On not putting lecture notes on beer mats

December 2006

I was having a conversation with a friend today about how it's easy to make assumptions about the computer literacy or digital nativeness of certain demographics without any real evidence. I expressed my frustration with the similar assumption that because students use MySpace or mobile phones all the time then we should be also be using those same tools in our educational interactions with them in order to engage them.

My friend came up with analogy that I really liked - that saying we should use mobile phones for learning is a bit like saying we should put lecture notes on beer mats.

I think pubs make a good comparison for MySpace too - how would you have felt when you were a student if you were having a drink in your favourite pub with your friends and one of your lecturers walked in and insisted that you discuss the subject you were studying with them there? Is that what you would really want? Similarly saying that students want to use the blogs they already have outside their studies for everything related to their course is a bit like saying that because someone goes to the student union bar every evening that they want all their lectures to happen there too.

It doesn't mean that educational things can't be fostered in pubs or similar environments. When I was a student my tutors would occasionally give us tutorials in the local pub in fact. I go to a reading group each month in a café, I once regularly attended a go club that met in a pub and I've been to plenty of seminars that have been followed by a trip to a place to consume alcohol. I may even have learned something from all the pub quizzes I've been to over the years. But you need to be careful how you go about things so that you're not being intrusive of people's social space and environments like MySpace are social spaces not just software tools.