Case Study: Life

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Life Span Case Study Project: An Analysis of How Computers Have Affected the Lives of Three Different Age Groups

This life span case study project interviewed three individuals from the following age ranges, representing a mother, father and child in the same family who all live together:

Interviewee No. 1: "Mary," age range middle and late childhood (age 12 years);

Interviewee No. 2: "Anne," age range early adulthood (age 35 years); and,

Interviewee No. 3: "Bill," age range middle adulthood (age 54 years).

All three interviewees were located by word-of-mouth requests to family members, neighbors and friends for suitable subjects until three individuals of appropriate age ranges were identified who agreed to participate in the study. The family containing an appropriate mix of ages was referred by a mutual friend an contacted initially by telephone to make introductions and arrangements for the interviews.

Approximately 15-20 minutes were spent with each interviewee during a telephonic interview with Mary (she was reluctant to participate otherwise) and face-to-face meetings with Anne and Bill that took place one after the other but separately in their home. Anne and Bill are married, with the marriage being Bill's third and Anne's second; both have children from previous marriages but Mary is their only child together. No compensation was paid to any of the interviewees in exchange for their participation in the study, although Mary was provided with a new Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as a token of appreciation for her participation and Anne and Bill received a gift certificate for a dinner for two at a fried-potato-skin-and-margarita restaurant of their choice.

The topic under consideration in these three generational interviews concerned the impact of technology in general and computers in particular on learning, and all three semi-structured interviews were guided by the questions at Appendix a. The life course developmental framework developed by Erikson and Piaget were used to help frame and interpret the context of the interviewees' responses.

Interview No. 1 -- "Mary," age 12-1/2 years:

When contacted by telephone, Mary had to be requested to speak up several times in order for her to be heard properly. Based on this, it was assumed that she was rather shy and reserved but Mary was assured that she could hang up at any time if she felt uncomfortable answering any of the interview questions. In response, Mary said she was just not used to talking to people on the telephone. When asked if she had an Internet-enabled computer of her own, Mary proudly proclaimed that she had "two of them," but "she only used one of them most of the time." Mary also noted that her family had high-speed Internet access which had made a big difference in the types and quality of the games she could play online.

When asked what she used her computer for most of the time, Mary said she used it for homework "sometimes," but mostly she played and chatted with her friends on a Web site called "Gaia.com." Mary reported that she had owned her "best computer" since last Christmas when she had received it as a present from her parents for her consistent straight a report cards; however, this was Mary's second personal computer, having receiving a Dell laptop the previous Christmas from her parents as well.

When asked approximately how much time she spent on playing on Gaia.com and learning activities, Mary hesitated for some time before replying, "I think I spend about 3 or 4 hours a day online in Gaia. Sometimes I get up before I go to school to check in with my friends." Mary was asked if there were any learning activities on Gaia.com, and she replied there might be a few, but she was only interested in the chat forums and game rooms. She did proudly emphasize, though, that she had taught herself HTML so she could help others create their own pages in Gaia.

When she was asked what she thought computers would look like in 10 years and 20 years for now, Mary did not hesitate but said they would probably look about the same, only smaller maybe. Mary also said she intended to keep using her computer for school-related activities in the future for projects such as the upcoming science fair where she used her computer last year to create text and graphics for her display board that helped her and her partner win second place and a $5.00 prize (the topic was "The Stink that Makes You Think," which was an analysis of how smells trigger memories).

After Mary was asked if she thought there should be computers in every public school classroom, she said she was not sure. Mary attends a Catholic school, although she and her parents are not Catholic, and she said they had a few computers in some of their classrooms but they were not as good as the one she had at home (her "best computer"). When she was asked if the government should furnish computers and Internet access to economically disadvantaged students to help stay in school and get good grades, Mary said, "Sure, why not?"

Finally, when she was asked what she thought was the most important thing that computers have done for humans, Mary did not hesitate in replying, "They play cool games. They also let me talk with my friends whenever I want and I meet people from all over the world. I can find information on anything I want whenever I want. I can't imagine what life must have been like for my dad and mom. My dad said he remembers black-and-white TV and just three stations. God, he's old."

Interview No. 2 - "Anne" (age 35 years):

Anne and Bill graciously allowed me to visit them in their home for the purposes of their interviews which took place in the family's dining room (coffee and cookies were provided by Anne). Anne is a "stay-at-home mom." Armed only with a clipboard containing an outline of the semi-structured interview questions (see Appendix a) and pencils, this researcher asked Anne if she had an Internet-enabled computer of her own, and she replied that she and Bill "shared" one in the spare bedroom. Like Mary's, this computer was also equipped with high-speed Internet access. When she was asked what she used the computer for most of the time, Anne responded that, "I used to just play stupid CD games like mah jongg and card games like spades online, but my daughter told me about YouTube.com and I've been having a lot of fun in there recently listening to my favorite music and watching my favorite videos anytime I want." Anne said they had owned this shared computer for just over 3 years and that it was their second computer (their first was an IBM 286 that still left a bad taste in their mouths, she said).

The only socializing that Anne reported being engaged in with her computer was chatting with other players on occasion in her spades games online at MSN.Zone. Anne said she also used the computer sometimes to look things up when she had questions, or to find recipes that were missing from her cookbook. She also said she enjoyed reading the news but said it spoiled her enjoyment of the local newspaper because "all of the news was online the day before." Anne said that she had tried to use the computer to help her with her banking and other financial activities, but gave up after trying, unsuccessfully, to use Quicken for a week.

When Anne was asked what she thought computers would look like in 10 years and 20 years down the road, she thought for awhile before responding, "I guess they'll still need all the same stuff to work, but maybe they'll make 'em so they don't cost so much." Anne said she definitely planned on using their computer in the future for learning activities, and said her and her husband had used both of their previous computers to help their daughter learn. They had also purchased every CD-ROM they could find such as the Reading Rabbit series and Math Wizard, but said Mary had always enjoyed books more than these applications.

When she was asked if she thought there should be computers in every public school classroom, Anne said she believed all students should have computer access in the classroom. Anne became a bit more animated and emphatic when she was asked if she thought the government should furnish computers and Internet access to economically disadvantaged students to help them remain academically competitive. She stated in no uncertain terms: "We already pay taxes to fund the public schools and still have to pay tuition and all kinds of fees to send our daughter to the best private school we can afford. Why should we have to pay for stuff for public school students that our own daughter doesn't even have in school?"

Finally, when she was asked what the most important thing computers have done for… [END OF PREVIEW]

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