The Net generation encountering e-learning
at university
Chris Jones
Ruslan Ramanau, Anesa Hosein, Graham Healing and Simon Cross
[email protected]
© Dr C, Jones. Some rights reserved. This presentation is licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
The Open University's Institute of
Educational Technology
New kinds of learners?

“In education they [the Net generation] are forcing
a change in the model of pedagogy, from a
teacher-focused approach based on instruction to
a student-focused model based on collaboration.”
(Tapscott 2009 p 11).

“In order for schools to adapt to the habits of Digital
Natives and how they are processing information,
educators need to accept that the mode of learning
is changing rapidly in a digital age… ” (Palfrey and
Gasser 2008 p239)

“Most of our students, moreover, are part of
what we now describe as the Net Generation.
This is a generation who think IM, text and Google
are verbs not applications!” (Brenda Gourley VC
Open University, Council address Sept 2008)
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Another example…
Image from Wired
magazine 2006
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Claims about ‘Natives’
Prensky claims that if you’ve done any of these, you’re a Digital Immigrant:
•Printed out your email (or had your administrative assistant print it out for you–even worse)
•You need to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it (rather than just editing
on the screen)
•You’ve brought people physically into your office to see an interesting web site (rather than just
sending them the URL).
•The “Did you get my email?” phone call
(my emphasis)
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The generational metaphor
 Howe and Strauss have a long standing argument
about US generations
 A four stage historical cycle
 Different forces in other countries? E.g. China, or
RSA
https://sites.google.com/site/sjlewisprojects/the-ascent-of-man
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The brain and plasticity

Baroness Greenfield the Director of the Royal Institution in the United Kingdom told
the House of Lords that children's experiences on social networking sites:
"are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a
consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised,
characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to
empathise and a shaky sense of identity". 24th of February 2009
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/feb/24/social-networking-site-changing-childrens-brains )


Claims by Prensky

Neuroplasticity

Stimultation changes brain structure and the way people think

Malleability

The way people think changes with experience

Attention span and reflection

Attention ‘in bursts’

Reflection – this needs translating into digital native language
The consistency of the human condition

Relative biological stability

Socio-cultural and historical adaptability
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The project - methods and methodology


ESRC project began January 2008
Mixed methodology to achieve a broad empirical description and a close
observational approach to small samples
 5 English universities selected for type





Urban ‘Red brick’,
1960’s ‘New University’,
Large Metropolitan post ’92,
Recent University (ex-University college),
Distance University.


1st year courses selected for range of disciplines/subject
 Included Net Generation and older students
Three kinds of intervention
 Survey
 Interviews
 Cultural probes (Day experience method)
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Universities and courses
Table 1: University types.and courses
University A
University B
University C
University D
University E
Founded
Founded 19th
Century
Founded 1970s
(Polytechnic)
university status in
1992
Founded 1960s
Founded 1964
Founded 21st
Century from
university
college
Location
Large urban
metropolitan
Large urban
metropolitan
Large scale
distance
Mid size campus
outside small city
Mid size with
multi-site,
small towns
Course units
English
Sociology (Survey1)/
Social Science Key
Skills (Survey 2&3)
Science
Modern
Languages
Journalism
Bio-science
Information and
Communication
Health and Social
Care (Survey1)
/Social Science
(Survey 2&3)
Computing
Psychology
The Arts
Accounting and
Finance
Social Work
Veterinary science
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Surveys
 Survey 1 (April 2008) – snapshot
 Whole course survey (14 courses n = 596,
response rate average 30%)
 Survey 2 and 3 – longitudinal
 Survey 2 – Autumn 2008, 5 universities
completed (14 courses n= 1098 response rate
42%)
 Survey 3 – end of year 1 Spring 2009 completed
(Same 14 courses as Survey 2, n= 713 response
rate 28%)
The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
Interviews

Staff



Face to face (n=12)
Conversational style with the aim of gathering information about:
 The university, course and programme
 Staff conceptions of the student cohort
Students
 Volunteers from survey
 10 from phase 1, 58 from phase 2
 Telephone interviews
 Conversational style with the aim of:
 Understanding the reasons for use of technology
 Attitudes towards university provision of e-learning
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Cultural probes
Participants recruited from interviewees
(n=18 + 1, not able to receive SMS)

Initial briefing and equipment
delivery (Video camera and
notebook)

SMS prompts over 24 hours

What time is it?

Where are you now?

Are you using any
technology? If so what are
you using?

Who are you with?

How do you feel about it?

‘Focus’ group feedback
Based on: Riddle, M.D. and Arnold, M.V. (2007)
The Day Experience Method: A Resource Kit.
http://dtl.unimelb.edu.au/dtl_publish/12/67585.html
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Computer ownership

77.4 % of students owned a laptop and 38.1 owned a desktop computer



In Survey 2 the ownership of laptops was 75.2%
By Survey 3 the ownership was 88% and 43% had bought a laptop
during their first year at university
The differences across age and gender groups (Survey 1) were at
significant levels e.g. female students (χ² =13.87, d.f. = 1, p = .003) and students 25
years of age and younger were more likely to own a laptop (χ² =26.52, d.f. = 1, p <
.001) and male students (χ² =18.94, d.f. = 1, p < .001), and those age 26 years of age
and over (χ² =31.03, d.f. = 1, p < .001) were more likely to own a desktop
100
Desktop
Laptop
50
0
Male Female
>26
26 +
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Other devices
Survey 1
Owned (%)
Shared access No access (%)
(%)
Mobile phone
97.8 (97%)
1.1
1.1
MP3/iPOD/
82.4
5.3
12.2
Memory
stick/card
87.9 (91%)
4.2
7.9
Games
console
38.4
22.1
39.5
Survey 3
Data on ownership echoes empirical data from other studies, e.g. Kennedy et al. (2008)
reported 97.3 % of medical students at a major university in Australia owning a mobile phone;
85.9 % owning a memory stick, but 85.3 % had access to a desktop computer (compared to 38.1
% in our survey 1, 63.4 % in survey 2)
ECAR Annual survey (Salaway et al., 2008) on the undergraduate use of IT in the USA found
similar patterns to ours – 80.5 % of students owned laptops, 51.3 – desktops; no significant
gender differences in laptop ownership and minor in desktop ownership
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Choice of Technologies (Survey 1)




Students tended to use the same technologies for study as they did for
social life and leisure (Pearson’s correlation coefficient, p < .001 for all the
survey items)
Students chose to use the same technologies for study as those they
were required to use on their courses
 In general used them more than they are required to
 Blogs, Wikis and Virtual Worlds little used.
 The most used technologies allowed:
 access to resources and
 personal communication
Students aged 25 years of age and under tended to use communication
technology (text and instant messaging, social networking sites and
Internet telephony) more frequently than older students (p < .001, oneway ANOVA)
Gender effects were not as pronounced: female students tended to use
text messaging and social networking sites more often (p < .001, one-way
ANOVA)
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Use of Social Networking (Survey 1)


68.3 % of the respondents in the sample participated in online social
networks (e.g. Facebook, Bebo, MySpace) at least on a daily basis or
more frequently
Variation in terms of frequency of use between
 Age of students - 25 years of age and under and older students
(F(1, 587) = 332.23, p < 0.001)
 Net generation age students (25 and under) 81.7 % used social
networking on at least a daily basis, whilst only 5.1 % ‘never’
participated in online social networks.
 55.7 % of students aged 26 years of age and older never
participated in social networking sites and only 24.3 % of them
reported daily use.
 4.3 % of those aged 20 and younger never used this
technology compared to 78.5 % of those aged 35 years of
age and older.
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Intra-generational difference (Survey 1)
Item Means and F values on Self-Reported Frequency of Technology Tasks among Net Generation Students (5-Point Scale, One-way
ANOVA, d.f. = 1 ).
20 and under
21-25
Read and send e-mail
4.33
4.34
Use mobile phone messaging
4.81*
4.66*
Instant messaging
3.75*
3.36*
Participate in online social networks
4.32*
4.06*
Read and write blogs
1.57
1.58
Use Wikis
2.76
2.69
Play games
2.29
2.51
Download/ stream music
2.97
2.80
Download/ stream TV/ video
2.81**
2.29**
Upload audio, images or video to social
networks
2.47**
2.32**
* p < .05
** p < .001
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Expected use of ICT (Survey 2)
< 1 hr
1 to 2 hr
2 to 3 hrs
>= 3 hrs
Total
Leisure
357 (38%)
245 (26%)
167 (18%)
177 (19%)
946
Study
274 (29%)
311 (33%)
190 (20%)
167 (18%)
942
Leisure
68 (53%)
25 (19%)
11 (9%)
25 (19%)
129
Study
41 (32%)
45 (35%)
18 (14%)
25 (19%)
129
Leisure
425 (40%)
270 (25%)
178 (17%)
202 (19%)
1075
Study
315 (29%)
356 (33%)
208 (19%)
192 (18%)
1071
NetGen
Non-NetGen
Total
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Actual use of ICT (Survey 3)
< 1 hr
1 to 2 hr
2 to 3 hrs
>= 3 hrs
Total
Leisure
107 (18%)
121 (20%)
136 (22%)
245 (40%)
609
Study
116 (19%)
184 (30%)
137 (22%)
174 (29%)
611
Leisure
42 (43%)
29 (30%)
10 (10%)
17 (17%)
98
Study
20 (20%)
31 (31%)
18 (18%)
30 (30%)
99
Leisure
149 (21%)
150 (21%)
146 (21%)
262 (37%)
707
Study
136 (19%)
215 (30%)
155 (22%)
204 (29%)
710
NetGen
Non-NetGen
Total
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Expected and actual use of ICT (Surveys 2&3)
< 1 hr
1 to 2 hr
2 to 3 hrs
>= 3 hrs
Total
Expected Leisure
357 (38%)
245 (26%)
167 (18%)
177 (19%)
946
Actual Leisure
107 (18%)
121 (20%)
136 (22%)
245 (40%)
609
Expected Study
274 (29%)
311 (33%)
190 (20%)
167 (18%)
942
Actual Study
116 (19%)
184 (30%)
137 (22%)
174 (29%)
611
Expected Leisure
68 (53%)
25 (19%)
11 (9%)
25 (19%)
129
Actual Leisure
42 (43%)
29 (30%)
10 (10%)
17 (17%)
98
Expected Study
41 (32%)
45 (35%)
18 (14%)
25 (19%)
129
Actual Study
20 (20%)
31 (31%)
18 (18%)
30 (30%)
99
NetGen
Non-NetGen
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Mode of study (place-based or distance)
Table 4: Frequency of ICT use for university types (5 – very often – 1- never)
Frequency
Place based
Distance
Learning
p
Sent MMS messages
3.20
2.70
0.01
Sent or responded to an e-mail
4.64
4.49
0.10
Used an instant messenger
3.62
2.95
0.00
Participated in a text-based chat room
1.88
1.79
0.52
Visited virtual world
1.27
1.10
0.06
Used conferencing via the Web
1.56
1.26
0.02
Looked at messages on SNS
3.96
3.04
0.00
Sent messages on SNS
3.80
2.93
0.00
Edited my profile on SNS
3.28
2.49
0.00
•Students entering place based and distance-learning universities show different ICT usage.
•Students who chose to the distance-learning courses use ICT less frequently.
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Reading and printing
University
I always read on screen
I mostly read on screen
I mostly print out
I always print out
I have no preference
Missing
Total
A
6 (8%)
26 (36%)
27 (38%)
4 (6%)
9 (13%)
2
74
B
15 (18%)
30 (36%)
29 (35%)
4 (5%)
6 (7%)
1
85
C
25 (19%)
46 (35%)
37 (28%)
7 (5%)
15 (12%)
4
134
D
66 (22%)
130 (43%)
66 (22%)
20 (7%)
23 (8%)
6
311
E
23 (21%)
40 (37%)
31 (29%)
4 (4%)
10 (9%)
1
109
Total
135 (19%)
272 (39%)
190 (27%)
39 (6%)
63 (9%)
14
713
Table (Survey3): Reading on screen or printing out preference
NB Figures rounded up so they don’t add to 100%
Survey 1
•56% (similar in Survey 3) reported mostly or always reading on screen,
•around one third of students (similar in Survey 3) reported mostly or always printing out
downloaded written materials).
•Over two thirds (68.3%) reported that they save/download materials when accessing them online.
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Describing first year students

What follows is work in progress

We have begun to try and abstract some features from our data
using factor analysis

This has then been used to develop some provisional clusters of
students

The slides that follow are based on initial work using 2 step cluster
analysis

Caution has to be taken because this type of cluster
analysis tends to force membership amongst students e.g.
all females or all males grouping together.

Further analysis of our data will examine how other
clustering techniques may affect group membership and the
categories derived in this initial analysis.
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Cluster characteristics (Survey 2)
Cluster
Web
1
2
3
4
V. High
Low
Low
High
Average
Average
Average
Average
Low
V. Low
High
High
Average
Average
Average
Average
Interactive
Workoriented
Social
Interactive
Technicallyoriented
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Cluster membership (Survey 2)
Cluster
1
2
3
4
Web
Work
Social
Technically
Interactive
Oriented
Interactive
Oriented
Males
68 (18%)
76
(21%)
0 (0%)
224 (61%)
Females
95 (18%)
124
(23%)
320 (59%)
0 (0%)
≤ 20
140 (20%)
320 (46%)
224 (32%)
21-25
22 (21%)
85
(79%)
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
26-35
1 (2%)
48
(98%)
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
≥36
0 (0%)
51
(100%)
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
Place-based
161 (20%)
86
(11%)
320 (41%)
224 (28%)
Distance-
2 (2%)
114
(98%)
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
UK
0 (0%)
193
(26%)
320 (43%)
224 (30%)
International
163 (96%)
0 (0%)
0 (0%)
Learning
16 (2%)
7 (4%)
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Characteristics & membership (Survey 2)
UK Males
≤20
UK Females
≤20
Distance
Learning
Int’nal
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Describing the variations


Place based whole time vs distance learning part-time
 Mode of study seems to have a significant effect
 Distance students  Lower use of ICT than place based students
 Lower use affects both Net gen aged and older
students
 Less likely to be social interactive or web interactive
Other clusters
 Gender
 Females show greater social interactivity and lower
web interactivity than males
 International students
 Show lower social interactivity but higher web
interactivity
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Student spaces and places
 Changes in the past 10 years – the rise of mobile
technologies
 The persistent importance of the study bedroom
 Charles Crook - Learning Nests
 Nardi and O’Day – local habitations
 The use of informal spaces:
 Library
 Multi-media Labs
 Little evidence of the adoption of a ‘mobile’ culture
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Learning Nests (Day Experience)



Example 1. Study area in a permanent home address
As you can see I’m in my spare bedroom, which has got washing, place where I keep my
washing, my exercise bike which usually just sits in the corner, my desk which has my laptop
and all the current things I’m working on at the minute, my ironing board and a couple of
bookcases. At the moment I’ve only got two bookshelves that I use for my work and this is
basically where I spend most of my evenings. Usually two to three hours an evening, depends
on what I’ve got to do. And then some of the, I’ve got a normal computer downstairs which is
attached to a printer, which I print everything off but this is basically at the moment where all my
work gets done. (Non-Net Generation, female, Social Work University E)
Example 2 Study bedroom (the most common situation)
I’m still doing my homework, it’s a different homework this time but I’m using my laptop again,
on Facebook and also using MSN to talk to my friends. I’ve also got like an on-line dictionary in
here which is helping me rather than using the book ‘cos its much quicker, like a proper
dictionary ‘cos its much quicker. I’m in my room so I’m surrounded by all my stuff which I like.
(Net generation female, German University D)
Example 3 In a public area using mobile device(s)
I am currently in the MRL [Multi-Media Resource Laboratory] and the technology I am using as
you can see Microsoft OneNote for note taking, Microsoft word and WebCT which I’m currently
downloading some assignments off. I’m on my own doing work and the environment I am
sitting in is comfortable as you can see, [view of sofa seating with more formal area in the rear
of the shot] which is fairly busy as well. I am currently using my laptop for doing my studies and
mobile phone for communicating with other students. (Net Generation Male Information and
Communications University B)
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Life on screen (Interviews/Day Experience)



The students we engaged with using the Day Experience method
integrated their lives on screen.
In this sense there was no distinction between the location of work and
play
Many applications open at once, seamlessly moving between them
“Right, I’ve just flicked on to the internet and I’m just checking my Tiscali
e-mails which is the first thing I usually do and see whether anybody
interesting has bothered to contact me. Usually there are only Facebook
notifications - looks as though there is one from my football team which
means I probably will actually go on to Facebook which is never a good
idea to see what all that’s about. I usually follow the same thing each day,
I log on to my Tiscali e-mail see whether anything interesting is on there,
usually there isn’t. Then I go on to BBC sport because I’m a bit of a sport
addict and see what’s happening there. Then I check my [University]
student e-mails because there’s usually a lot more going on there. That
could be if there is any lecture changes or exam results out that I need to
be aware off. Then I log into [local VLE] and the lecture writing up
begins.” (Net Generation female studying Veterinary Science University A)
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Distraction (Interviews)

Nick Carr “The human brain like any animal brain is attuned to
distraction… the internet bombards us with stimuli… it creates in a
sense an environment of information that plays to our desire to our
need to be distracted… it becomes very difficult to keep a focus on
anything” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/virtualrevolution/interviews.shtml )

One of the key themes from our interviews
“…if I’m doing some work and I’ve got Facebook open then I get a
message or I’ll see pictures that my friend’s posted from a party
and I get distracted and I’ll loose where I was in my work and then
it’s a bit like I’ve lost my place and it’s hard to get back in and you
know, all from that one little message..” (Net Generation Male,
Information and Communications University B)
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Responses to distraction (Interviews)
1.
2.
3.
4.
Removing the sources of distraction by switching them off
“to be honest you just turn it all off and then you just don’t stick with it otherwise as
soon as you turn it on, you’re losing time and you’re wasting your own time really.”
(Net Generation Male, Modern Languages University D)
Physically removing themselves from the distractions
“…and the computer is, is you know, today’s distraction, yesterday it was the TV
now it’s the internet (laughs) so it, it has quite a serious downside…I tend to use
the Library to get away from technology.” (Older Female Veterinary Science
University A)
Interspersing study with breaks
“…it’s just a matter of the person and whether they can not get distracted by it
[technology], but I do think it’s just good to have those things there so that you can
have a break and chill out and stuff, while you are trying to work.” (Net Generation
Female English University A)
Working under pressure
“Personally I tend to work best under pressure so I’ll sort of leave it until the last
minute... I’ll tend to close everything down or at least have it minimised at the
bottom of the screen and ignore it, set myself to appear offline on MSN messenger
and leave everything, mainly to stop distractions from people talking to you, and try
to ignore everything else.” (Net Generation Female Bio-Sciences University A)
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Discussion and concluding points

Digital and networked technologies infuse most students lives and the
material context claimed for a Net Generation exist
 There are age related differences but no single identifiable
generational set of changes
 Social Networking and communication technologies are at the
centre of age related differences
 The Net Generation age group is itself divided by age internally
 There are other significant factors including, institutional mode and
gender apart from age
 Students are often physically alone but usually digitally connected
 SNS e.g. Facebook and Mobile (Cell) phones
 Digital networks help maintain distant links (eg. Home from
university/university friends from home)
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Implications for teaching?

The Net Generation/Digital Natives and determinism

Hard forms - “In education they [the Net generation] are forcing a
change in the model of pedagogy, from a teacher-focused
approach based on instruction to a student-focused model based
on collaboration.” (Tapscott 2009 p 11).

Softer forms - “In order for schools to adapt to the habits of Digital
Natives and how they are processing information, educators need
to accept that the mode of learning is changing rapidly in a digital
age… ” (Palfrey and Gasser 2008 p239)

Are there things we will just have to accept?


If so what are they?
What will we have to do?
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Choices not necessity



Students seem to use new technologies that allow (afford) –
 Communication
 Access
Students (in general) are not currently using many of the most
talked about new technologies
 Blogs, Wikis, Virtual Worlds
If students tend to use the technologies that they are required to
use…
 I would choose to include these new technologies in my
courses
 Because …
 I would choose to avoid these new technologies in my
courses
 Because…
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Engaging with university


Digital Natives as Digital phrenology?
 Association between known features
and presumed characteristics
 Two related claims
 The ubiquitous nature of certain technologies,
specifically gaming (Oblinger 2004, Prensky 2001,
2001a) and the Web, have affected the outlook of
an entire age cohort in advanced economies
 The new technologies emerging with this generation,
most recently Web 2.0, have particular characteristics
that afford certain types of social engagement.
What is the relationship between student activity and university
context?
The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
References







Jones, C., Ramanau, R., Cross, S.J., and Healing, G. (2009) Net generation or digital natives: Is there a distinct new generation
entering university? Computers & Education.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2009.09.022
http://oro.open.ac.uk/18700/
Jones, C., and Cross, S.J. (2009) Is there a Net generation coming to university? Association for Learning Technology Conference,
Manchester 2009. Available from:
http://oro.open.ac.uk/18468/
http://repository.alt.ac.uk/view/year/2009.html
Jones, C., and Ramanau, R. (2009) The Net Generation enters university: What are the implications for Technology Enhanced
Learning? M-2009: Proceedings of the 23rd ICDE World Conference on Open Learning and Distance Education including the 2009
EADTU Annual Conference, 7-10 June 2009, Maastricht NL.
http://oro.open.ac.uk/18690/
http://www.ou.nl/Docs/Campagnes/ICDE2009/Papers/Final_paper_088jones.pdf
Jones, C., and Ramanau, R. (2009) Collaboration and the Net generation: The changing characteristics of first year university
students. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning: CSCL2009: CSCL
Practices.
http://oro.open.ac.uk/18689
Kennedy, G., Gray, K. and Tse, J. (2008) 'Net Generation' medical students: technological experiences of pre-clinical and clinical
students, Medical Teacher, 30:1, 10-16
Salaway, G. and Caruso, J. B., with Mark R. Nelson (2008). The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology,
2008 (Research Study, Vol. 8). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2008, available from
http://www.educause.edu/ecar.
Project web sites:

http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/netgeneration/

http://kn.open.ac.uk/public/workspace.cfm?wpid=8354
The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
Acknowledgement

We would also like to acknowledge the assistance of our
collaborators at the five participating universities, in particular
Susan Armitage, Martin Jenkins, Sheila French, Ann Qualter and
Tunde Varga-Atkins.

We would like to thank all the student volunteers who have helped
us throughout our research.
The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
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