Digital kids, analogue students : a mixed methods study of students' engagement with a school-based Web 2.0 learning innovation

Tan, Jennifer Pei-Ling (2009) Digital kids, analogue students : a mixed methods study of students' engagement with a school-based Web 2.0 learning innovation. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The inquiry documented in this thesis is located at the nexus of technological innovation and traditional schooling. As we enter the second decade of a new century, few would argue against the increasingly urgent need to integrate digital literacies with traditional academic knowledge. Yet, despite substantial investments from governments and businesses, the adoption and diffusion of contemporary digital tools in formal schooling remain sluggish. To date, research on technology adoption in schools tends to take a deficit perspective of schools and teachers, with the lack of resources and teacher ‘technophobia’ most commonly cited as barriers to digital uptake. Corresponding interventions that focus on increasing funding and upskilling teachers, however, have made little difference to adoption trends in the last decade. Empirical evidence that explicates the cultural and pedagogical complexities of innovation diffusion within long-established conventions of mainstream schooling, particularly from the standpoint of students, is wanting. To address this knowledge gap, this thesis inquires into how students evaluate and account for the constraints and affordances of contemporary digital tools when they engage with them as part of their conventional schooling. It documents the attempted integration of a student-led Web 2.0 learning initiative, known as the Student Media Centre (SMC), into the schooling practices of a long-established, high-performing independent senior boys’ school in urban Australia. The study employed an ‘explanatory’ two-phase research design (Creswell, 2003) that combined complementary quantitative and qualitative methods to achieve both breadth of measurement and richness of characterisation. In the initial quantitative phase, a self-reported questionnaire was administered to the senior school student population to determine adoption trends and predictors of SMC usage (N=481). Measurement constructs included individual learning dispositions (learning and performance goals, cognitive playfulness and personal innovativeness), as well as social and technological variables (peer support, perceived usefulness and ease of use). Incremental predictive models of SMC usage were conducted using Classification and Regression Tree (CART) modelling: (i) individual-level predictors, (ii) individual and social predictors, and (iii) individual, social and technological predictors. Peer support emerged as the best predictor of SMC usage. Other salient predictors include perceived ease of use and usefulness, cognitive playfulness and learning goals. On the whole, an overwhelming proportion of students reported low usage levels, low perceived usefulness and a lack of peer support for engaging with the digital learning initiative. The small minority of frequent users reported having high levels of peer support and robust learning goal orientations, rather than being predominantly driven by performance goals. These findings indicate that tensions around social validation, digital learning and academic performance pressures influence students’ engagement with the Web 2.0 learning initiative. The qualitative phase that followed provided insights into these tensions by shifting the analytics from individual attitudes and behaviours to shared social and cultural reasoning practices that explain students’ engagement with the innovation. Six indepth focus groups, comprising 60 students with different levels of SMC usage, were conducted, audio-recorded and transcribed. Textual data were analysed using Membership Categorisation Analysis. Students’ accounts converged around a key proposition. The Web 2.0 learning initiative was useful-in-principle but useless-in-practice. While students endorsed the usefulness of the SMC for enhancing multimodal engagement, extending peer-topeer networks and acquiring real-world skills, they also called attention to a number of constraints that obfuscated the realisation of these design affordances in practice. These constraints were cast in terms of three binary formulations of social and cultural imperatives at play within the school: (i) ‘cool/uncool’, (ii) ‘dominant staff/compliant student’, and (iii) ‘digital learning/academic performance’. The first formulation foregrounds the social stigma of the SMC among peers and its resultant lack of positive network benefits. The second relates to students’ perception of the school culture as authoritarian and punitive with adverse effects on the very student agency required to drive the innovation. The third points to academic performance pressures in a crowded curriculum with tight timelines. Taken together, findings from both phases of the study provide the following key insights. First, students endorsed the learning affordances of contemporary digital tools such as the SMC for enhancing their current schooling practices. For the majority of students, however, these learning affordances were overshadowed by the performative demands of schooling, both social and academic. The student participants saw engagement with the SMC in-school as distinct from, even oppositional to, the conventional social and academic performance indicators of schooling, namely (i) being ‘cool’ (or at least ‘not uncool’), (ii) sufficiently ‘compliant’, and (iii) achieving good academic grades. Their reasoned response therefore, was simply to resist engagement with the digital learning innovation. Second, a small minority of students seemed dispositionally inclined to negotiate the learning affordances and performance constraints of digital learning and traditional schooling more effectively than others. These students were able to engage more frequently and meaningfully with the SMC in school. Their ability to adapt and traverse seemingly incommensurate social and institutional identities and norms is theorised as cultural agility – a dispositional construct that comprises personal innovativeness, cognitive playfulness and learning goals orientation. The logic then is ‘both and’ rather than ‘either or’ for these individuals with a capacity to accommodate both learning and performance in school, whether in terms of digital engagement and academic excellence, or successful brokerage across multiple social identities and institutional affiliations within the school. In sum, this study takes us beyond the familiar terrain of deficit discourses that tend to blame institutional conservatism, lack of resourcing and teacher resistance for low uptake of digital technologies in schools. It does so by providing an empirical base for the development of a ‘third way’ of theorising technological and pedagogical innovation in schools, one which is more informed by students as critical stakeholders and thus more relevant to the lived culture within the school, and its complex relationship to students’ lives outside of school. It is in this relationship that we find an explanation for how these individuals can, at the one time, be digital kids and analogue students.

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ID Code: 30396
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Lee, Kar, Hearn, Gregory, & McWilliam, Erica
Keywords: learning innovation, digital learning, online learning, information and communications technologies, virtual learning platforms, Web 2.0, new media technologies, social networking technologies, innovation adoption, innovation diffusion, technology uptake, technology use, schooling, senior schooling, education, Generation C, youths, young people, cognitive playfulness, cultural agility, multimodality, multiliteracies, classification and regression tree, membership categorisation analysis
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 11 Feb 2010 04:59
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:55

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