The report covers a lot of topics and it is not my intention to reflect on all of these. The interested reader is strongly adviced to read the original report. This blog post will treat the section Learners in the digital age and my focus will be on such facts and arguments which in my view 'stand out'; I will not repeat statistics here. Anyone can read these in the report.
What might drive the change in education is the present discrepancy between technology use within formal education and daily use. This fact creates a tension. Most students use Web 2.0 tools outside formal education but the same people do not realise how the same tools could be used for educational purposes.
Most users use the net at home. Interestingly, it seems that social media users watch less television than non-users but also that internet users value face-to-face meeting more than non-users. Contrary to a common view, users are more outgoing and social than non-users.
From time to time, also here in Sweden, there are concerns, so called moral panic, about what high levels of internet use will lead up to. Accordingly, 'experts' have pointed to the deterioration of reading capacity, loss of social contact, too little physical activity etc. Judging from the present report, the arguments seem to be the same in many countries. However, studies reported here have found that people actually move between online and face-to-face communication; they are increasingly interweaving on- and off- line presence. These studies also show that despite the tremendous amount of information on the net, users will always supplement online sources with advice from friends and family. Therefore it is necessary to contextualise technology use within the larger context of everyday life where online and offline activities are intertwined.
Reading and writing skills
Attwell and Hughes point to results showing that texting does not erode childrens ability to read and write. Contrary to what is often argued these skills seem to improve. The more abbreviations used in text messages, the higher they scored on tests of reading and vocabulary. The results also point to the fact that the earlier they started, the higher their scores.
Identity on the net
Another issue often dealt with in public debates concerns young peoples' carelessness and vulnerablility on the net. However, a study reported in the Attwell-Hughes report found that young people are actually more engaged in managing what they share online than adults. This might be because young people are very careful about information and reputation because they know the implications from experience which is not the case with older folks. In sum, young people are learning from experience and not from education.
Residents and visitors
Elsewhere in my blog I have treated the Prensky concepts 'digital natives' vs. 'digital immigrants' which eventually boiled down to 'digital wisdom'. Attwell and Hughes introduce two new (at least to my knowledge) concepts, namley digital residents and digital visitors where the resident is an individual who lives a percentage of their life on the internet whereas the visitor uses the web as a tool in an organised manner when needed. Accordingly, the resident has a presence online whereas the visitor just logs on to accomplish specific tasks.
Even if many are digital residents it seems they do not use the full range of media available. As to the active use of blogs, wikis, tagging etc. most users are still introduced to these tools within formal education. Attwell and Hughes point to the fact that there is a gap between the daily use of technologies and technologies for learning in formal education. In the extreme case schooling might be considered irrelevant to the day to day social life of young people.
However, students also skillfully code switch and drop their social media tools in school settings and adapt their use to what is required from educators. It seems that formal education has not figured out how to tap into the power of these tools. For me, as an educator in online courses, the following quotation was very enlightening:
Given that for them [learners] all learning is potentially supported by technology, the term 'e-learning' is meaningless.
Still opinions are divided over e-learning among students. One explanation my be that different learners use technologies in different ways, something which they cannot do in formal settings where the use of technology is led by tutor recommendations and these may be at odds with the way they normally use the tools. Many institutions have adopted blogging in courses whereas blogging is a minor activity in students' social lives.
Maybe we should conceive of all learning as e-learning since it is always mediated by technology in on way or another? Even better, we drop the 'e' and talk about learning taking for granted that sometimes we lecture face-to-face and sometimes we communicate online. Actually, I think we are approaching this state.
Technology is also important to learners at a personal level (may be also for an adult like me?). One report found that learners were emotionally attached to their technologies where they create their personal learning spaces in informal collaboration both face-to-face and online.
What might be particularly problematic in formal education is the blurring of boundaries between original production and commenting, reviewing and repurposing content for personal use (Isn't that what I am doing right now? Not very much originality or creativity but quite a lot of repurposing ... and sharing.). However, there are indications that students trust brands like Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia and other 'brands' a bit too enthusiastically so that they do not read critically. Some more reflective thinking is evidently needed. Something to be dealt with by educators?
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Footnote: On the front page there is a Welsh word Pontydysgu which I heard Attwell explain to mean 'bridge to learning' if I am not totally wrong.