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Copy, cut and paste: How does this shape what we know?

Research team: Elaine Khoo, Craig Hight, Rob Torrens, Bronwen Cowie (Research Mentor) and participating University of Waikato lecturers.

Project Dates: 2013 - 2014

Project Summaryccp

This research aimed to explore, examine and theorise how the notion of software literacy is understood, developed and applied in tertiary teaching-learning contexts, and the extent to which this understanding was useful when translated into new contexts of learning with and through software. We viewed this understanding as crucial and relevant to ensure all students and lecturers are better supported in teaching and learning processes that are mediated through, and focused on, software.

Why we did the research

Copy, cut and paste are functions naturalised and embedded across different software applications but are poorly understood as tools that shape our engagement with knowledge, culture and society in the 21st century. Most people develop proficiency with ubiquitous software packages informally through everyday engagement. Tertiary students are assumed to be able to translate this informally developed knowledge and skills into formal settings to successfully accomplish learning tasks and process. Emerging evidence internationally and locally indicate a dearth in this digital generation's basic academic literacy skills for successful learning despite their technological competency. This research is important to investigate how students acquire knowledge and skills to use software and the extent they are able to apply and extend these to successfully learn and act in formal tertiary learning contexts.

Software is not neutral.  It comes with social and cultural assumptions that afford particular actions while constraining others. The research team investigated the notion of 'software literacy', how it develops and impacts on the teaching, learning and student experience of knowledge generation, communication, critique and use in engineering and media studies.

The research aim was to understand:

1. To what extent and how student software literacy developed and impacted on the teaching and learning of discipline specific software in formal tertiary teaching settings.

The subsidiary underpinning research questions for this were:

  1. Are lecturers aware of the implications of the affordances of the software they are using, specifically, in regards to using PowerPoint?
  2. Are students aware of the implications of the affordances of the software they are using, specifically, in regards to using PowerPoint?

2. How, and in what ways do lecturers model attention to, and use of, different aspects of software affordance in a course which utilises discipline specific software?

3. What software literacy did students consider they learnt as part of the case study tertiary course(s).

For the purposes of the research we defined software literacy as the expertise involved in selecting, using and critiquing the software when this is used to achieve particular goals. We hypothesised that there exists three progressive tiers of development towards software literacy.

How we did the research

A qualitative interpretive methodology was adopted in this study to frame the collection and analysis of data because it allowed for careful attention to lecturer and student perspectives.

Case studies were developed for two different disciplines (Engineering and Media Studies) based around collaboration with lecturers who were keen to examine the notion of software literacy. Both cases began with a focus on a generic software, PowerPoint, and move to focus on the teaching and learning of commonplace discipline specific software—Final Cut Pro and Adobe Creative Suite (media editing applications) in Media Studies, and, Solidworks (a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software) in Engineering.

What we found ccp-projetc-photo

1. The extent and how student software literacy develops

  • A majority of incoming students consider themselves early or quite early adopters of new technologies and are comfortable in engaging with new technologies.
  • Although regular attendance at formal labs is part of student coursework for both disciplines, informal learning strategies were regularly used to supplement formal lecturer-led sessions (trial-and-error, googling, talking to peers).
  • Students in general were familiar with PowerPoint and their disciplinary specific software and could identify their key affordances and constraints. While students of both discipline were less likely to identify themselves as 'highly proficient' or 'expert' in using discipline specific at the completion of their course, most nevertheless reported confidence in being able to troubleshoot applications.
  • Very few students in both disciples  discussed how PowerPoint and their disciplinary speciic software shaped their disciplinary knowledge (a key part of software literacy).
  • The development of software literacy occurred at various rates across disciplines and was strongly shaped by lecturer teaching approaches, student expectations, and disciplinary assumptions about the need to achieve professional levels of software competency.

2. How and in what ways lecturers model attention to and use different affordances, in a disciplinespecific software

  • When teaching with PowerPoint, lecturers across both disciplines indicated they had a general understanding of PowerPoint's affordances and of best practice in its use. They could articulate a rationale for their own practices and the relevance of these to their discipline content knowledge. They adopted a range of presentation and performance strategies to go beyond the simple presentation of the points detailed on their PowerPoint slides. However this differed with regards to the teaching of disciplinary specific software across the two disciplines about the level of software literacy students needed to be a work-ready graduate. In Media Studies, one lecturer explained that he wanted his students to be able to critique a discipline-specific software (achieve tier 3 software literacy) in relation to other similar disciplinary software. In Engineering, different lecturers articulated the disciplinary assumption that the range of contexts and software applications that Engineering graduates would need to engage with is quite diverse and sufficiently complex such that students would be learning various disciplinary software throughout their careers. Hence a basic understanding and development of software literacy up to tier 2 of our software literacy model was viewed to be sufficient in preparing students to be lifelong learners of discipline-based software. These different disciplinary expectations and assumptions were played out in the teaching approach to disciplinary-specific software learning.

3. Student perception of the software literacies that they learnt as part of their tertiary coursework

  • Student evaluation of their ability to engage with disciplinary-specific software prior to and after completing a course indicates some gains in software literacy. These results suggest that the formal coursework focused on software learning helped to develop students' software literacy so that nearly all students reported a shift to at least tier 1 (basic ability). After completing a course, around half felt confident enough with the software that they could either troubleshoot problems, or apply the software to a wide range in tasks, suggesting a literacy level of 2 to 3.
  • Students regularly drew from informal learning strategies and networks to support their learning of discipline-specific software. Students drawing heavily from online sources such as YouTube, Google, and peers suggests they have well-developed an expertise in finding instructional material suited to 'their level' of understanding and style of learning.
  • Across both disciplines only a few students achieve tier 3 of our software literacy model. The few students who did achieve tier 3, highlighted the general ways their course software helped them consider aspects of disciplinary practice.

Who could this help?

  • Educators teaching software related courses
  • University staff development/support for lecturers teaching software
  • Students learning in software based courses
  • Software designers
  • Policymakers

Implications for teachers

  1. Our three tier software literacy model has value as a conceptual tool for practitioners in terms of understanding the role of troubleshooting as an important development stage in learning with and through software. Lecturers should not however assume student competency with software across contexts (e.g. informal to formal, from campus to workplace settings).
  2. We affirmed that software is not neutral and that a software application's affordances and constraints needs further consideration by students and by lecturers. Lecturers need to be aware of the implications of their choice and use of software and to discuss these and help students to develop critical awareness of how specific software can impact on their learning.
  3. Lecturers need to consider the situated nature of our investigation of disciplinary-specific software learning and although generalisation of the findings is limited we hope that by providing "rich descriptions" of the context and action readers will be able to draw insights from the study.
  4. While discipline-specific software is complex, multiple learning pathways exist for exploring the affordances of any particular software, both formal and informal. Students tend to prefer informal strategies as a supplementary to, and at times above, formal strategies. Lecturers can take advantage of students' informal repertoire of learning strategies and networks peers when designing courses.
  5. Although students perceived themselves to be competent and confident early adopters of technologies, very few were able to critique how the use of discipline-based software might shape their disciplinary knowledge. This challenges current assumptions that today's students as 'digital natives' have developed critical awareness simply through familiarity with, and regular use of software. Lecturers need to explicitly teach and model software critique if they wish to foster this capacity and/or make this possibility known to students.
  6. There is no single best approach (one size fits all) to teaching discipline-specific software due to the diversity, understanding, experience and skills of student cohorts. Lecturers adopting a range of teaching approaches (formal and informal) and being flexible to address diverse learning needs represents a crucial part of supporting and facilitating student learning.

Implications for policymakers

  1. Each discipline needs to examine how discipline-specific software teaching-and-learning is positioned in relation to local and general goals for curriculum and the kinds of software literacies expected of students as this has broader institutional implications related to the kinds of graduate profile and critical software literacy expected overall.
  2. A combination of software teaching environments where students encounter a range of competing software tools, could raise awareness of differences in affordances as part of learning a discipline- specific software.

Project outputs and publications

Khoo, E., Hight, C., Cowie, B., & Torrens, R. (2014). Copy, cut and paste: How does this shape what we know? AARE-NZARE 2014 Conference. Brisbane, Australia; 30 November – 4 December 2014. See http://aare-nzare2014.com.au/

Hight, C., Khoo, E., Cowie, B., & Torrens, R. (2014). Software literacies in the tertiary environment. In B. Hegarty, J. McDonald, & S.-K. Loke (Eds.), Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology: Proceedings ascilite 2014 (pp. 410-415). Dunedin, New Zealand. Available at http://ascilite.org/conferences/dunedin2014/files/concisepapers/65-Hight.pdf

Khoo, E., Hight, C., Torrens, R., & Duke, M. (2014). It runs slow and crashes often”: Exploring engineering students’ software literacy of a computer-aided design software. In A. Bainbridge-Smith, Z.T. Qi, & G. S. Gupta (Eds.), Proceedings of the 25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education (AAEE2014). Palmerston North, New Zealand: School of Engineering & Advanced Technology, Massey University. Available at http://www.aaee2014.org/page.php?17

Hight, C., Khoo, E., Cowie, B., & Torrens, R. (2014). Software literacies in the tertiary environment. In B. Hegarty, J. McDonald, & S.-K. Loke (Eds.), Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology (pp. 410-415). Proceedings ascilite 2014, Dunedin, New Zealand; 23-26th November 2014.

Khoo, E., Hight, C., Torrens, R., & Duke, M. (2014). “It runs slow and crashes often”: Exploring engineering students’ software literacy of a computer-aided design software. AAEE2014 Conference. Wellington, New Zealand; 8-10th December 2014.

Khoo, E., Hight, C., Cowie,B., Torrens. R., & Ferrarelli, L. (2014). Software literacy and student learning in the tertiary environment: PowerPoint and beyond. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, 18(1), 30–45.

Hight, C., Khoo, E., Cowie, B., &Torrens, R. Copy, cut and paste: How does this shape what we know? Presentation at the Tertiary Research in Progress Colloquium IV organised by Ako Aotearoa/ Teaching and Learning Research Initiative Tertiary Research in Progress Colloquium IV, Conference held at Wellington, New Zealand, 10 Jul 2014 - 11 Jul 2014. 2014. See http://akoaotearoa.ac.nz/ako-aotearoa/events/2014-tertiary-research-progress-colloquium-iv

Hight, C., Khoo, E., Cowie, C., & Torrens, R. (2014). Is software literacy reshaping the ‘digital divide’? Presentation at the “Media Literacy in Digital Age – Cultural, Economic and Political Perspective”. Conference held at Centre for Croatian Studies, Zagreb University, 06 Jun 2014 - 07 Jun 2014. See http://www.hrstud.unizg.hr/conference/media-literacy/program

Ferrarelli, L (2014). Copy, cut and Paste: How does this shape what we know? Poster presented at the Summer Research Scholarship End Function, University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ; 13th February 2014.

Hight, C., Khoo, E., Cowie, B. & Torrens, R. (December 2013). "The slides are part of the cake": PowerPoint, software literacy and tertiary education. In Electric Dreams: 30th ascilite Conference 2013 Proceedings (pp. 379-384). Sydney, NSW, Australia: Macquerie University. Available at http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/sydney13/program/proceedings.pdf

Khoo, E., Hight, C., Cowie, B., Torrens, R. & Ferrarelli, L. (May 2014). Software literacy and student learning in the tertiary environment: PowerPoint and beyond. Presented at the DEANZ 2014 (New Zealand Association of Open, Flexible, and Distance Learning) conference, Christchurch, New Zealand; 30th April-2nd May 2014.

Khoo, E., Hight, C., Cowie, B. &Torrens, R. (2014). Software literacy as part of pedagogy: How does PowerPoint shape what you do and does it matter? Presented at WCELfest2014, University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ; 14th February 2014.

Khoo, E., Hight, C., Torrens, R., & Cowie, B. (2013). Copy, cut and paste: How does this shape what we know? TLRI Research in Progress. Retrieved from http://www.tlri.org.nz/tlri-research/research-progress/post-school-sector/copy-cut-and-paste-how-does-shape-what-we-know or from the TLRI website http://www.tlri.org.nz/tlri-research/research-progress/post-school-sector/copy-cut-and-paste-how-does-shape-what-we-know

Khoo, E., Cowie, B., Hight, C., & Torrens, R. Copy, cut and paste: How does this shape what we know? Presentation at the Faculty of Education colloquim, University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ; 9th August 2013.

Khoo, E., Hight, C., Cowie, B., &Torrens, R. Copy, cut and paste: How does this shape what we know? Presentation at the Department of Media Studies seminar, University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ; 15th March 2013.

Funding

The project was funded through the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI).

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University of Waikato Research Institute scholarships: Applications are closed for 2015.