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


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.

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. 🙂

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.

Practicing in Public

This week I ran across both a published scholarly article and an insightful teacher blog post that addressed the topic of kids living out their turbulent adolescent identity searches in public online spaces.  First, a Facebook friend drew my attention to John Spencer’s entry on a blog called Stories from School. He talked about how his #SaidNoTeacherEver hashtag, originally created to express his own reflections on his profession as a teacher, was picked up by his students and used to reflect their perceptions of teachers. The student posts progressed from crude humor to complaints about homework and finally to painful reflections on instances where they felt teachers had failed to acknowledge them as people.

Then today I read Neil Selwyn’s 2009 article on students’ education-related use of Facebook.  Selwyn did an ethnographic observation of some undergraduate students’ public Facebook pages, and found that one of the purposes Facebook appeared to serve was as “an arena for developing disruptive, challenging, dismissive and/or unruly academic identities” (p. 172). The posts he quoted consisted of profanity-laced whining and boasting about how little the participants cared about school. They were, in a word, adolescent.

My reaction to seeing these quotes was similar to the reaction Spencer had to his students’ tweets. I was initially shocked and dismayed by what I saw, but then I began to remember.  I remembered discovering sarcasm when I was 13, and being genuinely mystified when my unskilled attempts to use it as humor earned me a sharp scolding for my “snottiness.” I remembered dropping a whiny profane rant in an anonymous comment box in the dormitory cafeteria my freshman year of college, prompted not by genuinely bad food but rather by the fact that I was living away from home for the first time and thus had more freedom to “try out” the coarse and defiant personality I was never allowed to try out at home.  I only hope the unfortunate person who read my comment understood adolescence well enough to resist letting it ruin his or her day.

I’m certainly glad I didn’t have a public, archived medium available to me when I was practicing tricky humor and experimenting with disagreeable attitudes and personalities. Some forms of social media are very public (e.g., Twitter), and even when there are privacy options adolescents will not always make wise decisions about how to use them.  One of the things that surprised me most about Selwyn’s study was that 694 students at the university chose to make their Facebook profiles completely public!

For me, these two articles, and the reflection on my own adolescence that they prompted, made the importance of teaching media literacy much more salient.  We, as adults, need to teach kids how to use social media appropriately so that it can be more of a safe “identity playground” and less of a public archive of all the obnoxious personalities they briefly try on for size and then, in many cases, quickly discard.



Selwyn, N. (2009). Faceworking: exploring students’ education‐related use of Facebook, Learning, Media and Technology, 34(2), 157-174.

Spencer, J. (2012, September 9). A Highjacked hashtag and student voice. Stories from School (weblog). Retrieved from http://www.storiesfromschoolaz.org/2012/09/a-hijacked-hashtag-and-student-voice.html.

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!

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.