Are digital natives a myth or reality?: Students’ use of technologies for learning

Further to my last post about a study into students’ use of technologies, I have now posted the full draft paper summarising the results of the study.


This paper outlines the findings of a study investigating the extent and nature of use of digital technologies by undergraduate students in Social Work and Engineering, in two British universities. The study involved a questionnaire survey of students (n=160) followed by in-depth interviews with students, lecturers and support staff in both institutions. Firstly, the findings suggest that students use a limited range of technologies for both learning and socialisation. For learning, mainly established ICTs are used- institutional VLE, Google and Wikipedia and mobile phones. Students make limited, recreational use of social technologies such as media sharing tools and social networking sites. Secondly, the findings point to a low level of use of and familiarity with collaborative knowledge creation tools, virtual worlds, personal web publishing, and other emergent social technologies. Thirdly, the study did not find evidence to support the claims regarding students adopting radically different patterns of knowledge creation and sharing suggested by some previous studies. The study shows that students’ attitudes to learning appear to be influenced by the teaching approaches adopted by their lecturers. Far from demanding lecturers change their practice, students appear to conform to fairly traditional pedagogies, albeit with minor uses of technology tools that deliver content. Despite both groups clearly using a rather limited range of technologies for learning, the results point to some age differences, with younger, engineering students making somewhat more active, albeit limited, use of tools than the older ones. The outcomes suggest that although the calls for radical transformations in educational approaches may be legitimate it would be misleading to ground the arguments for such change solely in students’ shifting expectations and patterns of learning and technology use.

The myth of digital native: Students’ use of digital technologies

My colleague Allison Littlejohn and I have been reanalysing the data from our Learning from Digital Natives project that was completed last year and the final report from which was released earlier this year.

The aim of the study was to analyse the nature and extent of students’ use of digital technologies for formal and informal learning and socialisation. We also explored lecturers’ experiences with using technologies in teaching. We investigated students’ and lecturers’ perceptions on the educational value of these tools and their views on the barriers and enablers for using technologies to support learning.

The study involved a survey of 160 Engineering and Social Work students and follow up interviews with 8 students and 8 lecturers.   Allison and I are currently writing a paper on this (I will post the draft later), however highlights of the key results are summarised in a presentation which I gave today at our department.