“If you don't have it, you can't find it.” A close look at students' perceptions of using technology

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  • they felt, that is, their levels of confidence, pleasure orfrustration, and whether they would reveal unexpectedor surprising insights about the skills needed to accessinformation.

    In order to express what they knew tacitly, studentssometimes shaped a narrative to recount particular epi-sodes in their experiences. Schank (1990) writes thatstories digest experiences (p. 29). The students re-called ordinary moments in thinking about their use ofthe Web, and their stories and anecdotes supplied thedata in which I, then, sought meaning. By analyzing theirmusings on encounters with this technology, we may gainsome insight into how these students feel and what theythink about their experiences. This kind of insight andunderstanding may inform us about student users con-struction of the relations between using the Web, theoutcome of its use, and their own information problems(D. Raber, personal communication, October 17, 1997).If we believe that people make it [ the Net] work(Janes & Rosenfeld, 1996, p. 714), we must see howstudents make the Internet work for school and personalinterests. A supply of narratives may reveal some of theidiosyncratic and universal attitudes and skills which stu-dents acquire as they use new technologies. As I reflectedon and engaged with the students words, my resultingtext interprets the students thinking. The study, therefore,provides qualitative data for others to read first-personvoices from the schools, and one professionals response.Such a study may offer practitioners insight for listeningto the users of the new technologies, for the major pur-pose of library research must be focused on the questionof how libraries can intervene usefully in individualsense-making processes (Dervin, 1977, p. 29). Educa-tors and policy makers may need to add student voicesas an important element in thinking about users of thisand other technologies. As recipients, users, and leadersin using electronic resources for learning, students waysof being with technology may inspire us to think in freshways.

    If You Dont Have It, You Cant Find It. A Close Lookat Students Perceptions of Using Technology

    Jinx Stapleton WatsonSchool of Information Science, University of Tennessee, 804 Temple Court, Knoxville, TN 37996.E-mail: jinx-watson@utk.edu

    Rarely do adults ask students to reflect on their learning.This study looks closely at a sample of eighth-grade stu-dents perceptions about their experiences with technol-ogy, especially the use of the World Wide Web. Em-ploying a phenomenological methodology of both exam-ining a single student story and analyzing a collection ofstudent voices, several themes and questions emerge.Students personal attributes of self confidence, resil-ience, and openness to learning about the new technolo-gies, and their skills in reading the Web and managinginformation, may offer new questions for teachers andinformation professionals.

    Accustomed to gathering and reporting data quantita-tively and statistically to measure how much studentslearn, schools rarely listen to students talk and reflectionson what they know or how they learned it. Kuhlthau,Turock, George, & Belvin, (1990) remind us that, Inthe field of library and information studies, very little isknown about what goes on inside the user (p. 29). Thus,this qualitative study examines students perceptions oftheir experiences in using the Internet, especially theWorld Wide Web. As students continue to use electronicresources for their school work and their leisure interests,teachers, librarians, and information professionals needto know how young people make sense of their access toand retrieval of information. When information seekingis viewed as a process of construction, the users experi-ence becomes a critical component for analysis (Kuhl-thau, 1993a, p. 344). In order to get to know about somereal-life experiences, I invited a number of eighth-gradestudents to reflect about their personal experiences withtechnology. My major purpose was to gather informationfrom students about their own perceptions in using thenew technologies. Specifically, I wanted to know whatthey mean when they say that they use the World WideWeb as a new resource for their studies and leisure. Iwondered if they would disclose information about how

    q 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR INFORMATION SCIENCE. 49(11) :10241036, 1998 CCC 0002-8231/98/111024-13/ 8N56$$1234 07-27-98 12:35:14 jasba W: JASIS

  • participants to construct meaning of their own experience.Making meaning of ones experiences often conveys bothcognitive and affective qualities. That is, as one wrestleswith meaning, one cannot help but reveal how one feelsabout the issues, for, Meanings are constructs that peo-ple hold of themselves and their worlds (Belkin, 1990,p. 13). Affective information is not often offered explic-itly. Bruner (1957) reminds us that a basic cognitive taskis to go beyond the information given (p. 41). As aresult, I engaged in the interpretive task of examining thestudents words in order to construct my own knowledgeof the cognitive and affective qualities of these particularstudent users of the Internet. Therefore, as listener, aspractitioner, as researcher, I, too, engaged in constructingmeaning of the students meanings. Page (1997) suggeststhat when we have comprehended an authors account,we are obligated to offer our response to it . . . [and] weacknowledge our role in making its meaning (p. 146).

    The cognitive system for making meaning is basicallynarrative (Bruner, 1990). Therefore, phenomenological in-quiry elicits story as content, and offers narrative analysisas methodology to make sense of a key question. It offersthe researcher a process by which to reveal or uncoverelements in students thinking as they engage in the processof reflection through their stories. Because students soughtto make meaning of their experiences, and I sought to makemeaning of their narrative, I employ two uses of story inthis research: First, the collection of students experiencesin the form of anecdote or story, and second, the rhetoricaldevice for my writing as I come to some understanding ofthe students stories. The study represents my reading of thestudents transcribed interviews.

    The Interview

    With no predetermined hypothesis, I structured veryfew questions, listened carefully to the thread of the stu-dents talk, and allowed myself to be open to the themeswhich they, themselves, raised. As in a reference inter-view, the questioning process can be virtually content-free . . . and the respondent provides the contenttheunique perceptions (Dervin, Jacobson, & Nilan, 1982,p. 429). I offered one umbrella question, What do youmean when you say you use technology? I followed upwith a second and third question when necessary,Teachers tell me that your classroom has many comput-ers. What does it mean to you to tell people that you usethe computer? And, Tell me about using the Internetand the World Wide Web. I interjected additional ques-tions only to probe, such as, How did you know howto do that? How did you feel when that happened?Tell me more about what happened then. Studentsgave me permission to tape record their statements. I tookvery few notes in longhand and used none of my ownnotes as data.

    The interviews took place in a small conference roomin the school media center. Students recognized their sur-

    Background

    Five years ago, the Tennessee State Department ofEducations initiative in technology funded public schoolsfor the purpose of purchasing hardware and software forindividual classrooms. In 1992, Tennessee school districtsreceived the first of their state funding from the BasicEducation Plan (B.E.P.) to develop twenty-first centuryclassrooms (Tennessee Code Annotated 493-351). Thelegislation supported the purchase of both hardware andsoftware, with flexibility for local administrators andteachers to make selections. During their first year, thedistrict of Maplewood (names of town, teachers, and stu-dents have been changed for purposes of this study) desig-nated all fifth grades as twenty-first century class-rooms. Each fifth-grade classroom in the district receivedfive computers, including one for the teachers use. Eachyear since then, the district designated the subsequentgrade as recipient of the state seed money. As a result,in the school year 19961997, students in the originaltwenty-first century fifth-grade classroom, foundthemselves in the eighth grade, their fourth twenty-firstcentury classroom.

    In Maplewood, these technology classrooms includedfour student computers with CD-ROM drives, which werenetworked to a teacher computer; one networked printer,a laser-disc player, a videocassette recorder; Internet con-nectivity and, in some instances, scanners and a digitalcamera. Authoring and multimedia presentation softwarewere included.

    In the fall of 1996, many Maplewood district eighthgraders entered their 4th year with technology in the class-room. For the most part, they encountered eighth-gradeteachers receiving their 1st year of training in this technol-ogy. (The phenomenon of novice teachers and more ex-pert students is not the focus of this study. Nevertheless,it raises interesting questions as students become moreand more computer literate, and as adults continue toacquire their first skills in using technology. Certainly,questions of expertise connote issues of roles, power, andstatus. And indeed, some of these themes emerged in thisstudy.) The purpose of this study was to reveal the stu-dents own experience and their reflections on using thetechnology as a tool and resource.

    Methodology

    Regarding research methodologies, Mellon (1990)suggests that methods of naturalistic inquiry should beselected where in-depth understanding of human actionsis the primary focus (p. 20). I wondered about studentse