Investigating Student Netbook Usage using Activity Theory
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Access to information and communication technologies (ICT) by students for learning has been acknowledged as being important in the 21st Century. Governments, education systems and schools have been moving to greater levels of access, including students having 1:1 computing access, referred to as ubiquitous or uLearning. As schools move to 1:1 computing, research is required to inform the design and provision of access and usage by students. This study sought to determine whether or not ubiquitous access to netbook computers equated to ubiquitous usage of the devices and whether or not varying the pattern and ratio of access affected the uptake and impact of netbook usage. It also sought to determine whether or not netbooks were an appropriate computing device for early adolescent learners, and whether or not the use of the netbooks affected the classroom environment. Specifically, it examined the impact of the netbooks on student productivity, social activity, teacher control and individual learning. It also sought to further establish whether or not Activity Theory (AT) was an appropriate methodological and conceptual framework for classroom based research. Four classrooms received the netbooks in one of the following four patterns: • 1:1 student to netbook access - 5 days per week for 6 weeks; • 1:1 student to netbook access - 3 days per week for 10 weeks; • 1:2 student to netbook access - 5 days per week for 6 weeks; and, • 1:2 student to netbook access - 3 days per week for 10 weeks. The study drew upon AT as the conceptual framework and employed a mixed method methodology. The study, conducted in a South East Queensland Catholic Primary School, involved 120 Year 7 students and four classroom teachers. Throughout the 2009 school year data were collected about the students, the teachers, and the classroom environments via interviews, student forums, surveys, questionnaires, data logging software, researcher diary and classroom observations. Questionnaire data relating to classroom environments were analysed using SPSS and statistical significance determined using t-tests and correlational analysis. Interview, survey and observational data were initially coded using six Activity Theory nodes (Subject, Object, Tools, Division of Labour, Community and Rules and the eight NCEI sub-scales (Involvement, Innovation, Teacher Control, Teacher Support, Order and Organisation, Competition, Affiliation and Group Work. As analysis continued, further nodes emerged including student productivity, Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) and the crowded curriculum. NVivo was utilised to assist in this analysis. The study found that ubiquitous access did not equate to ubiquitous use with average daily use of the netbooks of between 60 – 90 minutes. The netbooks were considered as an appropriate computing device by the students and teachers in this study and provided a balance between mobility and functionality. Statistically significant changes occurred in three classrooms. These changes related to Order and Organisation in one classroom and Teacher Control and Involvement in two classrooms. The use of the netbooks had significant impact on student productivity and social activity but no impact on individualised learning. Minor changes occurred to teacher pedagogy in two of the classrooms. Varying the pattern and ratio of use was a significant factor in the findings noted above and the study recommends the allocation of computers in a 1:2 rather that 1:1 ratio. This research is significant as it can inform other primary schools as they determine the most effective means in which to utilise new mobile technologies. It is also relevant to informing secondary schools as they consider the implementation of the Digital Education Revolution (DER). This research also informs the broader debate as to whether or not 1:1 distribution of computers is most efficacious in terms of student outcomes and whether or not netbooks are an appropriate computing solution for early adolescent students.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Education and Professional Studies
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