Diversity and Conformity in the Use of Technology by ‘Net Generation’ Learners : Exploring Research Outcomes to Inform Future Academic Practice
A number of names have been given to the generations born in the last 50 or so years, which have sought to identify characteristics of those born in those eras. Most recently we have seen the ‘Net Generation’ coined by the Oblingers at Educause for those reaching maturity after the year 2000, to define the current university generation and their dependence on the internet. Elsewhere the assertion for an identifiable ‘digital native’ type was proposed by Prensky, (2001). This latter view has been firmly challenged recently and a number of researchers now assert that the reality of the learners’ experiences of using technology is diverse and complex rather than simplistic. The author considers how learner diversity can and does extend beyond age, gender, access to technology and cultural background and leads to a rich diversity of the learner and their engagement with learning technology. At the same time there are clear arguments for asserting some conformity in the outlook and practice of university students regarding the importance of technology in their lives. Many students accept apparently unquestioningly the ubiquity of technology in their lives and as discussed below mix being online for leisure and learning all through their day. In this paper outcomes from a research project carried out in a technology-rich university, where student users first kept video and audio diaries to reflect on their use of technology for learning are shared. Most recently a selection of these students have been interviewed and invited to reflect on the role that technology occupies in their lives as they complete undergraduate studies. They were invited to reflect on their experience of different pedagogic styles and the amounts of technology used by academics and by themselves for their private study. This was in addition to their experiences of both blended learning within a face-to-face taught environment. The results shared in the paper have shown a certain conformity regarding the importance of access to technology in their personal and study lives, however these students’ preferences for pedagogic style have varied surprisingly. The diversity is indeed more complex than previously expressed.