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.

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