Desire unmatched by skills equals disempowerment for computing students

Posted on July 20, 2010


CITRENZ: Dobrila Lopez
At the CITRENZ conference last week Dobrila and Mike Lopez presented an interesting paper on sustainability worldviews of incoming students at Manukau Institute of Technology (pdf).

Their paper aimed to replicate our study of Otago Polytechnic students (summarised in post “Can’t rely on geeks” here, from original paper). This replication aimed to cement the generalisability of the original work and to contribute to the emerging body of knowledge about sustainability perceptions and values of incoming students.

The Lopezes used the same tool we did: a combination of the NEP, Fiien’s Young Persons survey, and personal meaning maps.  They surveyed 116 computing students during orientation.   The MIT sample has a wide ethic mix:  Pakeha 29%, Maori 13, Pasifika 31% Asian 17%.

Mostly the findings replicate the Otago cohort.  Students overall were slightly pro-ecological.  At MIT older students were more proecological.   Unlike Otago, the MIT female students were not more pro-ecological than males (although this may be conflated with a discipline effect at Otago).

MIT students priorities were similar to those from Otago.  “Protecting the environment” ranked highest.   “Concern for unemployment” was higher at MIT (an area of higher unemployment than Dunedin, but also the Otago survey was before economic recession).

Students were asked to rate their desire to be involved in improving the environment/community, and to self assess whether they had the skills and knowledge to bring about change.   The MIT participants expressed a stronger desire to be involved than their Otago counterparts.

The Lopezes combined these values to form a new variable “empowerment”.  I think this is quite exciting.   Negative values they describe as  disempowerment – a desire to be involved in positive change but without the necessary skills and knowledge to achieve it.  The Lopezes were able to demonstrate significant disempowerment in their students group.

participants had an overall perception of disempowerment; their desire for change was not matched by a belief that they had the necessary skills and knowledge to bring about change, even in a small way

This disempowerment varied according to ethnicity – it is greater for Maori, Pasifika and Asian groups than for NZ/Europeans and other groups.

Overall the findings a of Lopez and Lopez are consistent with those of Mann and Smith.  This suggests that the worldviews presented may apply to other students starting their educational journey in computing qualifications.