about their experiences in the virtual world Second Life (SL). In 2007, 207 educators completed the survey; in 2008, the number increased to 358 - 64% of these respondents are affiliated with the NMC. The highlights from the 2008 survey are as follows:
  1. Educators are no longer merely exploring SL; instead, they are using this virtual world for teaching and learning purposes.
  2. The contact lists of these educators is growing.
  3. The 2008 respondents are more experienced in SL. Interestingly, a large proportion of the educators in SL are between the age of 36 and 55; few play console video games or engage in massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs). These individuals are watching less television as well.
  4. Educators want to learn how to create in SL - scripting, machinima, building things, etc.
  5. The majority of educators do not create an avatar that resembles their physical self.
  6. More than half of the respondents have more than one avatar.
  7. Positive experiences reported by the educators included meeting people and interactions with others.
  8. Griefers continue to be a problem in SL.
  9. Top activities these educators reported doing in SL include random wandering, attending events, and meeting new people, just to name a few.
Additional details about the educational activities in SL can be found in the 2008, as well as the 2007 reports.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Adults - They Take Over Everything

Last night as I was trying to shift gears a bit from yesterday's youth and media use report, I picked up the latest issue (at least the latest one I've received) of The New Yorker. A piece by Joan Acocella - a dance and book reviewer for the magazine - just happened to be on the topic of overparenting (also known as helicopter parenting, hothouse parenting, or when I was growing up, spoiling). While this is not intended to be a scholarly review of parenting today's young people, the content does tie into many of the scholarly works on youth and technology. One vignette in particular near the end of the article illustrates my nagging concern about the integration of technology in the classroom simply for the sake of appeasing the alleged demands of tech-savvy youth.

Acocella highlights Carl HonorĂ©'s experience with his seven-year-old son. In this example, the son's art teacher told HonorĂ© that his son was a gifted artist. Because of this talent, HonorĂ© suggested to his son that he enroll in after school art classes. His son responded in the following manner: “I don’t want to go to class and have a teacher tell me what to do—I just want to draw. . . . Why do grown-ups have to take over everything?” To the son, the notion of moving his self-directed interest in art into a more formal educational setting was horrifying to him.

It is this type of reaction that supports research findings that young people want moderate technology use in the classroom. Studies show that students want to have face-to-face interactions with their teachers and to gain expertise from them. Therefore, are young people viewing the appropriation of entertainment technologies by educators as grown-ups taking over everything? It's certainly something to consider. If this is the case, then is there a way to use technology to foster the educational process without it taking it over?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Failing through Teaching to the Test

Harvard's Tony Wagner argues that teaching to the test is setting kids up to fail in the global marketplace. Based on his conversations with employers, they want to hire individuals who ask good questions and who can engage in a thoughtful conversation. (These comments are similar to those collected by Cassner-Lotto and Wright Benner, 2006.) Knowing how to use the latest gadget or technological device does not rank high on their list of employee traits. (There's always on-the-job training for that.). In Wagner's experience, teaching to the test may enable students to score high on exams, but not meet these basic employer demands. Further, according to Wagner, being tech-savvy is only going to take these young people so far in life. Therefore, he has come up with a list of seven skills students need, which include:
  1. Problem-solving and critical thinking;
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
  3. Agility and adaptability;
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship;
  5. Effective written and oral communication;
  6. Accessing and analyzing information; and
  7. Curiosity and imagination.
Many educators and scholars are calling for change. Some reports point to the adoption of technology as the answer, whereas others, like Wagner, are looking past the technology to reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. Technology may come and go, but a solid foundation based on reading, writing, and critical skills can last a lifetime.

"Geeking Out"

What are kids doing online? Contrary to media reports of young people interacting with online predators, the findings presented by Ito et al. suggest otherwise. Mizuko Ito, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, and her colleagues found that today's youth are involved in activities that are similar to those their parents were engaged in when they were kids. Today's young people spend time online hanging out with their friends and socializing. Sound familiar? Much time and effort was invested in this research. In fact, this three-year study, led by Ito, involved hundreds of interviews and thousands of hours of online observation. It is the most extensive U.S. study of youth media use.

Other than their children encountering predators online, what do parents worry about? Ito et al. suggest that there are concerns about social isolation. However, these researchers argue that most of the online activities that young people engage in are very social, even though the interactions are not with others who are co-present. Instead of worrying, Ito et al. contend that parents need to recognize what motivates their youngster and cultivate those interests.

Socializing is not the only reason young people use technology. According to this study, today's youth are using technology to extend existing friendships. Sites such as Facebook and MySpace (among others) allow them to remain in constant contact with friends. Also, they are spending time online to explore their interests in topics that often extend beyond their school work. Moreover, these youth are able to connect with others who share those interests, as well as distribute their work and receive recognition for it in a public forum. The feedback these youth receive in this arena is typically from their more experienced peers rather than from adults and teachers (think Vygotsky and Piaget). Through this form of self-directed learning, which provides the youth a sense of freedom and autonomy that is often not found in the physical classroom, they learn technology and media literacy skills. It is this diving into a topic or a talent in a very social manner - one where adults are not the experts - that the researchers refer to as "geeking out."

I would have to say that geeking out (and is not an activity exclusive to young people. In fact, I don't think it's a generational trait at all. I would suspect that research could be conducted on older individuals who use technology, and similar characteristics would be present. It is worthwhile to investigate what today's youth are actually doing when they go online. However, researchers should be careful not to frame their findings in ways that would suggest that these young people are a homogeneous group, or that they are unique in comparison to other age groups. (For research that counters the notion of a universal, tech-savvy youth, see Hargittai (2008) and Herring (2008).)

While I didn't count the number of males and females highlighted in the Ito et al. report, it felt somewhat male-centric. The females were noted in the section describing ways they selected their Facebook page designed based on the color of their bedrooms. In contrast, however, the examples of the males (and there were many) included a type of tinkering that involved taking apart an X-box and rebuilding it. Changing the background of a social networking site (SNS) is not comparable to rebuilding a computer. Thus, how does technology use by young people differ by gender? What do these differences mean when integrating technology into a classroom setting? Would it possibly be a bridge that connects young males to academia while alienating females who typically perform well in the physical classroom? That information is not outlined in this report.

(On p. 36, the researchers do mention that the "work indicates a predictable participation gap" and "girls tend to be stigmatized more if they identify with geeked out practices." If this is true, then why do recent Pew Internet & American Life reports, for example, indicate that girls are active technology users, including in the realm of gaming?)

Also, recent reports have suggested that while young people are avid technology users in their personal lives, they prefer moderate technology use in the classroom (e.g., 2008 ECAR study). If a teacher were to integrate a self-directed component using technology into the curriculum, would the students buy into it? Or, would the students simply treat it as another assignment they submit for a grade? In other words, would the students do what was required to get a grade and nothing more? Creating an online, self-directed, unguided learning process that occurs informally may be difficult to simulate in a "traditional" classroom environment. As Kirschner et al. (2006) argue, students, especially those unfamiliar with a particular topic, may need some guidance before exploring independently.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More on Virtual Learning

The latest NSSE report not only discusses physical classroom student engagement issues, but it also includes a section about online learning. Based on this research, the outlook for online learning is a promising one. Questions were given to more than 22,000 students from 47 institutions. And the survey says:
  • At least 75% of their courses were delivered online for 1,128 (12%) first-year students and 1,637 (14%) seniors.
  • Both first-year and senior online learners reported more deep approaches to learning in their coursework.
  • Online courses seem to stimulate more intellectual challenge and educational gains.
  • In comparison to f2f classroom learners, both first-year and senior online learners reported more deep approaches to learning in their coursework - 58 % of first-year students who take most of their courses online reported using higher-order thinking in their coursework; only 55% of classroom-based learners reported in a similar fashion.
  • 62% of first-year students who take most of their classes online reported using reflective learning in their coursework; 59% of classroom-based learners mentioned reflective learning.

Virtual Learning Reports

There are a couple of new reports out on the topic of online learning in the K-12 arena. The first is titled, Learning Virtually: Expanding Opportunities. This is a report authored by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), a non-profit, educational association for state technology directors. A few interesting tidbits detailed in this report include:
  • Virtual learning is not a "silver bullet" or a "one-size-fits-all" solution.
  • Currently, 44 states have virtual learning programs. This includes Michigan and Florida.
  • 57% of public secondary schools provided access to students for online learning.
  • 19% of school districts paid for a computer for all students and another 10% of
    districts provided a computer for some students.
  • The Virtual High School (VHS) Advanced Placement research shows that on
    average students perform equally well or better in online learning.

The second report, Going Virtual! Unique Needs and Challenges of K-12 Teachers is the second phase of a three-part study series. A research team from Boise State University, led by Kerry Rice, with additional support from the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL), is behind this initiative. Here are a few of the research findings:
  • The overall workforce in online education consists of relatively experienced teachers. Fifty‐five percent of teachers have between six to fifteen years of total teaching experience, with 18% reporting 16 or more years of teaching experience.
  • 72% have participated in ongoing training sessions in online teaching.
  • Professional development needs rated as very important (rating of 4 on scale of 1‐4) included use of communication technologies (74%), time management strategies (62%), risks of academic dishonesty to learners (60%), and student internet safety (60%).
  • Challenges expressed by participants included time management (n = 71), students taking responsibility for learning (n = 61), communication (n = 54), and their ability to learn and use technologies (n = 54).
In other virtual learning news this week, Inside Higher Ed is reporting that online courses are popular with students. However, administrators are finding that the more "traditional" models - ones sometimes used for correspondence courses completed by mail - are inadequate. For example, one instructor at the University of Iowa taught eight online courses and two face-to-face courses last year. His bonus for taking on this additional load was $120,000! This was on top of his salary. What are some alternative options? Wallace Loh, a provost at Iowa, mentions two: either support the faculty with pay/time/tech resources or create a centralized course creation department (in other words, become a course factory similar to the U. of Phoenix model).

Despite the financial rewards for teaching online courses at some institutions, there are administrators who find it difficult to recruit faculty to teach. Some faculty argue that teaching an online course takes more time and a different skill-set than preparing for one that takes place in the physical classroom. While these represent just a few of the challenges faced by administrators and faculty, in the end, both sides argue that they want faculty to be treated fairly.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Academic Entitlement (AE)

The number of media reports about students feeling entitled to good grades with minimal effort has increased in the past decade. Self-esteem has also been on the rise in recent years. A new study by Greenberger and her colleagues (2008) investigates the prevalence of academic entitlement (AE) among undergraduates between the ages of 18-25. More specifically, these researchers examine the relationship between personality, parenting, and motivation. In their review of the literature, they note that different measures of entitlement have been used by researchers, yet they all agree that entitlement is a problematic trait. Greenberger et al. also ponder about the possible contributors to AE. These include personality variables, socialization practices with families, and copying strategies among students with declining grades.

This study was conducted in two parts. Study 1 included 466 ethnically diverse undergraduates, 364 females and 102 males. Males only scored slightly higher on the AE measurements than the females. The researchers also found that work ethic was negatively correlated to AE. Further, Greenberger et al. argue that AE is not just exaggerated self-esteem. This finding in particular is interesting given the top responses to their survey: "trying hard" should be considered when the instructor is grading; students who do most of the course readings should receive at least a "B"; and students who attend most of the class sessions should receive at least a "B." Guess you don't need a healthy self-esteem to think that you should be rewarded just for showing up.

Study 2 was similar in that the focus was on ethnically diverse undergrads. This time 244 females and 109 males participated. In this portion of the research, the authors were interested in the perception of parenting practices and the relationship of that variable to AE. The students reported that their parents were warm and accepting of their academic achievements. Based on the responses, however, the authors conclude that particular family dynamics such as emphasizing good grades over learning may contribute to higher levels of AE. Moreover, the research once again suggests that AE is not necessarily associated with self-esteem.

While there was no breakdown of the results by major, it would be interesting to determine whether there was a connection between high AE and the major. For example, schools of business are typically very competitive environments. In this context, are the levels of AE higher than for students who are majoring in less competitive environments such as English? Also, the findings showed no significant different between the male and female AE levels. Would this be the case for students in computer science and other male-centric disciplines? Because self-confidence, which was not measured by Greenberger and her colleagues, is often lower for females in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, it would be informative to further investigate AE for those students specifically. I suspect that the results may be quite different from a general examination of "traditional" undergrads.

Games, Other Media Forms, and Convergence

Games and other forms of media are converging. Sara de Freitas and Mark Griffiths (2008) review the literature on this trend to examine the ways games are converging with other media. These authors divide their discussion into three sections:
  1. Gaming and cinema;
  2. Gaming and the Internet; and
  3. Gaming and mobile devices.
The discussion begins with the convergence between games and films. Video sharing sites such as YouTube enable individuals to create the content. An emergent aspect of gaming, modding, Also, open-ended interactions are supported. While I question the interaction capabilities of YouTube and related sites (see Alex Juhasz's critique of YouTube for educational purposes here, here, and here for more information on this issue), de Freitas and her colleague contend that these two characteristics that are shared between games and the cinema are the links to educational uses of these resources. Machinima, which is becoming more widespread, is one example of the convergence between games and cinema. Gus Van Sant's movie, Elephant, is another in that he used a game-like filming of narrative to frame his story of the Columbine shooting.

Next, the authors note the convergence that's taking place between computer gaming and the Internet. This has trend has its roots in the early text-based worlds of MUDs and MOOs. In terms of educational possibilities associated with this movement, de Freitas and Griffiths claim that educational studies of digital games are in the nascent stages.

The final convergence category described by the authors is games and mobile devices, including mobile augmented reality (MAR). Mobile technologies are very popular, and some institutions are using mobile phones in particular to distribute course content. Further, work on technologies that will enable individuals to access virtual world such as Second Life via a mobile phone are underway. Based on this, it is likely that educators will soon be experimenting with the combination of course content delivery in SL via a mobile phone.

What do all three of these convergence trends have in common? According to de Freitas and her colleague, they place greater emphasis on the learner, provide more opportunities for horizontal learning (e.g., peer-to-peer learning per Wenger, 1998), and enable more social interaction among learners. This notion of learners as the producers of content (and not merely consumers) contradicts the thoughts of Jakob Nielsen (1993) who stated that users are not designers.

The study of games for educational purposes is relatively new. And, I would argue that even less work has been done to investigate the meaning of this convergence in terms of teaching and learning. This article by de Freitas and Griffiths provides a glimpse into this area of research that will hopefully expand rapidly, so educators will be able to take advantage of the possibilities associated with these blended virtual environments.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Serious Virtual Worlds

I've read a lot of Sara de Freitas' work (e.g., here and here), and I enjoy reviewing the reports she produces. They are thorough, insightful, and I always find that I learn something. Her latest report, "Serious Virtual Worlds" is no exception. In fact, it's one of the better pieces I've read recently on the topic of educational uses for virtual worlds. If you don't have time to read through this 52 page report, make time to peruse the tables that are integrated throughout the text.

De Freitas begins by stating the obvious: virtual worlds are popular. However, many of the claims made about the popularity of these environments are found in blog postings and other informal, and unvalidated outlets. Thus, it is difficult for educators to know which ones to select and for which contexts. The purpose of this report is to help policy makers and educators better understand virtual worlds. In addition, de Freitas hopes to shed light on the role learners play in these worlds.

Not only does de Freitas provide a nice literature review on the current state of virtual worlds, but she also provides case studies on five virtual worlds: 1) Active Worlds Educational Universe (AWEU), which was launched in 1997; 2) Project Wonderland, an open-source world; 3) Online Interactive Virtual Environment (OLIVE), a world used for training by the U.S. military and medical schools; 4) Second Life SciLands; and 5) Croquet, a world that has been described as "Alice in Wonderland-type" (p. 21). One thing to look out for is a shift from the name virtual worlds to immersive worlds. De Freitas seems to use these terms interchangeably, and she may be previewing a change in the way we refer to these worlds. [NOTE: She also used the term "immersive" in her 2007 report on game-based learning.]

In the section on "Working Worlds," de Freitas outlines five different categories of virtual worlds. They include the following: 1) role play worlds; 2) social worlds; 3) working worlds; 4) training worlds; and 5) mirror worlds. She also provides examples of each type of world (e.g., World of Warcraft is listed as a role play world, whereas Second Life (SL) is categorized as a social world) and notes the value of these worlds for learning and education.

One section of this report that is of particular interest to me is de Freitas' discussion on the blending between massively multiplayer games (MMOGs) and SL. A convergence between the two, according to de Freitas, is "quite possible" (p. 12). In fact, she highlights the use of Project Darkstar as Project Wonderland's underlying technology as an example of the convergence between the two. While there are scholars who claim that open-ended virtual worlds such as SL are not games (e.g., Bartle, 2004; Kelton, 2007; Oishi, 2007; Steinkuehler, 2008), there is not 100% agreement on this point. Virtual worlds and MMOGs are becoming more alike, and as a result, the game vs. not a game "debate" may be wasted energy. Instead, the more interesting point to examine may be why open-ended virtual worlds are becoming more game-like. Or, alternatively, the focus may be on why MMOGs are becoming more open-ended virtual environments.

Overall, virtual worlds place greater emphasis on the learner. Further, there are signs that physical world and virtual world experiences are beginning to blend. In the end, though, de Freitas contends that virtual worlds will not replace face-to-face interactions. Instead, these virtual spaces will supplement traditional approaches.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Will the Real Gamers Please Stand Up

When many people think about video gamers, the first image that comes to mind is the pasty teenage boy sitting in his parents' basement. But how accurate is that? Williams, Yee, and Caplan (2008) conducted a survey of 7,000 EverQuest 2 (EQ2) players. With the blessing of Sony Online Entertainment, the game operator, the authors were also able to collect in-game behavioral data. This is quite an accomplishment given that game operators are typically reluctant to provide gamer data to researchers. The goal was to combine the self-reports with the in-game data collected by the game operator to examine player motivation, as well as the mental and physical health of the players. Demographic data was collected via the survey instrument. The research approach taken by the group led by Williams differs from the common tactic. Typically, this type of research involves single-player computer lab sessions and self-report data.

Prior research suggests that there are physical and mental health risks associated with video game play. For example, a study by Anderson et al. released last week found a connection between aggressive physical behavior and video game playing among children. Williams and his colleagues wanted to determine the accuracy of some of the earlier findings about video game play and assess the characteristics of the players themselves.

For the most part, the Williams et al. findings contradict earlier research.
  • Play time: ~26 hours/week (among all players)
  • Average age: 31 years old [older players played more than younger; there were more older players in general]
  • Gender: 81% male; 19% female [however, adult females logged in more hours]
  • Race: Whites and Native Americans played more video games
  • Income and education: Players were wealthier and more educated
  • Religion: Players were less likely to be religious
  • Media Use: Players spend less time watching television and reading newspapers
  • Physical health: EQ2 players were slightly overweight but less so than the national average
  • Mental health: Higher levels of depression, especially among the female players; higher levels of substance abuse; lower levels of anxiety
  • Role playing: A fringe activity
Because many of the findings put forth by Williams and his colleagues do not match the rhetoric found in the literature, they conclude with a list of questions (i.e., areas for future research):
  • Why are there inaccurate stereotypes?
  • Why are older females playing at higher rates than younger males?
  • Why are EQ2 players healthier than the general population?
  • Why do minorities play video games at lower rates than other groups?
  • Why are players less religious than non-players?
  • Why are mental health problems more prevalent in players than in non-players.
The introductory paragraphs indicate that in-game behavioral data were collected by the authors. Based on this article, it isn't clear what information was collected and how it supported or refuted the survey findings. In the "Sampling and Procedure" section, Williams et al. note that there was a link between the survey participants and the in-game data. However, it appears that the main measure collected in-game was playing time. While this could be used to support the self-reports associated with playing time, it doesn't do much to inform the other variables. One point the authors emphasize is that much of the past research is not generalizable because it is difficult to get access to the players. These authors were able to get access to the players, but the findings still appeared to rely heavily on the self-reports of players, which can be inaccurate.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Violence and Video Games

A new study posted today to Pediatrics examines the longitudinal effects of violent video games on the physical aggression levels of young players. The players under investigation were based in the U.S. and in Japan. In both locations, playing video games is a popular activity among young people (e.g., here and here). Anderson and his colleagues wanted to assess the impact exposure to violent video game had in high- (U.S.) and low- (Japan) violence cultures. Two samples included Japanese teens ages 12-18; the third sample included U.S. young people ages 9-12.

The findings suggest that habitual exposure to violent video games early in the school year predicted later physical aggression in the study participants. This was true for the U.S. (an individualistic culture and the two Japanese (a more collective culture) groups, but less so (but still significant) for the older teens. This contradicts an alternative hypothesis that only aggressive children are affected by repeat exposure to violent video games.

While extreme violence was rare among the participants of this study, the findings of the Anderson et al. study are important because, as these authors note, youth violence accounts for many deaths. As a Surgeon General's report on youth violence states, homicide is the leading cause of death for Blacks between the ages of 10-24, and the second leading cause of death for young Hispanics.

What does this mean for researchers who are using controversial games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for educational purposes? Much of this research is conducted with disadvantaged youth whose lives are filled with poverty, drug use, and violence. By adding a violent video game to the mix, are we as educators placing these young people in even more danger? While these games are appealing to students and may foster the acquisition of certain skills (literacy, technological, decision-making, etc.), are the potential risks worth it? As Anderson et al. contend, more research is needed. However, their findings thus far are enough to make educators approach the integration of violent video games into the curriculum with caution.

Student Plagiarism

Almost half of the students surveyed at the University of Cambridge plagiarize. The study, conducted by the student newspaper Varsity, found that 49% of the participants admitted to acts that are defined by the university as plagiarism. The acts range from turning in someone else's work without acknowledgement to purchasing a term paper. Interestingly, law students admitted to plagiarism more than other disciplines at 62%. Overall, however, only 5% of the survey participants have ever been caught. Perhaps more troubling is that many students interviewed by the paper staff did NOT consider their acts plagiarism.

So, is the rising number of plagiarists a training issue? If we teach students what constitutes plagiarism, will the numbers go down? If the competitive pressure of certain disciplines such as law were eliminated, would the need to plagiarize also disappear? Or, has plagiarism simply become an acceptable practice in our culture?

On a related note, Drexel University's The Smart Set has an interesting piece written by Nick Mamatas - an author who wrote papers for a term paper mill on the side. Highlights from the article include:
  • Term paper work is easy, once you get the hang of it.
  • Getting the hang of it is tricky.
  • The secret to writing term papers for one of these outlets is to have fun.
  • Many students have never read a term paper. The author compares this to asking a student to write a novel without reading one first.
  • The students are not only cheating themselves; they are also cheated by their institutions that give them nothing in return.

A Web 2.0 Campaign

We've been talking about video sharing sites in class for a few weeks, and an article in today's New York Times discusses the ways in which sites like YouTube (and other Web 2.0 technologies) have changed the campaign. David Carr and Brian Stelter kick off the conversation by noting that the clip from “Meet the Press” of Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama appeared on hours before individuals on the West Coast could watch the interview in its entirety on television. What's also interesting is that many of the Web 2.0 technologies that have been heavily utilized in the 2008 campaign (e.g., YouTube, Facebook) were not yet available in 2004.

Obama and McCain both used Web 2.0 technologies to further their campaigns, but they did so in different ways. Last week alone, the Obama campaign uploaded 70 new videos. Many of the videos, including ones on were not television ads; rather Obama's new-media director stated that many of the videos were more biographical in nature. In contrast, McCain produced videos that revitalized older news stories such as those about Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

While one could speculate that the heavy use of the Internet in the current campaign could mean the end of the more traditional media outlets, this does not appear to be the case. As the Colin Powell example illustrates, networks like NBC are taking advantage of their web outlets to preview their television content. Katie Couric and other reporters have their own YouTube channel. In other words, it's not an either-or decision.

Further, one medium isn't dominating. On election night, for instance, it is expected that individuals will be watching the election results on television as well as accessing news and information from online sources. The best of both worlds.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Students and Their Social Networking Habits

In just one year, Inside Higher Ed reports that the questions educators are asking about social networking sites (SNSs) have changed. Instead of wondering what to do about their students' technology habits, today, educators are pondering whether to adopt students' existing technology habits. Researchers from Arizona State University conducted a study to address this issue, and presented their findings at this year's EDUCAUSE Conference.

The study, led by Dr. Laura Brewer, involved an online survey of 3,000 first-year students living on campus (21% response rate). The questions were designed to assess how the respondents used Facebook to create their identities (academic and social). In addition, the researchers wanted to assess how this form of identity creation might affect student retention rates.

Some research has shown that web-based tools can improve retention; however, according to Brewer, it is unclear how students' technology habits relate to the teaching and learning process. Nonetheless, SNSs were popular with the respondents - a little more than 93% use Facebook and almost 89% are active users. In terms of academic-related use, slightly more than 68% joined Facebook for their dorm; only 37.4% said that Facebook enriches their academic life, which means that approximately 70% said it did not. Very few of the students are using Facebook to connect to the faculty. Instead, they are using this SNS to stay connected to classmates or work in groups. On a more negative note, some respondents stated that Facebook could be a distraction and encourage cheating.

The findings of this report appear to be aligned with the latest ECAR study on undergrads and technology in that SNS are popular among young people for personal use. However, these same individuals may not want to incorporate SNS into their academic lives.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blackboard's Foray into OSS

The for-profit, course management system (CMS), Blackboard, is trying to attract the attention of institutions that prefer an open source approach. They're doing so by creating plug-ins (some of which are referred to as "Building Blocks") for systems such as Sakai. Similar connectors are in the works for Moodle as well.

While Blackboard is the top dog among CMSs in higher education, there is a growing number of individuals and developers moving toward the open source approach. Blackboard obviously recognizes this and wants to make sure they are in on the action. But will this mean the end of open source CMSs? Or, alternatively, will a for-profit become more open?

More on these Blackboard partnerships can be found here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Future of Higher Education

Hot off the presses! NMC, along with The Economist and Apple Computer, Inc. just released a white paper on the ways in which technology is shaping the future of higher education. The paper reports on the findings of a survey of almost 300 executives - CIOs and tech leaders both inside and outside education. Twelve interviews were conducted with individuals from this group as well. The results suggest that technology will profoundly change higher education over the next five years. Here are some specifics from the survey data:

  • 60% of all respondents expect that professors will teach in more than one medium by 2013
  • 60% say that online learning will be a fundamental component of the education experience
  • 64% of respondents expect that universities will frequently partner with corporations and other third parties to create new areas of study over the next five years

As was the case with the students who participated in the 2008 ECAR study, the respondents of the NMC survey reported that social networking sites (SNSs) were popular tools among those in campus administration. Career services and alumni groups are examples of units that favor the use of SNSs.

Also becoming more popular in higher education throughout the world is online learning. Many of the institutions are making connections with other countries through the formation of foreign location sites. Overall, many of the higher education respondents said that technology has positively impacted their institutions.

While this NMC report is suggesting that we will see more technology in our classrooms over the next five years, the ECAR students stated that they wanted only moderate amounts of technology. In fact, they claimed that face-to-face interactions with their instructors was very important to them. So, who is driving this push toward more technology? Because this report was produced, at least in part, by those with corporate interests (The Economists, Apple Computer, and tech leaders inside/outside academia), one could posit that they have a vested interest in promoting the use of technology and encouraging more partnerships corporations and higher education institutions.

If we as educators blindly accept technology without assessing the actual learning benefits associated with the technology, are we really serving our "tech-savvy" customers? Based on the ECAR study, these customers may say "no." It appears that today's students make a clear distinction between use of technology for personal and academic reasons. While they are enthusiastic technology users in their personal life, they are less enthusiastic about these tools for learning purposes. Perhaps the tech leaders are viewing higher education their their own adult, corporate lens rather than really finding out what the users want.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

ECAR Study on Undergrads and Technology Use

A new ECAR study, with a focus on social networking sites (SNSs), was released earlier this week. For those new to the ECAR study on undergraduates, this work began in 2004 and the reports are produced on a yearly basis. More than 27,000 student participated in the 2008 study, and a majority of those were "traditional" students (i.e., individuals under the age of 25, attending 4-year institutions full time).

The findings: Slightly more than 80% of the students had laptop computers, and the majority of those were new devices. More than 65% of the respondents owned an internet-capable cell phone; however, they don't access the internet in this manner because of cost, difficulty of use, and slow response times. On average, these students spend more than 19 hours/week online for work, school, or recreation. But, 69% spend less than 20 hours/week online. This varies by major: engineering majors spend more time online; education and life/biological sciences majors less. Almost all of the students have high-speed internet. Less than 2% still used a dial-up connection.

For these students, technnology is about communication. Social networking sites (especially Facebook) and text messaging are popular with over 80% of ECAR respondents communicating in this fashion. While many students are involved in creating audio and video materials, as well as engaging in gaming activities, the males do so more than the females. There are also gender differences when examining early adopters: almost 53% of the males considered themselves early adopters; in contrast, only 25% of female students responded in a similar fashion. When looking at Second Life specifically, only 8.8% (or only 1 student out of 11) are involved in this world.

Many students consider themselves tech-savvy; however, many educators are beginning to question these students' abilities. While the students are enthusiastic about technology, they report that they only want moderate amounts of technology in their courses. This is consistent with the 2007 ECAR findings. According to the authors of the 2008 report, this is consistent with the findings over the past 5 years. Males prefer slightly more technology in courses than females, yet both value face-to-face time with instructors. When asked what specific technologies students liked to learn through, more than 50% said they preferred video games and simulations. Only running internet searches ranked higher.

Almost 12% said they were taking an online course(s) during the time of this study. Most of the comments about online courses were negative: 1) lack of face-to-face interaction; 2) online courses facilitate cheating; 3) technical problems; and 4) online courses are more demanding because students have to "teach themselves." Less than 25% of ECAR respondents believe that institutions should require them to take an online course. Most have used a CMS.

Overall, less than 50% said that IT improves their learning or improves their engagement. Convenience is listed as the top benefit of IT in courses. This report includes a section that focuses on SNSs. One issue that is also examined is related to privacy and security. As Genevieve Bell suggested in yesterday's talk, students aren't really concerned about this. The authors of the ECAR report speculate that the lack of concern may be due to a lack of knowledge about the risks associated with SNSs. Further, they point to the ability to place restrictions on the type of information SNS participants can make public. While the ECAR students are enthusiastic about technology for personal use but are less enthusiastic about it for educational purposes.

An aside: According to this report, 1.5% of students do not own a computer. Who are these people? It would be very interesting to do a more in-depth study of these individuals to find out why they don't own a computer. Do they access the internet in other ways?

The Sacrifices IT Women Make

I'm in the process of revising my gender and computerization syllabus for the spring and came across this report. The study, conducted by the Anita Borg Institute and the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University, examined IT women at the mid-level of their careers. What the researchers found was that women in these positions were making personal sacrifices such as delaying marriage and motherhood to promote their careers. In other words, these women felt that they had to make a choice between career and family to be successful in the male-dominated world of IT. Unfortunately, these sacrifices did not led to great rewards. Gender stereotypes (women aren't as technical as men) are still prevalent, which result in women being passed over for promotions. Instead women are placed in low-level positions that have minimal visibility. While some women interviewed for this study claimed that promotions in their early careers were based on merit, they found that gender became an obstacle at the middle management levels. Thus, it is not surprising that 56% of mid-career IT women choose to leave their organizations and pursue other opportunities. One thing both the men and women interviewed for this study noted is that women have to be assertive in order to survive in IT.

The gender bias and stereotypes in IT fields is not new. Women (and their male colleagues) have been aware of this situation for quite some time now. Yet year after year, reports like this one surface. The problem is that these studies report similar results. The IT industry claims that it needs more workers and would like to recruit more women. However, the IT workplace of today continues to be a good ol' boys club. Because of the current financial situation, the number of IT jobs filled by people in places like India are no longer as cost efficient as they once were. Therefore, they are looking to fill those positions with people in the U.S. But, the number of students enrolled in computer science has been on the decline since the mid-1990s. This is true for men and women. So, who is going to fill these positions? If middle management continues to foster a climate that promotes gender bias, it won't be women who will be there to save them. It's time for a change.

Andrew Keen and the Web 2.0

Wonder how the latest financial crisis will impact the future of the internet? While Genevieve Bell didn't address that issue in her discussion of the future of the Internet, Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur recently did pontificate on the topic. In this piece, Keen paints a dire picture for Web 2.0 and the participatory age. As Keen remarks, "'Free' doesn’t fill anyone’s belly; it doesn’t warm anyone up."

My thoughts: I think Keen oversimplifies the behavior of those who participate in the Web 2.0 economy. While financial reasons may drive some people, I posit that it is more complicated than that. Keen fails to factor in the need for attention and the way that impact people's willingness to freely contribute to Wikipedia, for example. Also neglected by Keen are the following: the belief in the community; the expectation of future reciprocity from the community; the creation (and maintenance) of reputation; and a sense of efficacy (e.g., Bryant et al., 2005; Donath, 1999; Kollock, 1999) . The current economic crisis may indeed impact the Web 2.0, as Keen suggests, but I would argue that financial reasons are only one part of the equation.

Update: According to a recent Time magazine article, the traffic on one Web 2.0 site has increased during this economic downturn.
LinkedIn, a site that allows visitors to post resumes and contact information, is finding that its use by job seekers and recruiters is one of its main revenue sources. For example, from August to September 2008, the number of job searches in LinkedIn rose 19%. Using the Web 2.0 to connect employers and employees may be one use Keen neglected to consider.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Genevieve Bell

Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist at Intel, spoke on campus this afternoon. While I was initially reluctant to brave the elements, I am so glad I decided to attend. Bell's talk was one of the best I've heard since I arrived more than 3 years ago. While not the speech Bell gave today, this clip does give you an idea of what her presentations are like.

In her talk -
"The next internet revolution is already happening!" - Bell used an ethnographic lens to examine what the Internet might look like in 10-20 years from now. She began by noting that the internet is not just about technology: it a social product; it is ideas; it is a set of forces. In other words, the internet comes with cultural baggage wrapped around it. And now, the internet, according to Bell, is fragmenting into a series of technologies.

Bell outlined six different signs that the next internet revolution is currently underway. First, the internet is not just in laptops and desktop computers. Its is "feral" and on the move. It is in mobile devices such as cell phones. It is also in televisions, game consoles, etc. Bell argues that this move to a feral internet changes people's behavior. For example, people don't surf on an iPhone; instead they locate very targeted information. Further, Bell pointed out that not all individuals use the internet in real time. They may drive 150k to access it at McDonald's. They may tell a relative what to say in a message, and the relative goes to an internet cafe to compose and send the message. This relative then prints any received messages to read to the relative the next a.m.

Second on Bell's list is the end of the "anglosphere"; there are more languages appearing on the internet, and Bell contends that this trend will increase. Also, Bell suggests that a lot of information is hidden in plain sight. It is no longer about what is being said that's important; rather what is not said. Thus, Bell argues that language on the web is not just a translation problem.

Next on the list is infrastructure and the range of upload and download speeds. This will look different in different cultures. Bell believes that internet behavior and the way people participate online will change depending on these speeds. Moreover, the costs associated with participation is likely to increase not decrease, and in Bell's mind, the concept of a free and open internet is unrealistic.

Fourth is regulation of the internet. Many countries are connecting good citizenship with technology use. Korea's U-Society is one example. Bell says that this is a new frontier for government activity and agendas; each one is different from the other.

Number five on Bell's list was related to porn, trolls, and social regulations. According to Bell, everyone lies on the internet, and she points to the Cornell study on online data as one piece of evidence to support this claim. She continues by noting that crafting ourselves online is an art.

And finally, the sixth item are socio-technical concerns. Bell refers to the internet as a form of aggressive self-presentation. We worry about what other people think about us, which impacts what we post online. Also, Bell notes that what we worry about has moved away from discussions about privacy, trust, and security. "Creepy" as in your Mom is in the house with you all the time creepy is the latest term used rather than privacy violations. Today, we worry about authenticity, ownership of information, digital literacy (e.g., Is the internet making us stupid? Is the internet destroying our language? Is the internet making us homogeneous?), and the identity of "Big Brother."

So, what does Bell foresee in the future? She believes that there will not be a single web - there will be no single use and no single trajectory. Bell mentioned that a really interesting group of people to study are the non-internet users and ex-internet users. Why do they choose not to have the internet? Another area for future examination are the ways in which people are beginning to resist technology. Some of Bell's interviewees remarked that they intentionally book vacations to areas where they cannot get a signal to connect to the internet. Maybe that's why I like being out on the XC - no internet, no phones, no computers, just me and Mother Nature.


For individuals who are familiar with the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, much of this article by Simson L. Garfinkel (not Simon Garfunkel), a professor of computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, will not be new.

What is interesting about the discussion put forth by Garfinkel is the distinction between truth and verifiability. According to the author, the Wikipedia model supports verifiability through policies that encourage the use of third-party sources rather than self-published original research. Editing your own entry is another act discourgaged in the Wikipedia structure. One example given by Garfinkel is about Jaron Lanier, whose Wikipedia entry stated that he was a film director (he claims he is not). Every time he deleted that statement, it returned. (NOTE: On October 24, 2008, the Wikipedia entry on Lanier did not list him as a film director.) Lanier also was criticized for his self-editing practice, which some consider a "wikisin." One would assume that Lanier would be an "expert" about himself, moreso than others.

While many consider Wikipedia a useful tool, especially when gathering preliminary information about the topic, and is considered a model of the wisdom of crowds concept, the question remains: What is truth? In Wikipedia, according to Garfinkel, truth is "the consensus view of a subject." Given the approach used for more mainstream publications where only a few individuals are involved, the Wikipedia method potentially allows for more input on what counts as complete and accurate information. But do more eyes taint the information or improve it? Who counts as an expert when it comes to a particular topic? What is the difference between expertise and self-promotion/self-marketing? Can information seekers ever expect to find the truth, or is verifiability good enough?