The net generation and digital natives: implications for higher education

Jones, Chris and Shao, Binhui (2011). The net generation and digital natives: implications for higher education. Higher Education Academy, York.



Executive Summary

"Our students have changed radically. Today�s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach." (Prensky 2001 p1)

1. There is no evidence that there is a single new generation of young students entering Higher Education and the terms Net Generation and Digital Native do not capture the processes of change that are taking place.

2. The complex changes that are taking place in the student body have an age related component that is most obvious with the newest waves of technology. Prominent amongst these are the uses made of social networking sites (e.g. Facebook), uploading and manipulation of multimedia (e.g. YouTube) and the use of handheld devices to access the mobile Internet.

3. Demographic factors interact with age to pattern students� responses to new technologies. The most important of these are gender, mode of study (distance or place-based) and the international or home status of the student.

4. The gap between students and their teachers is not fixed, nor is the gulf so large that it cannot be bridged. In many ways the relationship is determined by the requirements teachers place upon their students to make use of new technologies and the way teachers integrate new technologies in their courses. There is little evidence that students enter university with demands for new technologies that teachers and universities cannot meet.

5. Students persistently report that they prefer moderate use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in their courses. Care should be taken with this finding because the interpretation of what is �moderate� use of ICT may be changing as a range of new technologies take off and become embedded in social life and universities.

6. Universities should be confident in the provision of what might seem to be basic services. Students appreciate and make use of the foundational infrastructure for learning, even where this is often criticised as being an out of date and unimaginative use of new technology. Virtual Learning Environments (Learning or Course Management Systems) are used widely and seem to be well regarded. The provision by university libraries of online services, including the provision of online e-journals and e-books, are also positively received.

7. Students do not naturally make extensive use of many of the most discussed new technologies such as Blogs, Wikis and 3D Virtual Worlds. The use of 3D Virtual Worlds is notably low amongst students. The use of Wikis and Blogs is relatively low overall, but use does vary between different contexts, including national and regional contexts. Students who are required to use these technologies in their courses are unlikely to reject them and low use does not imply that they are inappropriate for educational use. The key point being made is that there is not a natural demand amongst students that teaching staff and universities should feel obliged to satisfy.

8. There is no obvious or consistent demand from students for changes to pedagogy at university (e.g. demands for team and group working). There may be good reasons why teachers and universities wish to revise their approaches to teaching and learning, or may wish to introduce new ways of working. Students will respond positively to changes in teaching and learning strategies that are well conceived, well explained and properly embedded in courses and degree programmes. However there is no evidence of a pent-up demand amongst students for changes in pedagogy or of a demand for greater collaboration.

9. There is no evidence of a consistent demand from students for the provision of highly individualised or personal university services. The development of university infrastructures, such as new kinds of learning environments (for example Personal Learning Environments) should be choices about the kinds of provision that the university wishes to make and not a response to general statements about what a new generation of students are demanding.

10. Advice derived from generational arguments should not be used by government and government agencies to promote changes in university structure designed to accommodate a Net Generation of Digital Natives. The evidence indicates that young students do not form a generational cohort and they do not express consistent or generationally organised demands. A key finding of this review is that political choices should be made explicit and not disguised by arguments about generational change.

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