Peer Review

From the Editor

The term “Net generation”—which refers to those born from (about) 1980 to 1994, after the influx of personal computers—was coined by author Don Tapscott in his book Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. This generation is composed of what some have called “digital natives”—the majority of those in the Net generation have always been surrounded by and are comfortable with technology. The Net generation’s natural facility with technology is often in striking opposition to the challenges faced by those of previous generations, who metaphorically immigrated to the land of technology. These opposing experiences with technology have lead to pedagogical challenges for many members of the academy—most of whom are members of the baby boom generation—as they search for the means to teach Net generation students in a manner that capitalizes on the group’s technology-driven lifestyle and fosters quality liberal learning.

The Internet plays a major role in the lives of the Net generation. The Pew Internet and American Life Project’s 2002 report The Internet Goes to College found that 86 percent of college students are frequent Internet users. The report states, “Internet use is a staple of college students’ educational experience. They use the Internet to communicate with professors and classmates, to do research, and access library material.” The report further finds that “nearly three quarters (73 percent) of college students say that they use the Internet more than the library ... for information searching.” These findings illustrate the Net generation’s comfort with the Internet, but what does research say about their information literacy?

Kate Manuel addressed this topic in a paper published by the Association of College and Research Librarians, “What Do First-year Students Know about Information Research? And What Can We Teach Them?” Manuel reported on a 2005 study conducted at New Mexico State University in which 2,877 first-year students studied a library instruction module on information research. These students took pre- and post-tests that assessed the students’ knowledge of information sources, search strategies, and differences between the library and the Web. The key findings were mixed: “(1) Students can articulate savvy explanations for searching and evaluating strategies and (2) Misinformation about the use of information sources persists even after instruction.” Manuel concludes, “The relationship between searching styles and student learning would be a productive area of future research.” This study suggests that while students clearly come to college with technological confidence, there is still work to be done to improve student competency in information literacy.

This challenge and many others were addressed by nearly three hundred educators who participated in the Learning and Technology conference held by the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Network for Academic Renewal in April 2006 in Seattle, Washington. The conference sessions were organized around four themes: how people learn with technology, educational and policy implications of technology, supporting faculty work in and across the disciplines in a technological age, and social and cultural implications of education and technology. Many participants also attended pre-conference workshops on topics such as blended learning, electronic portfolios, and innovative designs for learning with technology. One of the many engaging and inspiring featured conference speakers, Brian M. O’Connell of Central Connecticut State University and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Society on Social Implications of Technology, spoke on computer ethics, critical thinking, and the pervasive nature of technology. He told the audience that “like the Ancient Mariner, when we deal with technology … we’re surrounded by it. In many ways, we’re not only situated in it, we’re saturated by it.”

This edition of Peer Review further examines many of the topics and themes introduced at the Learning and Technology conference. The issue features a range of articles from IT professionals, administrators, and faculty members on programs that use new technologies to further liberal education goals for students across disciplines. As these articles show, students’ grounding in the richness of liberal education, combined with their sophisticated technological skills, can foster the confidence and competence that students will need to navigate the complex challenges of the twenty-first century.

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