Tertiary education in the era of social networking (through students’ eyes)

24.8.2010 - Konference ECER 2010
Brief summary of the paper
(The presentation can be downloaded here)
Tertiary education has been undergoing a whole process of change at the level of both structure and content, the development of information and communication technologies (ICT) being among its causes. Management of universities, research management but especially teaching and learning are hardly conceivable without ICT any more. Masaryk University with its Faculty of Arts have relied on ICT in all spheres of their activities for a relatively long time. The idea behind implementing ICT into the faculty life was to create a modern learning environment providing for the use of both traditional teaching and learning tools on the one hand and modern technologies on the other. Several examples: the all-faculty installation of LMS Moodle, the establishment of technical assistance for teachers to draw on, or the support to a variety of e-learning projects within a number of courses and programmes of study.
New trends in the use of the internet, collectively referred to as web 2.0, have been becoming increasingly popular. It is through the internet that platforms and applications providing for communication among users, cooperation among them and sharing all kinds of information (such as Wiki or Weblog) are generally available. Another rather significant present trend involves the so-called social networks (Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn or Students enrolling for university study are thus familiar with what these networks offer and many of them have the skills needed for using them in their study adequately. They are mostly students whose adolescence was marked by the general spread of ICT in society, the internet being an inseparable part of their lives – the “net generation”. As research has shown (e.g. Oblinger, Oblinger, 2005), drawing on the various ICT tools, this generation of students seems to be learning in a somewhat different fashion compared with the previous ones (e.g. they prefer learning through visual or audio material or video to learning from text). This raises questions such as whether and how students themselves use university online learning systems or how they take advantage of other ICT tools (such as social networks or expert communities online) when studying.
The paper is an output from a research project whose objective is to understand the process of learning among the current generation of students in the Faculty of Arts, MU, focusing on the use of ICT tools. The research has been undertaken in Masaryk University, with support from the Grant Foundation of the Dean of Faculty of Arts. It also focuses on which specific ICT tools and learning sources students use in their study, which of them they prefer and why. Rather than limiting itself to the use of university online systems, the research will strive to uncover the role played by web 2.0 services. It takes up the challenge presented by the results of a previous project called Pedagogical and Methodological Issues of E-learning in Teaching at the Faculty of Arts, MU (grantees J. Zounek, R. Švaříček), mapping the use of ICT from the point of view of teachers (see ECER 2009).
            Like the previous project, this one, too, is based on qualitative research methodology and in-depth interviews with selected students of the Faculty of Arts, MU, as the main method of data collection. The population of respondents includes students in different years of study and different study programmes (the population size will be specified in the course of the research). The interviews include observation and think-alouds, with the students demonstrating during the interview which ICT tools and how they use in their study. The interviews are taped, transcribed and analyzed using Atlas.ti software.
            Preliminary research results will be presented. The first part of the presentation will focus on students’ motivation to use or avoid using different technologies. Then the individual ICT tools and internet services used by students will be discussed as well as whether and how students adjust the tools they use to their needs or learning styles and how they create their personal learning environments (Attwell, 2007). In the next part, the paper focuses on the potential limitations of or barriers to the use of ICT in university study (and other negative phenomena). The paper will conclude with relating empirical findings to the results of similar research and relevant theoretical frameworks (such as constructivism or connectivism).