Student expectations of ICT at university
Via the Lisa Whistlecroft on the HIgher Education Academy technical mailing list, I discovered this interesting study from JISC looking at student expectations of ICT as they enter higher education in the UK. It's dated July 2007, so appears to have been around for a while, although I haven't seen it before.
There's a lot of material here but in this post I just want to touch on some of the Second Life findings, partly because I have a couple of SL-related presentations to make over the next couple of days.
The results are based on a survey of 501 students aged 16 to 18 from across the UK (though the vast majority in England) with at least a low to medium knowledge of ICT.
When asked how often they used various technologies, 21% responded that they used Second Life often or occasionally. This is actually much higher than I would have expected - I would have guessed 10%, perhaps even lower for that age group. This compares with 44% who maintain their own blog or Web site (wow!), 39% who use on demand video and 37% who download podcasts.
The least popular technological pursuit from the online survey was taking part in an online community e.g. Second Life. The majority (76%) have never, or only rarely, done this, and three fifths (60%) of females have never done this.
Participants in the groups articulated the idea that a ‘community’ had a social implication which could not be replicated by this type of technology – it is a very niche market and offers different benefits from other social sites. Indeed, few had actually heard of Second Life.
“That’s a bit weird, to be honest. You would be quite sad to do that”
Male, infrequent users at school and home group
Some of the more qualitative commentary is also interesting, in particular:
Second Life appeared to be an idea for people older than themselves, for the generation above who were interested in technology for its “own sake”. This is perhaps why the idea amused our participants and why they felt it was “sad”. The implications here for HEIs are that they cannot assume that presenting new technologies automatically makes their institution more youth-friendly – this new generation like to see the concrete benefits of technologies.
When discussing Second Life, students felt that games and virtual worlds as part of learning could easily become “tragic” – technology being used for its own sake, and used rather childishly. They would need to understand the educational benefits of virtual worlds or games, it is not enough that they are simply ‘new’.
In a sense I don't think there are any surprises here - I have always argued that the majority of people found in SL are, err, of the older persuasion. As for the generally negative attitudes about virtual worlds, pro-SLers would probably argue that a similar study done at the start of the Web era might have found a similar state of affairs. To be honest I don't know whether that is true or not - my memory isn't good enough to recall what student attitudes to the use of the Web in universities was like at that time. But such an argument would seem at least potentially credible.
Furthermore, I always somewhat sceptical about these kinds of surveys in terms of how questions are phrased and, therefore, what they are really telling us. That said, the report is definitely interesting and worth a read.