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Digital Visitors and Residents

I really like this way of looking at people’s different approaches to web-based technology!


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An article based on the qualitative component of my mixed methods dissertation study has been accepted for publication.

Thompson, P. (in press). How digital native learners describe themselves. Education and Information Technologies.

This article reports the phase of my study where I talked to eight university students about how they think technology affected their learning, and what they think of the popular discussion of them as “digital natives.”  In a nutshell, I would say that even when outward behaviors seem to conform to the popular conceptions of digital natives, the processes going on inside the learners’ heads is a lot messier and more complicated. The students I talked to were cognizant of both the benefits and the risks of ubiquitous communication technology, and they took a fairly strategic approach to integrating it into their lives and their learning. I will post the full reference information once the article comes out.

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Under construction

I plan to do some remodeling on this site over the next few days. The layout and content will be temporarily in flux, but when it’s done it will better reflect my current work rather than the work I completed as a graduate student. Maybe after I’ve cleaned up the clutter I’ll be inspired to blog a little more frequently. 🙂

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First publication from my dissertation

The first journal article based on my dissertation research is now in press:

The digital natives as learners: Technology use patterns and approaches to learning

This article covers the quantitative portion of my study (a self report survey), and in a nutshell adds to the growing body of evidence that the claims often made in the popular press about the “digital native” generation are oversimplified. Immersion in digital technology certainly has some influence on how people think and learn, since everything we immerse ourselves in changes us in some way, but that does not mean that a whole generation has exactly the same technology exposure or is influenced in precisely the same way, or that technology use is the only influence on their development.

Now that the first article is out I’ll be hard at work writing up the qualitative component of the study, where I had the opportunity to talk to a few digital native college students and let them tell me how they think technology use has influenced them.

On another note, I will soon be revamping this whole website, as it is still currently organized around showcasing my graduate school work. I’ll be streamlining this one and integrating it in some way with the faculty web site that our department webmaster will soon be providing.

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Dissertation Defense

On June 18, 2012 I successfully defended my dissertation at Michigan State University. Some people who were not able to attend have asked to see my slide presentation, so here it is!

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Higher Education Pedagogy Conference

This week I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy at Virginia Tech. I presented a poster session where I talked about how we (in the master’s programs in the college of education at Michigan State University) use an online design studio approach to scaffold the development of e-portfolios in the master’s capstone course.

This was a different type of conference from what I usually attend for two reasons (1) it was focused on the scholarship of teaching rather than on more “pure” academic research, and (2) it included scholars from all disciplines and not just people from education departments. It was quite stimulating to interact with people from fields as diverse as communication, biology, and engineering, all sharing a common sincere desire to improve their own teaching and share their successes and lessons learned with like-minded colleagues.

I attended many great sessions but two stand out in my mind, not only because the topics corresponded to my own two main research interests but because the passion and dedication of the presenters came through so clearly.

One of my favorites was Dr. Joan Watson’s presentation “Soft Teaching With Silver Bullets: Digital Natives, Learning Styles, and the Truth About Best Practices.” In this presentation she challenged the popular notion of the “digital native” and more generally the tendency to look for quick simple pat solutions to our teaching challenges. Good teaching is not “soft,” she insists, it is hard, and no one-size-fits-all solution will change that.

My other favorite presentation was Jill Sible’s “Fueling a Passion for Discovery through use of New Media in Undergraduate Science Courses.” She talked about her rewarding experience of increasing student engagement in a biology class by requiring students to blog about “anything related to what we’re studying in this class.” The blogging exercise helped students relate their coursework to things going on in the world (e.g., news stories) and their own personal lives.

If you have a passion for excellence in teaching I encourage you to follow the future work of these two scholars. I know I will be keeping my eye on their work in my search for inspiration and lifelong learning as I finish my Ph.D. and begin my own career as a teacher and scholar.

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Reflecting on the ePortfolio

Recently I have been immersed in electronic portfolios. As a teaching assistant for the capstone portfolio course that our master’s students take (ED 870 for the online Master of Arts in Education program and CEP 807 for the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program), I guide students through the process of developing their online portfolios and then evaluate these portfolios at the end of the semester. Spurred on by the great work I’ve seen from the students, I also devoted the past weekend to updating and adding to my own professional website. It got me thinking again about why electronic portfolios are valuable and also inspired a quick browse through some of the literature.

An article I found in Teacher Librarian caught my attention because it provides such a nice summary of the rationale for preparing an electronic portfolio as well as some practical advice for creating one. The article is called, “Electronic Portfolios for Reflective Self-Assessment” by Marilyn Heath. Though published in 2002 when computer technology was very different from what we have today (e.g., Microsoft Frontpage is briefly mentioned as a good option for creating a website), this article still comes across as very relevant today.

Heath describes the portfolio as a vehicle for presenting one’s professional accomplishments in a unique and individualized way.  A good portfolio must be more than simple presentation of artifacts, though; it should be an act of reflection that “indicate[s] areas of proposed future growth based upon assessments of past performance and current strengths.” (p. 19). While building and maintaining a professional portfolio requires time and effort, the author insist that the effort is worthwhile because it allows for an individualized presentation of accomplishments and it encourages reflection on both knowledge and practice. An electronic portfolio can accomplish these two goals in ways that a static paper portfolio cannot, due to the ability of multimedia to “present artifacts in ways that convey the vitality of our profession.” (p. 20). Heath’s formula for choosing artifacts to include in a portfolio is simple and elegant: describe what you’ve done, demonstrate what you’ve learned, and discuss what you plan to do next.

Heath devotes some space to discussing how to present an online portfolio, and while some of the details of her advice are now out of date, she emphasizes one timeless message: “Presentation and production are important elements, to be sure, but content should remain the primary focus.” (p. 23).

When I look at the work we do with our students in the capstone course (which was originally designed by Dr. Patrick Dickson and is now taught under the direction of Dr. Matthew Koehler), I see these principles reflected clearly.  Our students do not simply compile collections of artifacts (though collecting and presenting artifacts is certainly one very important assignment). They contextualize these artifacts and articulate what they learned from creating them. They write essays that demonstrate (rather than simply describe) what they have learned and that push them to reflect on where they have been and where they are going. And, thanks to the many website hosting options available today (e.g., Weebly, WordPress, Google Sites, and many others), the technical challenges of web publishing are consuming a smaller share of the students’ time and effort than they did even five years ago, allowing content creation, and the reflection and self-assessment that precede it, to take its rightful place at center-stage.


Heath, M. (2002). Electronic portfolios for reflective self-assessment. Teacher Librarian 30(1), p. 19-23.

(This blog entry is cross-posted on www.ideaplay.org)

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