Francesc Pedró: Between Conservatism and Messianism: Is Technology Really Changing Student Expectations in Higher Education?

Notes from the Inaugural lecture of the course 2010-2011 of the Open University of Catalonia, held in Barcelona on September 20, 2010.

Between Conservatism and Messianism: Is Technology Really Changing Student Expectations in Higher Education?
Francesc Pedró, Senior Policy Analyst at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI).

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Has a thing like Facebook, or technology in general, changed the way learners understand learning and the world as a whole?

What do we know?

Most young students have a computer at home, and many of them own a good array of digital devices: cell phone, music or video device, laptop, etc. A quarter of them up to 5 or more. E-mailing, text messaging or instant messaging are also widely adopted practices.

The fact is that youngsters have a deep link to technology, and technology mediates most of their daily life.

But the results are not the same: higher amounts of economic, human and social/cultural capital lead to improved results thanks to ICTs. Lower socio-economic status leads to a negative impact of technology. Technology magnifies the former differences amongst individuals.

Indeed, the concept of “digital native” has become too generic to describe what’s happening at the intersection of youth+ICTs.

Have expectations changed?

So, youngsters are intensive users of technology and technology mediates their lives: do they have different expectations concerning learning? Should we have to change the way we teach?

A first problem raises when we see evidence that there are disparities between teachers’ perceptions of students and their own self-perceptions. This is especially evident when looking at the most preferred ways to learn vs. the way students are taught nowadays. For instance, though students are technology intensive users, they believe that learning is more about teamworking or learning by doing rather than about using computers in class (which on the other hand is what most edutech projects are heading to).

Some basic misconceptions:

  • In general, higher education students prioritise contact, face-to-face. It cannot be tell whether this will still be this way in the nearer future, but today’s data say so.
  • Students do not want experiments, do not want “educational innovation projects” with no guarantees of improving their learning efficiency.

What will the impact be like?

First of all: intensity of usage of computers and web 2.0 tools at school is almost non-existent or, to say the least, very very low. At the University, the level of usage amongst teachers is still low, but there seems to be a changing trend. Many of them, for instance, already use learning management systems in their teaching or have a useful library website.

Lessons learnt:

  • Technology must be engaging. Educational innovation must be risk-free.
  • Technology must be convenient. Technology must enable learning wherever, whenever. And make it easy.
  • Technology must help to increase the student’s productivity in learning. No burdens added but, on the contrary, more efficiency.

All in all, context matters, and no conclusions can be raised without taking into account the context of the educational initiative, the student, etc. Listening matters too: Universities have to listen to what their students “say” in order to get feedback (about their context) and so adjust their educational technology initiatives.

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