“Thank you, GoogleTM” The impact of students’ information-communication technology use on their learning in active learning contexts

Author: Gillian Kette

Kette, Gillian, 2021 “Thank you, GoogleTM” The impact of students’ information-communication technology use on their learning in active learning contexts, Flinders University, College of Medicine and Public Health

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One of today’s central educational concerns is how to combine the contemporary students’ ability to control their information needs using Information-Communication-Technologies (ICT) and their ability to manipulate ICT with active-learning (AL) curricula which were clearly not designed to accommodate ICT. Especially the potential negative impact this has on students’ learning is a cause for concern. AL pedagogies routinely presume students activate their biological memory to retrieve knowledge, not their smart ICT devices’ memory. Yet, the ubiquitous access to vast amounts of information via ICT devices has pervaded all levels of our lives, and education is no exception. It is these ICT-afforded students who are now undertaking higher education formal AL courses. University education seeks to guide students from novices to experts and proficient, lifelong learners in their chosen field of study. Current students are the academics, researchers, and professionals of the future and have to become competent medical practitioners. Medical students need help to navigate seemingly endless pre-requisite medical information and understanding from the pervasive resource of the ICT environment. Students must master a great deal of information, understand how to learn, become lifelong learners, be problem solver, gain medical skills, and integrate all these requirements into an empathetic, competent practitioner. It was against this backdrop that this research was conducted.

This research sought to understand students' effectivities (abilities) to informally supplement their formal AL tutorials with informal ICT perceived affordances (functionalities) and, importantly, determine how these student ICT-seeking behaviours either augment or hamper learning in the AL environment. The research focused, therefore, first on understanding the ICT-afforded students’ perspective of the learning benefits of their ICT interactions. This was followed by identifying events in which students controlled the ICT affordances during formal AL and interpreting these events from the perspective of their AL educational implications. By this, I aimed to better understand the contemporary students' uses of ICT affordances during formal AL to inform future educational design in face-to-face and online teaching.

I employed a cognitive constructivist interpretivist qualitative research methodology that positions the product of learning as knowledge and understanding in biological memories, learning or the specific way in which information is stored in as students’ biological memory is an individual activity and largely depends on the students' prior knowledge and life experiences. It is also impacted by the students’ ICT effectivities to navigate their learning needs both formally and informally. In order to study this complex learning environment, I used a purpose-built conceptual framework using and combining Bandura’ Social Cognitive Theory of learning and the group of Information Processing Theories. This framework provided the lens to determine the student's effectivities of using ICT affordances for AL. The ICT affordances enable students to access a near infinite resource of information and facts and create online learning spaces and opportunities by communicating with diverse communities to develop knowledge collaboratively and capitalise on ICT’s convergent functionalities. Superficially, these ICT affordances should align with the AL tenets of construction of knowledge through collaborative interactions whilst working on contextually relevant scenarios. So, the five affordances of ICT in education, creation, collaboration, communities, communications and convergence, combined with the three of active learning, constructive collaborative and contextual learning, can be used to evaluate where and when both sets of affordances align. One would assume that contemporary ICT savvy students are adept in navigating and using ICT affordances during active learning settings. However, investigating the alignment of ICT and AL affordances has been central to demonstrating that educators can not assume students digital confidence translates into digital competence for academic learning. In fact, many students are drowning in the unnecessary complexity they have created by misappropriating ICT affordances that may or may not enhance their learning. Hence highlighting students need help to align ICT and AL affordances to promote academic growth and development.

First-year graduate-entry-medical students volunteered for their routine AL tutorials to be video-recorded. A selected set of ICT interaction events during their AL tutorials formed the basis for in-depth analyses. The rich multi-modal data sets included videos, observations, transcripts, photos, VSRTA, group work, ICT history logs and surveys. These were triangulated and qualitatively analysed using data analysis software. Subsequently, they were interpreted using the conceptual framework with the five ICT and the three AL affordances. This research methodology allowed for unique, in-depth insights and perspectives relevant for educators and students to be aware of. One example is that students generate a learning environment fraught with ICT complexity with minimal direct learning potential resulting in increased extraneous cognitive load.

Other consistent findings of this study were that students’ ICT effectivities to use ICT affordances for their personal lives do not automatically translate into students knowing how to use ICT for learning. Students assume that they are ‘digital natives’ who have grown up with ICT and can therefore use ICT seamlessly and with great facility in any given situation. As a result, students overestimated their ICT effectivities in using ICT in the AL setting. But this digital confidence did not simply translate into digital competence in the arena of academic AL. Instead, it led to complex learning traps. Inversely, educators also assumed students to be digitally competent, so they left this learning arena untouched.

Consequently, students' ICT knowledge and skills for learning were not commensurately scaffolded and developed alongside other subjects within their formal AL courses. Furthermore, when creating their own ICT-afforded learning environment, they did not invite academic teaching staff, such as social media groups. As a result, when students sever the connection between the bounded, quality controlled learning environment of the formal curriculum and instead relied on the infinite and poorly quality-controlled informal learning environment of the internet. In doing so, they lose the scaffolding and safe guards provided by the educators and need to make judgements about the veracity of information themselves.

When ICT affordance or applications selection was left to the students, I found they were drowning in self-selected complex online resources, which increased extraneous cognitive load considerably. Students created multiple layers of disparate and disconnected information and formats for which they expended massive extraneous cognitive effort and learning time but which they could not use under time-constrained conditions. They were using ICT affordances to create extensive learning networks consisting of multiple online libraries with excessive numbers of digital textbooks, websites, images and notes, which they mistakenly perceived to be beneficial. They further created multiple online self-selected learning groups, used multiple ICT devices and multiple online applications, which were all purported to help them learn and organise their study life balance. Essentially, students were creating and storing multiple disparate pieces of information, but these remained isolated and could not be searched and accessed purposefully. Therefore, students keep relying on search engines, such as Google, to find just-in-time information. Consequently, students become lulled into believing their collected pieces of information is the same as their own biological knowledge. But the mere fact that these ICT repositories are unsearchable demonstrates how much this is in direct conflict w

Keywords: Active learning, Information-Communication-Technology affordances, Student effectivities, Cognition, metacognition, Medical education.

Subject: Health Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Medicine and Public Health
Supervisor: Professor Lambert Schuwirth