Tuesday, August 26, 2008

5.*: Primary research on gaming and academic performance

The latest issue of the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (AJET), 24, 4 includes an article by Barry Ip, Gabriel Jacobs, Alan Watkins called "Gaming frequency and academic performance". The article measures the exam performance of students vis-a-vis their 'gaming frequency'.

The results are not surprising, but they are timely. Marc Prensky popularised the use of video games for learning, and optimism over their use in education persists. To be fair, Marc emphasises the use of simulations rather than true recreational gaming. However, the article in quesiton here disputes Prensky's optimism.

There is a real difference between games as recreation and games as education. Many of the by-products of gaming are fine for developing spatial awareness and simple (bounded) problem-solving however the line between educational simulation and gaming can be a rather fine one. Kids are more likely to get involved with World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto IV (shudder) than Restaurant Empire, for example. I challenge anyone to find beneficial education outcomes from this list of Top Ten 2008 computer games... even those designed to encourage collaboration (such as WoW)!

Anyway, Ip et al took a sample of 713 university students and measured their gamer profile according to four groups: non-gamer, infrequent gamer, regular gamer, and frequent gamer. The result: well, I said there would be no surprises...

The results reveal that examination marks are in fact negatively correlated with gaming frequency - i.e. frequent gamers generally achieve lower marks than less frequent gamers.(2008, p.355).
Of course, this assumes that the games were little more than a distraction from formal studies. But at least we now have a reference to a primary research study that disproves any assumed link between frequent gaming and academic achievement. Of course learning takes place during recreational gaming, but this is at the expense of the (more transferable) learning that takes place during formal education. The effect of simulation on educational achievement is a very different matter!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

1.1.1: Types of education, illustrated

The diagram in 1.1.1 differentiating between on-campus, distance and online education never really did it for me.

So, when I came across a much better way of diagramming the differences between on-campus, e-learning and distance education settings, I knew that the e-Primer needed updating. This diagram is from Bullen, M., & Janes, D. (Eds.). (2006). Making the transition to e-learning: Strategies and issues. Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing, p.ix.

The diagram respects the extremes of the face-to-face classroom with no e-learning whatsoever, and the classic correspondence-style distance education that might make use of analogue technologies. In between, the relationships between e-learning as a classroom aid and online learning are well illustrated. You can also see why so much fuss is being made about mixed-model or hybrid learning; it is where e-learning, distance education and the classroom all intersect.

1.1.1: Navigating the terminology

In reviewing Bates's (2005) Technology, e-learning and distance education, I was impressed with his differentiation between distance education and e-learning.

Bates (2005, p.5) defines distance education as “a method of education”, whereby “[s]tudents can study at their own time, at the place of their choice... and without face-to-face contact with a teacher”. Bates adds that “[t]echnology is a critical element of distance education” (ibid.) however Bates includes print as a technology (the e-Primer, in its new version, will more carefully define e-learning in terms of 'digital' technologies for this reason).

Also of interest is Bates (2005) sharp delineation between distance education and e-learning; he argues that technologies such as the World Wide Web are “just different” (2007, p.3) to print and video-conferencing. Of course this difference is very significant in terms of the operational elements of education, but pedagogically Bates is correct. As the e-Primers make clear, the rules of teaching and learning do not change as a result of digital technologies. Rather, how those rules are implemented changes.

Fibally, Bates acknowledges that the term ‘e-learning’ is a variable one “where courses may have anything from a relatively small Web-based component of a course or program to a fully online offering” (2005, p.9). This is an important observation, as e-learning "is incredibly open-ended" (e-Primer 1.2, p.9).

Terminology is an incredibly important part of e-learning; it is encouraging to see effective coverage of this in an authoritative work.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

5.*: More on social networking

Apologies for what seems to be a sole focus on the "e-Xtending possibilities" e-Primer... which is, itself, yet to be written! It just seems that it is this area that is most dynamic at the moment. I intend to place some further thoughts relating to e-Primer 1 soon.

Anyways, a friend passed on a link that led me to the latest findings of the "Annual Realtime Generation Survey" of UK 13-17 year olds. The main shift: toward social 'not' working (rather than 'net' ;o) ). There seems to be a shift by young people away from social networking sites, and, contra popular opinion in the blogosphere, a preference for face-to-face communications.

Further, in the context of the phrase, "the majority (29%) would prefer to have face-time with, for example, prospective universities, than any other communications or technology
medium", there could be an underlying acceptance by 13-17 year olds for lecturing or didacticism (although I hasten to add that this is not an exclusive endorsement for didacticism as a teaching technique) in HE.

The study further finds that the 'Not' generation (my term, it's a nice contrast!) "expects and demands the availability of [thelatest gadgets]" and suggests that "education establishments will therefore need to consider multi-channel communication policies that support the use of formal and informal practices". Here, I think, is where the issue becomes very clear. How can we best apply technology in ways that complement formal education practices? This is a different agenda from plotting how social networking might topple the formal establishments of teaching and learning and is, in my view, a much more progressive and helpful one.

The study, commissioned by an IT services provider (Logicalis), is not the first I have heard of this. A few years ago there was an article (somewhere out there) about US students in their mid-20s who were forsaking social networking as they grew into another stage of life. Social networking, it seems, is not a silver bullet for lifelong learning nor a comprehensive addition to higher education.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

5.*: JISC report - Great expectations of ICT

A new report from JISC (PDF here, 417KB) considers the potential contribution of social networking sites to formal education. The conclusion: students on the whole are using social networking, consider them useful for educational purposes, and are generally satisfied with the ICT services and support available at their institution.

What the statistics do not support is the notion that students are eager to have their learning based on social networking. From the list of key findings:

  • Attitudes towards whether lecturers or tutors should use social networking sites for teaching purposes are mixed, with 38% thinking it a good idea and 28% not. Evidence shows that using these sites in education are more effective when the students set them up themselves; lecturer-led ones can feel overly formal
There is an informality around social networking that makes it a great supplement for formal education; students do not perceive it as a viable replacement. Further, 'social networking' as a category excludes online activities such as blogging (28% of the 'boost' sample blogged) and taking part in an online community (12% of the 'boost' sample). The 'boost' sample is thought to be representative of 'mainstream' users; a separate 'cohort' sample represents more the cutting edge.

The results add further support to the notion that "many students will collaborate and engage in Web 2.0-style activity regardless of whether a course requires or includes it" (see eBCNZer, "More from the Net Gen' and 'The third place') suggested by a previous JISC report (Student experience of technologies, PDF) and an earlier report from the University of Melbourne (again, eBCNZer post).

It seems that the link between social networking and formal education is best considered a complementary one, at least according to the students themselves. The distinction between 'social networking' and 'taking part in an online community' is an important one, as both have different norms and purposes. High participation in the former and low in the latter is something we must bear in mind as we consider ICT use in higher education.

This quote also stands out: "Face-to-face interaction is still seen as the best form of teaching. However, the use of ICT in teaching is now perceived to be a good thing, but only as long as it is done well." (2008, p.10). It seems that didacticism and teaching still has a place, valued at least in the eyes of students themselves.

As an e-learning theorist and educator, I find this report extremely useful in terms of getting social networking into perspective from the students' own opinions. With much debate about how the incumbent education system must adapt or perish to accommodate Web 2.0, it becomes clear from reports such as this that 'adaptation' must be carefully managed lest the benefits of what is currently offered in education are lost in the process.