A (Somewhat Surprising) Survey of Digital Natives

Inside Higher Ed shares some results from a recent survey of college students about their uses of technology. Among the more interest findings:

Instead, students appear to segment different modes of communication for different purposes. E-mail, Web sites, message boards and Blackboard? Viable ways of connecting with professors and peers. Same for chat, instant messaging, Facebook and text messages? Not necessarily, the authors write, because students may “want to protect these tools’ personal nature.”

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed :: Students’ ‘Evolving’ Use of Technology

This trend reflects what I have been seeing in my classes this fall — many students are used to doing online research, will email me, and participate in Blackboard to the extent that I require it. The other tools for communication are popular amongst them, and I do not “invade” those spaces (for instance, even though I know nearly 100% of my students are on Facebook — because I asked them in class — I have not looked them up or tried to make them my friends).

What I find more compelling though is that many colleges and professors are not responding to the “sea change” (noted later in the article). Our digital natives may be able to use Facebook, but the article notes that using a tool like Google Docs is still seen as innovative for both students and professors. At risk of sounding a little self-congratulatory (but noting that much of what I do in my classroom comes from my colleagues in the NWP), I don’t understand how professors can not be using Google Docs or other read/write web tools. For instance, I have students (some of them at least) submitting papers to me through Google Docs and, later in the semester, will be composing collaboratively written papers in there. None of my students knew about Google Docs at the beginning of the semester, and I hope to have them all proficient at using it by the end.

At any rate, the final note in the article from the report was this:

The report also finds challenges in addressing skills gaps for using spreadsheets and CMS software, highlighting the need for colleges to provide instructional technology to bring students up to speed.

Indeed, this skills gap needs to be addressed in all classes, not just a Computers 101. We need to continue to offer contextualized and useful technology learning. For digital writers, at a minimum, that should include tasks like blogging, collaborative word processing, creating and collaborating in a wiki, tagging, social bookmarking, online citation managers, composing multimedia including video and audio, and giving and getting feedback in multiple formats (written and aural). I look forward to continuing to teach these skills in my courses and hope that the ECAR survey, like the annual Horizon Report, continues to push us in that direction.

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“YouTube Studies” vs. “College Credit for Watching YouTube”

A media professor has begun teaching a class on YouTube. Not so unusual that this would happen, given the fact that YouTube has been around for awhile now. In fact, it is kind of cool that it is finally happening.

What I have found more interesting is that as I have been catching up on my RSS reading, I see that two different sources are reporting it in slightly different, yet noticeable ways:

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed :: YouTube Studies
“It’s a class like I’ve never taught before and a class like I’m not certain has ever been taught before,” Juhasz says during her introductory video.

You’d expect that a professor teaching a class on and about YouTube would be a huge booster of the site. But not Juhasz. She says she is “underwhelmed” and “unsatisfied” by much of the content, which she describes as spoofs of pop culture references that she just doesn’t understand.

Juhasz’s main critique of the site is its architecture. Academics strive to make connections across disciplines, she says, but YouTube makes it difficult to provide context (often in the form of links), and to carry on complex conversations beyond the small space given for comments below the video.

Still, as a professor of media studies, she says ignoring the site is impossible. Instead, she wants students to draw their own conclusions after spending a semester working entirely within the framework and constraints of YouTube. She wants them to think about cultural references, what makes a great work of art and how to define a truly democratic medium. Is YouTube the latter? Juhasz says no — in large part because of its corporate ownership.

An academic take, to be sure. But also a balanced one. Here is the take from my local paper:

YouTube goes academic: Calif. college offers class about video-sharing site
CLAREMONT, Calif. – Here’s a dream-come-true for Web addicts: college credit for watching YouTube.

Pitzer College this fall began offering what may be the first course about the video-sharing site. About 35 students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments.

Class lessons also are posted and students are encouraged to post videos. One class member, for instance, posted a 1:36-minute video of himself juggling.

Alexandra Juhasz, a media studies professor at the liberal arts college, said she was “underwhelmed” by the content on YouTube but set up the course, “Learning from YouTube,” to explore the role of the popular site.

So, what’s better for students? “A dream come true?” Or, “working entirely within the framework and constraints of YouTube?”

The different approaches don’t surprise me, as media has always shown its biases based on the publication, the audience, and the goals the editors have in relation to the two. As I saw the two drastically different introductions to this story from the two publications, it made me doubly aware of how critical media studies can be portrayed in the popular media.

And, given Michigan’s budgetary crisis this fall, how teaching anything beyond the “basics” could be up for criticism (much like other topics such as film, gender studies, and the like have been in the past) make me wonder:

  • Will we be able to design courses in digital writing that aren’t seen as frivolous?
  • Do students see digital writing as a kind of fun add-on to (or replacement for) the types of writing that we expect in traditional academic settings?
  • Will composition classes be able to invite students to create digital videos as a means of argumentative writing, or will people only worry more because some students are posting clips of themselves juggling (which could have been a legitimate part of the professor’s first “getting-to-know-you and learn-how-to-post-to-YouTube type of assignment)?

This is an interesting pair of articles that I might share with my students next week, since our next assignment is a critical text analysis (and I have yet to share anything on YouTube…).

So Long, Writely (Banner)

Well, it had to happen someday.

Out of curiosity, today I upgraded my Word Press install, against the sage warning from Fantastico that I shouldn’t if I had messed with any of the CSS or themes on my blog.

I ignored the warning.

As you can see, however, I was able to find a nice new theme, and I think that WordPress 2.2.2 has some nifty features, including a widget-style interface for controlling your sidebar and easily adding in RSS driven widgets from places like Flickr, Twitter, Google Reader, and the like.


So, if you are viewing this in your aggregator, I hope that you hop out to take a look at the site.

(There’s no advertising there, so this isn’t like a bait and switch. I promise).

And, if you don’t want to see my site, well, jump out and subscribe to the K12Online Conference instead because it starts in a month and they are sending out teasers for the presentations.

Even cooler.

More soon. Have a great weekend.