Students’ digital practices in post-digital environments

One of the most interesting areas of research at UBDC - particularly within our iMCD programme and subsequent leading-edge research based on iMCD data - is the use of wearable devices by research participants to gather detailed data. A small subset of folk who had taken part in the Household Survey element of the iMCD project also spent a week wearing GPS tracking devices and lifelogging cameras everywhere they went. We soon found that others working on a variety of research topics wanted to not only use the knowledge we had gained from doing this but also to borrow our wearable devices to collect data. Lavinia Hirsu, a researcher at University of Glasgow’s School of Education, was one of the first. Here’s her story.

Two years ago, I attended an introductory seminar at UBDC on multiple sources of dynamic data collection and innovative methods and methodologies, all developed with the help of cutting-edge technology. At that moment, I was at a turning point in my research and I was looking for innovative approaches to study students’ digital practices in the university context. I wanted to adopt a fresh perspective to understand how students engage in the university with their devices and academic work. The generations of students that we welcome in our courses are users of digital technologies and have incorporated the digital and the analogue in seamless ways in everything that they do. To capture these practices, I wanted to be able to track students’ activities on campus, at home, in the streets, and everywhere else they carry their academic work.

The iMCD Project sparked my interest in the huge potential of using lifelogging cameras in my research. The support from the UBDC perfectly aligned with my research goals and I was able to conduct a pilot study where I tracked the activities of three international students over the course of a week. The participants agreed to wear the cameras and record their activities, and the resulting data included a total of 50,000+ snapshots. The UBDC team provided valuable technical support and Dr Catherine Lido, who worked closely with research staff in the School of Education, helped me with extensive guidance on the ethical dimensions of collecting and handling this type of data. To protect the identity of my participants and their data, I developed a protocol that gave the participants the possibility to delete unwanted private images. I also made sure that the photos that were to be used in the project followed the most recent research guidelines for identity and privacy protection.

The cameras were spot on! The images captured reveal a fascinating range of practices and habits that sit at the border of the digital and non-digital. The findings from this project show that students use their devices purposefully, perfectly aware of their potential to create distractions and interruptions of their learning flow. When it comes to academic work, students draw upon different sources of knowledge which come from the traditional books and journal articles, as well as their Facebook feed and other social media sites. What’s more interesting is that the archive of images goes to suggest that students operate in post-digital environments. Their digital and non-digital activities are not separate but integrated at all times. Students use all possible devices (from pen and paper to computer and mobile phones) to create knowledge. It is almost impossible to simply describe what students learn from Moodle OR their textbooks OR social media. Knowledge is formed from all these brought together.

I have had the opportunity to share the preliminary findings of my research at an international conference (College on Composition and Communication Annual Conference, Portland, USA) and in the UK at the 9th Conference of the European Association for Teaching Academic Writing (Royal Holloway University of London). Both presentations were very well received and attendees were very much interested in learning about the methodological aspects around the use of the lifelogging cameras. I am currently preparing a conference presentation on the same project at the Scottish Educational Research Association Annual Conference and a journal article. While this was a pilot project with a small number of participants, given the positive response that I received, I plan to seek funding for a larger project. This will allow me to work with the UBDC resources and expertise to investigate students’ practices in post-digital environments at a larger scale and for a more extended period of time.

Author: Lavinia Hirsu

Lavinia is a specialist in rhetoric and writing studies. She has a Phd in Composition, Literacy and Culture from Indiana University and an MA in TESOL/ Applied Linguistic (secondary area: Socio-Linguistic Anthropology) from Iowa State University. Before joining the University of Glasgow, she was an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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