Got Social?

Undergraduate Students and Technology – Part 5

Continuing commentary and opinions on content of The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008.

I’ve decided to forgo the discussion about students and plagiarism; I’ll save that for another day, and go on with the discussion from the ECAR paper.

“The majority of comments, however, were negative. Four themes emerged – that the lack of face-to-face interaction detracts from learning, that online courses facilitate cheating, that technical problems still exist, and that online courses require students to “teach themselves”, making the course more demanding.

Ok – wow – where do I start with this.

1. Lack of face-to-face interaction detracts from learning
Ok, so I’m not sure I disagree with this, but probably NOT for the same reasons as the students. I do believe that it’s important to be face-to-face during a portion of the class. I hold with high regard whatever is happening, physically, when two or more people are in the same place at the same time. Call it vibes, call it aura, call it energy, call it whatever you want. However, this “thing” does not exist when people meet in cyberspace (or don’t meet at all, if the non-face-to-face portion is asynchronous.)
That’s my perspective, and I’d guess a small percentage of student think the same thing. But I’m willing to bet that there is more behind this for most students. We’ve seen that students are social and we’ve also seen that they don’t want their social networking tools to be taken over by the educational process. But it is that very social thing that students get from each other. They make friends, they develop relationships, they distract each other, they cover for each other, they do a lot of things that can’t be done when one is sitting on campus in his/her dorm and the other is at home in her/his bedroom, and one is at Starbucks.

2. That online courses facilitate cheating
Ok – so students are worried about cheating? LOL, no really? Students are worried about cheating? ROFLMAO!!!!! Oh, pull the other one! I’m not going to paint all students with the same brush, only MOST of them. I think the only reasons students are worried about cheating, most of them, is that they are afraid someone is going to get credit for cheating and a) they won’t be able to take advantage of it, b) they think it will make them look worse, of c) all of the above! There is this belief out there that classroom learning is a race, and that only so many people can get “good” grades, and if someone gets an A, and they cheated, then I might not get as good a grade because that other people took my A. I don’t buy the lion’s share of the bell curve of students care about cheating.

3. That technical problems still exist
This one still cracks me up, especially today. They have no problems teaching themselves how to use mobile devices, social networking spaces, and advanced video or computer games, but they think Blackboard is too hard to learn! I’ve actually had students tell me they couldn’t watch the YouTube video I assigned because it wouldn’t work on their computer

4. That online courses require students to “teach themselves” making the course more demanding.
To me, this translates to “Holy crap, look at all this work I have to do which I can’t fake now because I can’t sit in the back of the class an pretend that I read, answered, followed.” The use of technology actually makes the students do the amount of work they would have had to do had they participated in the class as it was designed. This is, of course, based on the idea that the course was designed properly. There is always the case that a technology is NOT being used properly and that, in fact, the class is harder then it would have been if it had been offered in person.
The other part of this is that students want us to give them the answers, because they believe learning is being able to tell us what we want them to tell us when we test them. We (and I mean society here) have these student so accustomed to the pitchers/vessels way of learning that if we are not giving them the answer, well, how are they going to know what to tell us back on the test. You want US to come up with the answer, they ask? Are you kidding, just tell me, so I can get a good grade on the test.

My goodness, there is so much more wrapped up in that. Perhaps I’ll come back and revisit that sometime, for now I’ll wrap up and move on in the next post.

Undergraduate Students and Technology – Part 4

Continuing commentary and opinions on content of The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008.

Still in the Executive Summary section,
“A much never mode of communication, social networking, has become nearly ubiquitous as well: 85.2% of respondents use SNSs (Primarily Facebook), and most do so on a daily basis to keep in touch with others. Text messaging (used by 83.6%) and instant messaging (IM) (used by 73.8%) are immensely popular, especially among younger students. More than one-third of respondents are also interactive on the Internet by contributing content to blogs, wikis, and photo or video websites.” (11)

I don’t have much to say about this, but I thought it was interesting. From time to time I may just pop out there a quote I underlined, even though I have no real commentary to add to it.

A reminder that the n on this was 27,317 from ninety-eight institutions, consisting of only Freshman and Seniors, as identified by the institution.

Another note I found interesting in this section was that “the emerging online virtual worlds (such as Second Life) are already being used by about 1 in 11 respondents (8.8%).” (p11) Over 8%? Almost 9%? Nearly 1 in 10 students are already using Second Life? Really? That just seems like a huge number to me, especially given the conversations I’m used to seeing on the Second Life Educators (SLED) list. To find archives and sign up for the SLED list, go here:

To find out more about SL’s commitment to Education, go here:

“Although respondents are generally enthusiastic about IT, most say they prefer only a “moderate” amount of IT in their courses (59.3%).” (p11). I do not find this surprising in some way and in other ways I do. I guess students don’t see computers or email or other standard technology as technology and what they DO consider technology, they use for fun (or social reasons) and they don’t want to do work with a social tool.

“Of special note is that although few respondents (4.2%) used podcasts this quarter/semester, student comments from focus groups and from the survey were extremely positive about podcasts as a supplemental tool for courses. This mimics last year’s finding. ECAR also asked students if they liked to learn using specific types of technologies. The most frequently cited item was running Internet searches (80.2%). More than one-third of respondents (44.3%) say they like to learn through text-based conversations over e-mail, IM , and text messaging or by contributing to websites, blogs, or wikis (35.5%). Interestingly, a solid half (50.8%) like to learn through programs they can control, such as video games or simulations. This is important in the context of discussion about digital game-based learning in higher education and whether the extent of learning justifies the resources required to implement a game.” (p12). From this they also have a footnote, referencing VanEck’s EDUCAUSE Review article “Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless”, which can be found at

The Internet searches answer doesn’t surprise me at all – this is how students find content for their papers. I often wonder how genuine they are when they say they didn’t realize they’d copied and pasted something from the Internet right into their paper.

Ok – that a subject all by itself, I’ll have to cover that next time.

Undergrad Students and Technology – Part 3

Continuing commentary and opinions on content of The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008.

In the Executive Summery of this ECAR report, the authors note, “social networking sites (SNSs) [are} a technology that students are enthusiastically adopting and that is already changing the social fabric of universities.” (p9) Does this make the SNS the latest iPod?

Being a devote Mac person, I use iPod and not the more general MP3 player. iPod has, much to Apple’s delight, become the “Kleenex” or “Xerox” of music players. So many people still make Xerox copies, even if they are using a Canon, Kyocera, or other type of machine – it is still a Xerox machine. To that same end, most people say iPod when meaning an MP3 player.

Back to my point, are SNSs the next iPod. How many instructors out their use podcasts in their classes? Ok, keep your hands up. Now, how many would like to use podcasts in their teaching? Ok, probably a pretty good amount. Why? Did someone one day wake up and say “hey, podcasts might be a great way to get information to the students so they can listen to it any place or any time!” Or is it more that students were carrying around the iPods already and someone got smart and said “Hey, they already have the tool, lets figure out how to leverage that. Lets give them content the can keep on their iPods.”

Students already carry around mobile devices with them. We can’t say “cell phone” any more because voice services are only a fraction of what some of these devices do. More and more we are seeing faculty adopt the transmission of whatever content (or process) they want to utilize for their courses to easy access on these mobile devices.

Montclair State University is a leader in this, receiving national awards for their groundbreaking participation in the RAVE Wireless program. This not only makes use of the tool the students are all carrying around but it was designed to also provide added security, especially important in a day when crisis can strike without warning.

Now, we are all noticing that students are making exceptional use of SNSs. [Palm to forehead] Of course, lets figure out how to make use of this as an educational tool. Caution! Danger Will Robinson. Students can access the content on the phone or iPod when THEY want to, so its access and availability at their own schedule and place. This might explain why they don’t want us as their “friends” in Facebook – since that gives us unfettered, or even partially fettered access to them, it gives the control to us, and not them.

The moral of this, I believe, set up systems that students can be a part of, without getting in their face (or Facebook), and you’re likely to get better buy in.

Do you agree? Are you on Facebook? (I am, feel free to find me , I’m the AJ Kelton at Montclair) Can you think of ways to use Facebook in class – if so, how? What other SNSs do you belong to? Would you want them to use them in a class you were teaching? How about one you were taking? Feel free to leave comments and we’ll pick this up again next time.

Undergrad Students and Technology – Part 1

I wish I had a dollar for every time I said I needed to make blogging part of my regular routine. And I have tried, a number of times. So this time I’m not going to say that. What I am going to say is that I need to get a number of things in my life into a regular routine.

I recently attended a meeting and in preparation for that we were asked to read “The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008.” This is not something that I would have had access to if it weren’t provided to me for this meeting. MSU does not have a subscription to ECAR. When my own Research Bulletin appeared in ECAR in August of 2007 I suggested MSU might want to subscribe but I think there is just not funding for this, or nobody wants to pony up.

So, in reading this I found myself underlining a LOT of things. My plan is to take 15 minutes or so out of my day and read through the report, posting into the blog what I underlined and why. I hope this can be a conversation, so feel free to post your thoughts about my thoughts in the COMMENTS sections (below). At the very least, I hope this gives you something to think about.

The reason we were asked to review this had to do with an entire section on social networking sites, or SNSs. In the forward, on page 5, Ron Yanosky proclaims SNSs a “quintessential new [form] that define a generation.” I found this to be a bold statement right up front, but I don’t disagree. In fact, I hope to make this very issue part of my ongoing research.

The survey that this report is based on found that 85% of the respondents use SNSs and that number jumped to “95% of those 18-19 years old” (p5). The n on this is 27,317 students from a variety of different institutions, both in size and focus, and only those who the schools identified as freshman or seniors. The n is the response number and not those who received the email invite.

Another surprise is that their findings indicate that “students are neither obsessed with [SNSs} nor careless in the way they share information about themselves.” (p5) I found this most interesting given the number of young people who foolishly post pictures of themselves on sites like Facebook that they will certainly later come to regret anyone else having seen, like a potential employer. Forget that some are posting pictures of themselves doing things that are illegal.

In written comments that were provided, “some students vociferously objects in their written comments to any institutional intrusion into SNSs.” (p6) To that same extent, I’ve found many students like to see groups and organizations from the school in Facebook. So they want us in their they just don’t want us to “friend” them.

Last year I required Facebook for the class that I was teaching and I got a very interesting response from the students. More on this next blog.

Undergrad Students and Technology – Part 2

Continuing commentary and opinions on content of The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008.

As I mentioned yesterday, in the Fall of 2007 I was teaching an introduction to college writing course, its MSU’s equivalent of first year English. The plan was to use several different social technologies in the class as part of the emphasis on the class theme, which was images of the self, perception, and identity. One of those social networking sites (SNSs) was Facebook (FB). The idea was to use FB groups to work and communicate some things but to also use it as a medium to investigate our selves (who we friend, what other groups we belong to, etc..).

The response was a pretty typical bell curve in that a few students were happy to see us using FB, the majority fell someplace between “ok, yeah, sure, whatever” and “I’m not so sure about this but you’re requiring it so I’ll do it”. A small, but very vocal, percentage, outright refused to open up their FB accounts to me as a “friend”. I told them they could do a limited view, still no deal. These few eventually obliged or opened an account under a different email and only use that account for this class. The last small, but again, very vocal percentage simply refused to use FB. They wanted no part of it, they didn’t use it, they didn’t like it, they didn’t approve of it, and they didn’t want to have any additional information about themselves out on the Web, especially on FB. All relented in the end, but it did take some coaxing.

This supports the point originally made in the last posting that students, most of them at least, will be happy to belong to a class group, or an university group, but they don’t want their teacher on their friends list. More and more, around our campus, I’ve seen student organizations saying “find us on Facebook” instead of listing a web site. FB IS their web site. No hosting cost, no HTML coding or uploading pages and links.

Educators ignore the power of social networks at their own peril. Saying that the anything “social” has no place in the educational process is doing two things that are, in my opinion, quite dangerous. First, it is ignoring the way students today communicate with each other and an essential way they process information. Second, it is suggesting that education, and learning, should NOT be a social activity and I believe there is great benefit to the social nature of learning.

I’m not suggesting we give up other avenues in favor of this, just that this gets added as an arrow in a quiver that can always use more arrows.

Perhaps, in the next entry, I’ll actually get back to the contents of the ECAR report. : -)

SnapSession – Word Clouds

Tsk tsk – shame on me, I know. I haven’t posted one of my 15-minute Snap Sessions in a while. Things have been hectic, with a lot of travel and many presentations.

Want to know what I’ve been up to since the last snap session posted here? Check here
and here
and here

I poke into my bag of “apps to try” and decided instead of focusing on one, I would mention a few that I like. There are little apps that dedicated 15 minutes to figure out and test would have been over kill. They have pretty dedicated purposes, as you will see.

The first one I really like is called Wordle. Wordle ( creates a “word cloud”, which is a visual image of the words used in a document, with used the most often appearing larger than other words.

The sample above is a word cloud of this blog entry up to the point above the image.

You can also take a URL and create a word cloud from that. For example, here is a word cloud of my last blog.

An excellent example of the use of word clouds is the recent blog posted by the President-Elect Obama’s transition team on the subject of health care

One of my plans is to go back into my web site and make word clouds for my publications. I might even do that for my blog entries here and at

Well – it looks like I was actually able to spend a good deal of time talking about this one application. I can see some great uses of this, especially in writing class.

One idea, not just for a writing class, might be to have students do a word cloud for a paper they are working on in order to get a good visual idea of the words they are using.

How else could word clouds be used in education?