The Association for Qualitative Research
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Where Wii leads…

Adults may be foxed by the pace of technological advances, but young people – due to how they're taught – find it easier to adapt and engage.

The way that young people use technology in education helps to shape how they interact and engage with it in the broader world. Looking into how technology could develop in education in the future — as we have recently been asked to do by a number of market-leading technological companies — can throw up some interesting points for researchers to consider when engaging with this particular audience.

I'd like to focus on three themes relating to technology in education, and ask some playful questions about what these may mean for researchers. The first of these relates to technology's potential to engage students in learning, entertaining them while simultaneously teaching.

This year's NMC Horizon Project shortlist highlights some prominent examples of where technology can do this; one of which is through supporting game-based learning (for an interesting example, see EVOKE).

Another possibility — slightly further from classroom use — involves interfaces like those on Wii, where pupils use physical gestures as a means of control. Imagine the applications for a subject like dissection. And if technologies like these — which are centred on the user's experience — become more prominent, will engagement in other areas such as research need to follow suit?

The second trend, also mentioned by NMC, is the potential for development of young people's online critical assessment skills. The way they get information from technology could increasingly be shaped by how they assess what kinds of information they can get from different channels. Researchers will need to understand what factors they consider when making these assessments, in order to understand young people's decisions on where to look for information.

Thirdly, there is an increasing focus on teaching young people how to manage their online footprints and identities: for example, managing social networking privacy settings, or profiles. The extent to which content is managed will be something to consider when thinking about the kind of data that can be mined online.

Are online posts an accurate record of what young people are doing, or are they an attempt at selfrepresentation? And how does this vary in different contexts? Understanding this will be important, as both types of data will need to be assessed very differently.

These three themes — engagement with technology; decisions about how to access information online and ways that young people represent themselves — could all represent potential new questions or challenges. Equally, they could represent potential new sources of insight. It's up to us, as researchers, to delve deeper into these technological changes to better understand the young people we work with.


Nick Maybanks
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2012