Day 24: Paper vs. Plastic (revisited)

16 10 2009

Before letting my students work on their team projects, I collected some more data. Once again I was trying to understand how they view the connected learning initiative, the various technologies that go with it, and the advantages/disadvantages it brings to the game.

In my first round of data collection (done more than a month ago) I  found that the students strongly preferred taking their quizzes on the iPhone; this preference surprised me  because we faced so many problems with the technology early-on. Of course the challenge in assessing this sort of data is to determine not just what was said, but also why respondents said it. So my objective in this survey was to learn whether their strong preference for electronic quizzing was inherently about the mode of delivery, or whether  it was more about feedback timing; after all, a printed quiz takes at least a day to turn around (often longer) while the electronic version provides immediate feedback.

To test this preference I gave the students a series of scales dealing with their likes & dislikes. The first item looked like this:

electronic quiz (immediate feedback) <———————————-> paper quiz (3 day feedback)

Using a 5 point scale the students could indicate their preference, and not surprisingly, a large majority chose the electronic format (this was consistent with our previous survey results). Now, in order to split off the format and the feedback, I changed the options slightly:

electronic quiz (3 day feedback) <————————————> paper quiz (3 day feedback)

Not surpringly, the preference shifted somewhat toward paper, since we removed the major feedback advantage; however the opinion remained strongly in favor of electronic. For the final item I actally reversed feedback as a differentiating factor,  proposing a situation in which paper quizzes could be graded more quickly:

electronic quiz (3 day feedback) <———————————-> paper quiz (immediate feedback)

Once again we saw a shift away from electronic, however the preference remained skewed that direction, despite the feedback disadvantage now present.

Conclusion? For whatever reason, a majority of students prefer electronic quizzes even if the feedback advantage is removed or actually reversed. As I argue elsewhere, I suspect this may be a generational shift, in which the current bias toward reading on paper vanishes in favor of a bias toward screen-reading.

In an additional footnote, I presented these findings to a diverse group of faculty on campus, and was approached afterward by a student who was present with her father. She pointed out that while this bias toward electronic delivery may exist in the College of Business Administration, she suspects that the bias toward paper will die much more slowly in her own area of studies (the liberal arts). While I tend to think that the technology preference is more widespread than that, she raises an interesting question, one which merits further study.

Maybe next semester…

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