October 14, 2008

The Netvibes Story – Making Unique Interesting Technological Choices for Your Students

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

The text which follows deals with the links between students and IT, more specifically between my students and the resource Netvibes. This story is timely, given that Generation Y is arriving in our classrooms theoretically bathed in IT since birth. Is any technological tool therefore an automatic hit with them? The answer is not as evident as one would believe.

Context and Goals

This story of technology in education began in Autumn 2007 in the introductory survey course Actualités des arts et vie culturelle (Trends in Culture and the Arts) with 30 students. As its name suggests, the course examined developments on the national and international cultural scenes. One of the goals of the course was to encourage students to be autonomous in researching and updating cultural information. It was for this reason that I decided to use Netvibes after a training session with the IT_Representative at our school at that time. This tool reads RSS feeds and automatically displays the latest developments. In my place, wouldn’t you think that was a logical choice?

Initial Student Reaction

It seemed obvious to me that this tool was a perfect choice for my students not only for its usefulness with the material of the course but because it was part of Web 2.0, a Generation Y buzzword. Certain that it would be a hit, I was a little surprised at the resistance of some students to IT in education right from the start.

Clarifying the Situation

This relative discomfort was not a reaction to the tool itself but the result of a number of factors, some of which are listed below.

Factor Conclusion
I have come to realize that students are generally more comfortable with communication technology rather than research tools. I was able to determine this during the research for Internet sites with RSS feeds that was done in my course. The majority of students had a difficult time finding information on the Internet notwithstanding directories supplied by me as well as my help. Therefore the ‘relative discomfort’ of my experience could be in part linked to what was termed by Bruno Poellhuber a lack of ‘programming competencies’ which included the abilities to research information as well as to analyze it. BÉRUBÉ, Bernard, and Bruno POELLHUBER. Un référentiel des compétences technopédagogiques (A Reference Guide to Technopedagogical Competencies), Montréal, Collège de Rosemont, 2005, p. 49. Ensure a minimum competence in Internet research using prepatory training sessions.
This experience allowed me to realize that a factor for success for a new technological tool is that it has unique features. Without them, it is difficult to make the case for its usefulness although ease and speed of operation can come to the fore as possible saving graces. In the case of Netvibes, there were quite worthy alternatives such as browsers whose Favorites feature quite easily allowed simple compilation of sites. Compare different tools to be used by students before making a final choice.
I found that my students were simply not interested in following news, cultural or other, on a daily basis. Several tried to integrate personal interest sites, such as sites for popular music groups, into the exercise rather than general interest sources such as the CBC. To make things worse, the course was given at a time when there were simply not a lot of RSS feeds, and most of those available were related to general news sources rather than culture. In other words this tool was not a good match for my 17-25 year old student cohort. Ensure that the tool targets the students who will use it.

In Conclusion

  • The technological interests of my students tended towards communication functionalities rather than research;
  • A positive student reaction to a particular technology rests with its uniqueness and usefulness. The simple fact that it is technological is not enough;
  • There are always luddites who will be unhappy with an IT activity. Student motivation and the ultimate success of the activity can be better achieved by working on student perceptions before the actual introduction of the technology.

Let me end this cautionary tale with a note to myself and others. No matter how theoretically attractive and even logical a technological resource seems, never use it in a course without considering its suitability for the profile of students who ultimately will have to work with it.

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