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Born Digital – Part Three

students taking selfie photo

In this post, I will discuss the results of using the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) to analyze the interview data in my study and the conclusions about students and the adoption and use of distance technology-enhanced learning. The analysis found that “social influence” had an insignificant influence, “performance expectancy” had limited influence, “effort expectancy” had considerable influence, and “facilitating conditions” had significant influence. Effort expectancy is represented by statements like, “It would be easy for me to become useful at using the system”, “I would find the system easy to use”, and “Learning to operate the system is easy for me.” Of these statements, “I would find the system easy to use” had the most influence on the technology experience of the students. Everything that they had learned in their previous educational experience (K-12 and undergraduate courses) prepared them to use new technology; they felt they could “figure it out” like they had done in the past.

Facilitating conditions had a significant influence on the technology use and experience of the Digital Natives in my study. This construct is distinguished by statements like, “I have the resources necessary to use the system”, “I have the knowledge necessary to use the system”, “A specific person is available for assistance with system difficulties” and “The system is not compatible with other systems I use”. The analysis found that there were resources available for the students to use the technology, they had the knowledge necessary to use technology, but not all the technology was viewed as compatible with their knowledge of the other systems (previous use experience) and assistance was not always available when they had difficulties. Lack of compatibility and assistance with difficulties were less influential than previous knowledge and resource availability on the use and adoption of technology. Therefore, students relied on previous knowledge or fellow students to figure out difficulties and solve problems with technology.

Returning to the question “What role does being a Digital Native play in the use of technology and how they adopt and use it to participate and collaborate in distance education?” the conclusions from this study were limited to the small sample size and context of learning. However, framed within the UTAUT constructs the study found that the use of technology by students was driven more by coursework, curiosity, and a need to communicate with family and friends; more a sign of the overall changing way society communicates than their “Native-ness”. Certainly, their base level of technology knowledge acquired during their formative years was an influence on the adoption and use of new technology. However, if new technology tools were easy to use or learn that previous experience moderated the adoption and if students encountered technology that stretched their knowledge, they needed some kind of scaffolding or peer instruction before mastering a new technology.  

In sum, the study revealed that technology-enhanced learning should be introduced and implemented with students like all other new concepts, with scaffolding and supports to build familiarity and understanding of the purpose and application. Digital Natives require a solid foundation to become digitally literate and effectively use technology in the learning process, including distance education. Some may bring more knowledge and experience with them than others to the classroom. However, the barriers to social presence created by distance education will require intentional efforts by instructors and institutions to bridge the gaps in the student technology experience that they bring to institutions.

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