Latice 2013 – technology access, digital inclusion and studio-based learning

James Harland (RMIT) presented an interesting talk looking at student’s perceptions on the use of laptops during lectures, exploring both whether mobile learning is sustainable and pedagogically effective and also to integrate mobile learning into the curriculum. This is a hugely interesting topic to me at the moment, as I have been thinking about digital exclusions issues and the expectations that we as academics have in the technology that students have available. Part of the study that James described demographic information including who had access to technology and what kinds of technology they have, as well their attitudes to using mobile technologies for learning.

The survey population was, unsurprisingly, dominated by male and full-time students. The average age was 25 which did surprise me, as that is higher than I had expected. It would be interesting to look further into this to see what the proportion of students was that had come straight from high school or instead had worked for a period, and perhaps had more resources available to them. 85% of the students indicated that they access to a laptop, with 77% willing to take it to a lecture, at least on some days.

The students were asked about their perception on the impact of mobile technology on their learning. The majority (roughly 60-70%) thought it would improve learning, increase engagement and increase collaboration. But they also agreed that it would be a distraction, something which we have all observed from time to time, I guess, when we have mobile technology in our meetings and other activities.

Digital exclusion is a fascinating, if somewhat depressing topic – as a community, we often see access to technology as something that this will help address social exclusion; that it will help remove barriers to information, education and services. However, my reading is this space on several case studies and research studies has found that this is not really the case. Assuming that providing access only will overcome issues is a simplistic view, and we need to recognise that motivation to use technology, and the confidence and capacity to use technology are equally important. What this tells us is that we need to work on the human issues whenever we make a significant shift in our expectations of technology usage and access in our classrooms.

One interesting study that I have been reading about looks at how if you have access to technology within one context, such as at University, but not at home or in other contexts, then it can actually introduce more digital barriers. So for students who do not have access to technology at home, they can face greater barriers in confidence and usage than those that do, when we make greater usage of technology within the classroom. I have read about this in other contexts as well – the idea is that if you move your learning through to online or digital environments, then students who have limited external access can fall further behind, as they peers who do have access externally can continue to use the technology outside of class, improving their learning and allowing them to learn more with greater access. Another interesting aspect of this is the creation of social networks around technology access – those that do have external access tend to create networks to discuss university-related studies outside of class, leaving those that do not have access even further excluded.

James left us with some ideas of things he would be looking at next – students currently see the use of technology as useful for learning, but what should we do with them? What are the best ways OS using mobile technology within lectures or other classes? How can we use this is to give immediate feedback, and to get students to explore application of concepts in a timely fashion? Some of this poses the same kinds of questions that motivate the use of studio-based learning, or the collaborative workshops that we run in our own first year courses, which mix lecture content with group and individual exercises to build in immediate application. But of course, you are not fixed to working in defined, established studios or laboratories…

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