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Discovery & User Experience

Undergrads and Information Tech: Part 3

During my time as an undergrad, majoring in secondary education, one classroom in the education department of my small liberal arts college was outfitted with a shiny new SMARTBoard.  Its functions were highlighted briefly in an introductory education-technology course, and never mentioned again.  Little surprise, then, that I never once witnessed that piece of technology being used in lectures by instructors or in assignments by students.  At that time, the SMARTBoard was the new thing everyone wanted.  How can we be training teachers and not have a SMARTBoard for them to use? was, I imagine, the talking point that helped influence its purchase.  But without adequate training for faculty and students, it just gathered dust, while more classic technologies, like the overhead projector, remained popular.  Sadly, I still don’t really know how to operate a SMARTBoard, except in the most rudimentary ways, and never used one in my lessons while teaching.  While we know that technology is an integral part of the academic experience, it is important to be aware of trends not only in students’ technology needs but also in their skills.

The third theme explored by the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology is students’ belief that the use of technology in education impacts their future success.  They “generally agree that technology helps them achieve their academic outcomes (75%), prepares them for future educational plans (74%), and prepares them for the workforce” (19).  But just because a student might, in his or her nonacademic life, covet, seek out, and consume the newest, coolest technologies, this does not mean he or she finds early adoption and proliferation of educational technologies all that useful.  Which leads us to Point 1: Students value skill development in regard to current technologies more than they value simply being exposed to the so-called newest and best technologies (19).

This is not to say old stuff is better.  Today’s students truly rely on technology.  ECAR respondents list flash drives (65%), laptops (85%), and printers (84%) as essential to their academic success (19-24).  As summarized in the second post in this series ( 2012/11/07/ undergrads-and-information-tech-part-2/), mobile devices are not going away, and it is a wise institution that works to fit them into the curriculum in engaging and pragmatic ways.  Yet students’ needs really aren’t so difficult to provide for when it comes to technology.  Interestingly, students said they want their instructors to employ “cutting-edge” technologies in the classroom, but when asked to define these technologies, those they listed “were neither new nor cutting edge by industry standards . . . such as smartboards, recorded lectures, and digital course materials” (24).

Point 2: “Students report that basic technologies have the greatest impact on their success . . . with technologies such as the institution’s library website and the course or learning management system being among the resources [they] use most” (19).  These are technologies students expect to use when they enter college, and they expect their instructors to make good use of them as well.  Increasingly, they also expect to use resources such as e-books and citation-management tools (e.g.,  OneNote and Zotero).  The use of e-books rose from 24% of respondents in 2010 to 70% in 2012, and the use of citation tools rose from 17% to 80 percent.  The biggest jump in technology use was seen in the use of e-portfolios, with 52% of respondents reporting using them—seven times the number (7%) using them in 2010 (21).  Looking at the rise in popularity of these types of resources, it is important to remember this point from the first post in this series ( redux/2012/10/10/undergrads-and-information-tech-part-1/): the growing emphasis in educational technology should be not on individual devices (e.g., tablet vs. laptop) but on device-neutral applications.  If, for instance, every student finds e-books essential to academic success, such resources should be accessible to all, no matter the platforms or devices being used.

I appreciate that my undergraduate experience included at least a flirtation with what, at the time, were new instructional technologies.  But, the technologies that affected my day-to-day life as a student are many of those noted in the ECAR study.  I was instructed in the use of online databases and indexes and grew reliant on them.  A flash drive, printer, and laptop were certainly essential tools (they are still).  Had I received more instruction in the use of that SMARTBoard, I might have assimilated it, too, into my circle of necessary technology.  The study reveals students might desire newer, better tools in the classroom, but, when it comes down to it, they need support for those technologies they already use and that they believe will have the greatest impact on their success, both in school and after graduation.

Citation: Dahlstrom, E. (2012, September).  ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology.  Retrieved from

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