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J.D. Walker.

J. D. Walker coordinates evaluation and research services for the Digital Media Center in the Office of Information Technology, Twin Cities campus.

Mind the digital generation gap

Faculty and students are not that different when it comes to educational technology use

By Christina Goodland

From eNews, January 10, 2008

Current traditional college age students have grown up with Xboxes and the Internet--game controllers and mice in their hands. To use learning expert Marc Prensky's term, they are "digital natives."

Their professors, by comparison, are "digital immigrants" in the electronic landscape, struggling to keep up in unfamiliar surroundings with outdated tools. Is this true at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities?

Yes and no, says J. D. Walker, coordinator of evaluation and research services for the Office of Information Technology's Digital Media Center. He's an author of several reports on student and faculty educational technology surveys conducted on campus biannually since 2001. According to the recently released 2007 reports, it is true that students are technologically experienced: 92.3 percent own cell phones, 78 percent own laptops, 68.6 percent own MP3 players, 88.3 percent have taken at least one course supplemented by online educational technology, 39.8 percent have taken a fully online course, and 58.7 percent access online course materials at least once a day.

"When it comes to digital technology, students are experienced, but not sophisticated," says Walker. "Their experience is wide, but not deep."

But students aren't as digitally expert or virtually connected as we may think.

"When it comes to digital technology, students are experienced but not sophisticated," explains Walker. "Their experience is wide, but not deep."

Students report using simpler online communication tools with far greater frequency than more complex programs. Student responses also suggest that they more often consume than produce online content.

Faculty respondents were somewhat more fragmented in their technology experience levels and attitudes and want more training and support, but they aren't Luddites: 71.5 percent have taught at least one course supplemented by online technology during the past two years, and only 5.4 percent use neither in-class nor online educational technology.

Like students, faculty respondents rank uses of technology that support collaboration, interaction, and engagement below uses that support information delivery, increase access to course materials, and the like.

Still, both students and faculty respondents are strongly positive about educational technology. Walker says that this attitude is the most important theme that has emerged from the surveys.

"For over three years, we've heard faculty and students say many of the same things about educational technology," says Walker. "They have positive attitudes toward it, they're comfortable using it, and they think it's useful in teaching and learning."

Christina Goodland is the communications coordinator for the Digital Media Center, Twin Cities campus.