Frustration Vaccination?: Inoculation Theory and Digital Learning

Frustration Vaccination?: Inoculation Theory and Digital Learning

Josh Compton (Dartmouth College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-347-8.ch004

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Digital learning can be a healthy part of Net Generational students’ education regimens; projects that incorporate collaborative engagements with peers and with technology reflect a dynamic approach to knowledge (see Barnes, Marateo, & Ferris, 2007, for a review). Students can learn from creating original public service videos to educate and advocate, from recording pod-casts that share their literary analyses with a wider audience, from creating online how-to-guides for scientific experiments, and from consulting and analyzing digital resources to prepare speeches that help address pressing global problems. Technology and learning objectives can combine in ways that are dynamic and effective, with digital learning as part of a robust, nourishing curriculum.

We should also consider, however, the other side of the medical analogy: While digital learning can be part of a healthy education regimen, digital learning also risks unique complications and side effects. For one thing, incorporating technology into classroom projects introduces potential problems with technology, from faulty equipment to confusing instructions, and these problems can distract from key learning goals and erode students’ (and teachers’) enthusiasm. Frustrations with technology become frustrations with projects, and frustrations with projects become frustrations with failing to meet learning objectives.

The analogy to medical treatment can be extended further: Digital learning can have adverse side effects, as digital learning processes can reinforce potentially unhealthy learning practices. Without thoughtful preparation and consideration, technology can move students toward “the habits of instant gratification and shallow thinking” (Barnes, Marateo, & Ferris, 2007, para. 20). Efficiency of information retrieval from technology can overshadow other learning processes that are more deliberate and careful. In pursuit of pragmatic benefits, pedagogical objectives can be slighted.

Fortunately, the medical analogy allows us to consider a remedy: inoculation. The premise of this chapter is that inoculation theory—a theory of resistance to influence (see McGuire, 1964; Compton & Pfau, 2005)—may provide an antidote to help teachers address complications and negative side effects of digital learning projects. Inoculation theory offers guidance as we consider best teaching practices using digital learning projects with Net Generational students.

Inoculation theory may offer benefits both practical and heuristic. When guiding discussions with students about digital learning projects, inoculation theory impacts what students are thinking about during digital learning projects and also how they are thinking about projects. Inoculation may help reflect something Barnes, Marateo, and Ferris (2007) observed of computer and digital technology: ways “to teach Net Geners not just what to learn but how to learn” (para. 20). Indeed, we may find that inoculation theory secures some of the pragmatic benefits of digital learning (e.g., efficiency) while simultaneously protecting pedagogical aims (e.g., thinking more critically). Inoculation helps prepare students to meet expected challenges during digital learning projects and, in the process, models a more robust, more deliberate way of thinking.

The case for inoculation theory-based discussions about digital learning classroom projects with Net Generational students is built on three ideas explored in this chapter: (1) Even if teachers and students have favorable attitudes toward and beliefs about digital learning projects (see Liaw, Huang, & Chen, 2007), such positions can be eroded by technology problems and other frustrations; (2) Some complications can be preempted, or at least lessened, by using fundamental components of inoculation theory to raise and refute challenges before they occur; and (3) Inoculating against specific complications, like frustration with technology problems, also fosters more nuanced ways of thinking.

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