Doumo Arigatou, Google-sensei!

Hello, everyone. While it may seem that I am churning out blog posts like hot cakes lately (and I very well may be doing just that), I am admittedly behind in covering all of the content that I have read for the purpose of discussion here on this blog. That being said, I will endeavor to not compromise the length of my posts for the purpose of catching up.

This time around we will be discussing none other than Google. Did you know that in Japan, Google is often referred to nowadays as Google-sensei (グーグル先生)? It’s true! For those of you with no knowledge of Japanese, the term sensei is often translated as “instructor” or “teacher,” which is how it is being used here. Of course, the actual meaning of the Chinese characters denotes deeper meaning and in Japan, sensei is not thought of as a title, but gives acknowledgement that the person has more experience than you in a given area. It is used not only for teachers in schools but for doctors and instructors of traditional arts such as budō (Japanese martial arts) and tea ceremony.

Interesting anecdote aside, Google has become so prevalent in many of our lives that it is now the stand-in teacher for all of those times when we do not have someone more knowledgeable at hand to answer questions that we do not know the answer to. It is also much easier to do a Google search than to call up a friend or mentor and have to go through the formalities of conversation (greetings, small talk, detailing the situation and the question at hand, etc.), as I often have my answer seconds after typing out my question. Of course, Google has evolved into much more than a search engine and now has applications and services for a variety of things that are ripe for usage in our classrooms. In this blog post, I am going to be looking at three articles that reference Google’s applications within the realm of education. I warn you now that I am going to be quite harsh on one of them as it sounds more like an advertisement than academic writing. I am also going to hold back on many of my own thoughts about Google and its potential for use in the classroom as I am currently in the process of writing (as of this blog post) a longer academic paper on implementing Google in an academic institution, including potential uses, difficulties with implementation along the way, etc. One article will touch on these things already, but the paper I am writing will be on my own personal experience here in Japan and I do not want to subject you all to the same thing twice when I later share the paper here.

In the article by Barlow & Lane (2007), the authors talk in length about how Arizona State University (ASU) transitioned to Google’s suite of applications tailored to educational institutions, which is known as Google Apps for Education. They first bring up Google Mail (Gmail), noting that ASU was able to transition from their former in-house email solution to Gmail in less than two weeks and give ASU’s 65,000 students an email solution that included 2 gigabytes of storage, enhanced spam filtering, an instant messaging service, and much more (p. 8). The article later goes on to talk about student usage of Google Maps, which they use to view the various ASU campuses, plot buildings and other areas of interest, and even utilize satellite and GPS technology to view real time locations of buses and estimated arrival times. The article also mentions the popularity of the switch to Google Apps for Education, noting that demand was high among faculty members to be switched over from the legacy Exchange service and that students were migrating their accounts at a rate of 300 per hour on the first day that Google’s services went live on the campuses. There is also mention of the ease at which Google allowed for integration with the university’s single-sign-on environment as well as the availability from Google should problems arise with mail or other services that the university’s own help desk cannot handle (p. 9).

Still, looking at the conclusion of the article and seeing “ASU is excited to continue working with Google and will consistently strive to provide its faculty, staff, and student populations with exceptional standards, options and solutions,” I cannot help but feel like this is just a big promotion for both Google and the university, showing that they are up to date with the latest technologies in order to attract more students (p. 10). There is no discussion about how students and faculty can use Google Apps for Education for classes. Google Documents (Google Docs) is mentioned, but its usefulness for collaboration is never once brought up. Nothing remotely negative or related to issues that arose during implementation is found here either. I would expect a more thorough analysis in a piece of academic writing. The uses mentioned are fine, but focusing only on social aspects of the application suite seems unprofessional in my opinion.

Having the advantage of writing his article two years after Barlow & Lane , Herrick (2009) does a much better job at looking at the features more in depth and presenting a case study that includes some of the problems that were experienced by Colorado State University (CSU) when they implemented Google Apps for Education. Herrick also chooses to start things off with a discussion of Gmail and takes readers through the process of implementation, noting the control over accounts that administrators have over certain features (GOOGLE MAIL section). Features not mentioned in the article by Barlow & Lane are highlighted as well, such as the ability to compose mail when offline as well as the search feature built in to the service (Organizing E-mail section, ¶3; Extending Google Mail section, ¶2).

Herrick goes on to discuss Google Calendar next and does an excellent job of highlighting its many features. Users can have different calendars for different types of activities, from classes to social events, and each is customizable as well as shareable, as long as administrators allow it. Speaking of the administrators, university admins can set up Google Calendar to allow everything from equipment to classrooms to be reserved if they so choose (Using Calendars section, ¶2). Integration with in-house systems is also possible so that things such as class days and times can be made to appear on students’ calendars (Managing Calendars section, ¶2).

Herrick moves on to talk about Google Talk for messaging and audio/video chatting, Google Docs and Spreadsheets for creating simplified versions of the kinds of files usually reserved for Microsoft Office or Apple iWork, and Google Sites for creating simple websites that can be published to the web and viewed by anyone if administrators allow. Herrick does make sure to note what I previously mentioned in relation to Google Docs, which is that it allows for collaborative document creation between students. I personally think this feature is great for classes held in computer labs or for giving students the ability to work on group assignments even when they cannot get together outside of class.

Towards the end of Herrick’s article, there is mention of some difficulty with student migration, with many students claiming ignorance of the migration despite numerous notifications. The time that actual migration took was also said to be quite long, clocking in at 7 seconds per account, which may not be a problem for smaller institutions, but CSU was migrating 25,000 accounts (Case Study Revisited: Colorado State University section, ¶2-3). If you are an institution that is giving students access to an email address for the first time, as I am currently attempting to undertake where I teach, this will not be an issue; however, it will take a considerable amount of time creating accounts for every student if your student population is large.

Herrick, too, ultimately rules the implementation of Google Apps for Education a success at CSU, noting the considerable cost savings versus an Exchange server as Barlow & Lane did, and recommends other institutions to get on board with the idea as well. That is two university advocates for the Google Apps for Education suite, for those of you keeping count. Temple University, where I am currently doing my graduate work, also makes use of it, bringing us up to 3. This may sound as though I am setting up for a discussion of an article in which the author criticizes Google, or something similar along those lines, but I am not. The final article that I looked at for this discussion actually revolves around a broader topic, which is Web 2.0 technologies, of which Google Apps are a part, and their use in competency-oriented design of learning.

Not wanting to make this topic too dense and unapproachable for the casual reader, I must nevertheless note that this article revolves around two key concepts: constructivist theory of learning and action competency. The first is easy enough to understand. Constructivist theory, without being a pedagogy per se, deals with the idea of learning through experience. “Learning through doing” would be another way to describe this. Constructivist theory is often mistakenly assumed to mean that students are wholly responsible for the learning taken place and that the teacher merely facilitates, but since we are talking about learning through experience, this can also be applied to guided learning as well. Action competency focuses on the learning process and is concerned with performed behavior. It deals with knowledge, skills, and motivations of the learner and requires a certain degree of complexity in the challenges that the learner must face.

Without getting more complicated than that, we can now look at what role Google Apps can play in putting these theories into practice. Schneckenberg, Ehlers and Adelsberger (2010) discuss a case study with a course in which the teacher does not create even one lesson during the entirety of the course (p. 757). Instead, Google Apps are used to give students access to course readings, allow them to discuss and brainstorm ideas via Google Docs, critique each others presentations and receive teacher feedback through Google Sites, and to reflect on their own learning via some of these same features as well as blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies (pp. 757-758). The authors cite the increased engagement with the course subject matter as being the main reason for the high quality of student works on both the class presentations and final literature reviews (p. 758).

I also believe that student engagement can be increased using Google Apps for Education even when utilizing a guided teaching style where students are not as responsible for their learning as they were in the case study in this article. Certainly having students brainstorm or collaboratively create documents for assignments or in-class activities is not something reserved solely for student-guided classrooms. No matter what teaching style you are utilizing, Google Apps for Education can clearly help to give students more hands-on experience with the material they are learning and allow them to use it in collaboration with their peers. Any time we make our students think more deeply about what they are learning can only be seen as a success, in my humble opinion. As we move further and further away from lecture-based teaching and the reliance on repetition-based drills, technologies like Google Apps are what give us new ways to help our students develop competency and to continue to expose them to the lesson content when they are outside of our classrooms. For this, I think we can all say, “Doumo arigatou, Google-sensei!”

 
References

Barlow, K. & Lane, J. (2007). Like Technology from an Advanced Alien Culture [1]: Google Apps for Education at ASU. SIGUCCS’07. Orlando, Florida, USA.

Herrick, D. R. (2009). Google This! Using Google Apps for Collaboration and Productivity. SIGUCCS’09. St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Schneckenberg, D., Ehlers, U., & Adelsberger, H. (2011). Web 2.0 and competence‐oriented design of learning—Potentials and implications for higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(5), 747-762. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01092.x

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants: Do We Really Need to Teach Them Differently?

Hello again, readers. I apologize for the delay in getting this second post out. Today I’ll be discussing a few articles on a topic that has been discussed as far back as 2001, when the terms digital native and digital immigrant were first coined by one Marc Prensky. Since that time, numerous debates, from whether such entities actually exist to whether Prensky’s own proposed implications for teaching hold any weight, have raged on (and continue to do so even within the confines of the very class for which I had to create this blog). In this post, I am going to attempt to summarize and reflect on three of Prensky’s articles on the topic, including his initial two-parter that introduced the concept, as well as an article from one of Prensky’s detractors. I will, as always, give my own views on the issues and, hopefully, prompt some of you readers to respond with your own. Once again, the references for the articles I talk about are located at the bottom of this post. Alright, let’s get started.

Nearly 13 years prior to this blog post being written, Prensky (2001a) claimed that the difference between students of the then current generation and those are past generations were not just marginally different, but that a change had occurred that was so monumental, going beyond mere fashion, slang, etc., that there was no turning back (¶2). This change was, of course, the digital revolution, and the current generation of that time was the first to have grown up surrounded by this abundance of technology and information on demand (¶3).

The basis for most of the forthcoming argument from Prensky comes in the form of a quote from a Dr. Bruce D. Berry. The idea is essentially that different experiences lead to different types of brain structures, which in turn lead to different ways of thinking and processing information (¶4). Up until this point, I can agree with the points that Prensky is making, but as we proceed through the rest of this article, the second part published two months later, and the follow-up from 8 years later in 2009, I cannot help but disagree with what Prensky is trying to imply.

Moving forward in the first article, Prensky (2001a), defines the terms digital immigrant and digital native for us. As you might have guessed, digital natives are those that were born surrounded by technology and an endless amount of information at their fingertips ready for consumption. Those that were born before the age of computers and the Internet and who adopted these technologies into their lives are the digital immigrants (¶5-6). The problem Prensky sees is that a bunch of these digital immigrants are now teaching digital natives and are struggling due to speaking a seemingly different language (¶9).

Prensky spends the rest of the article arguing this point. The problem I have with the argument is that while students may prefer to learn from certain types of media, it does not mean that they are incapable of learning from printed material and such. Of course I believe that if instructors want to increase student engagement in the classroom, they can make use of computers, videos, etc., but they can also just as easily have group discussions and student-to-student interactions to accomplish this. The word-for-word recitation of the textbook is a lecture style that has been boring to students long before the Internet came along. Lectures of this style are, more often than not, a result of poor instructor quality, not of a gap between two different generations of people.

Prensky brings up an example of a student who dropped out of university because of this style of lecture, but just as I mentioned in my post entitled “Is the Internet Making Us Smarter or More Stupid?,” this can be attributed to self-discipline issues. If a person frequently allows themselves to be distracted on the Internet, thus weakening their ability to focus, they certainly are not going to be able to focus during a typical lecture.

Prensky also does not seem to even think about those children that grow up in poorer families that could not afford things like computers. Would those students be true “digital natives?” Moreover, what of Japan? Here in Japan, printed materials are held in high regard, especially those used for education. We do not yet see many classrooms moving towards replacing textbooks with iPads and such as we do in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even students that own iPads, iPhones, 3DS’s, etc. still carry around books and manga in print form, despite the fact that both are available digitally. Clearly these digital natives do just fine with printed materials and older methods of teaching.

Let me be clear that my argument is that teaching digital natives differently than students in the past is not absolutely necessary, but I do think that instructors should think of ways to better engage their students whenever possible. Using technology that students are familiar with and enjoying using can liven up what would otherwise be a dull lesson, but it doesn’t have to be used as frequently as Prensky (2001a) seems to have been making a case for. I have to chuckle when I read things such as digital natives being unwilling to go backwards and adopt the old ways of learning, as if they somehow cannot use a book or obtain information from someone speaking to them (¶17). As a digital native, I certainly do not find myself incapable of learning from lectures or textbooks. I have preferences for digital media that I can take with me everywhere with ease, but I can learn from older methods as well.

In the follow-up article, Prensky (2001b) makes some good suggestions for engaging digital natives, such as using learning games, but I doubt that these suggestions apply only to those that grew up with technology (What Have We Lost section, ¶4). Just because a previous generation grew up during a time when boring teaching styles dominated does not mean that they actually preferred the way that they were taught, after all.

Unfortunately, while Prensky does cite certain studies on the effectiveness of these learning games, the vast majority of this second article is spent trying to convince us yet again that there are these two separate groups of learners (digital natives and digital immigrants) and that the former must be taught differently than all the rest. Again, there is much talk about brains being malleable not just in our formative years, but throughout our entire lives. Prensky continues to harp on this physiological difference in the digital natives’ brains and how neurobiologists and social psychologists are all in agreement that input changes with new input (But Does It Work? section, ¶10). I, personally, would like to hear more about the studies done on interactive games and learning activities. Moreover, if our brains our malleable throughout our entire lives and change with new input, could adopters of technology that technically fall under the digital immigrant category not be rewired the same way as digital natives through daily use of technology?

I am certainly not the first one to raise such questions. Bennett & Maton (2010) talked a great deal about these things and more. They noted that papers that followed Prensky’s moved away from ideas that excluded older people with sufficient exposure to technology. While this is certainly a good thing, the ideas that followed Prensky’s also all vary greatly in their ideas about how digital technology affects the younger generations (p. 322). The studies that Bennett & Maton go on to talk about are all quite interesting; however, and make many of the same points that I considered above even before reading the research.

One example is again about the level of access that children have to technology, noting that those children that come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to have the type of access to digital technology as those from high socioeconomic backgrounds (p. 323).

I found the research on technology-based activities to be the most fascinating, however. In this section, Bennett & Maton talk about the research that indicates even those that have access to digital technology are not necessarily engaging in the types of activities that others claim they are (pp. 323-324). This certainly falls in line with my experience with my peers, friends, and family members. While a majority of us use digital technology for research and communication, those that partake in activities such as blogging or digital media creation are certainly few and far between. Bennet & Maton’s paper also mentions research on gamers that suggests that while such activities may be common amongst children and teenagers, time and motivation for gaming may dwindle later in life (p. 324). I can attest to this as I have found that while I have and always will enjoy gaming, I do not have the time nor motivation to engage in it as I did when I was younger and didn’t have a job or the workload that I do now.

I could go on through the rest of the paper, but I believe that what Bennett & Maton ultimately tell us is that while a majority of those of us who have access to digital technology use it for communication and other now common tasks, things such as the amount of gaming, content creation, etc. that we partake in varies from user to user. We can certainly do more research, but varying demographics in schools and universities are certainly going to always produce mixed results. This is why Prensky’s original ideas about digital natives and digital immigrants was so off target, in my opinion. Prensky failed to realize that even younger generations of learners do not all have the same level of access to technology and, among those that do, do not engage in the same activities equally. You will have children that love to spend their free time playing games and surfing the Internet, but you will also have those that will go outside to play with their friends or practice sports more than they play video games.

In closing, I will still say that all types of learners (those who grew up with technology and those that did not) can still use textbooks to great effect, but they would certainly be more engaged by a game or other more social activity. Thus, it is up to us educators to learn to integrate these things into our lessons without panicking and thinking that we have to scrap all of the teaching methods from the past.
 

References:

Bennett, S. & Maton. K. (2010). Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26, 321–331. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00360.x

Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Prensky, M. (2001b). Digital natives, digital immigrants, part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6), 1-9. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.pdf