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 (https://blogs.libraries.iub.edu/redux/ 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 (https://blogs.libraries.iub.edu/ 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 http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERS1208/ERS1208.pdf

Undergrads and Information Tech: Part 2

Remember the olden days when families had a communal computer—a grayish behemoth perched in some corner of the living room—and a person really had to fight to get a chance to play a game of solitaire, practice some typing with Mavis Beacon, or dial up to do some web surfing with the help of AltaVista?  Okay, maybe that was just my adolescence.  I admit I am in no way a techie.  I’m not an early adopter.  But, since those early days, I’ve burned through several desktops and laptops, of various brands and with various attendant apps.  Just a few months ago, I convinced myself I couldn’t live without a Google Nexus 7.  Truly, though, this tablet often makes my grad-school experience just a little less trying.  As a perpetual college student since about 2003—with a couple years spent teaching high school—I understand intimately the intersection of technology and instruction.  When it comes to technology, students will always have something newer, something different, and they will be using it for academic purposes.

The second theme (you can read about the first theme here, in my previous blog post: https://blogs.libraries.iub.edu/redux/2012/10/10/undergrads-and-information-tech-part-1/) of the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology addresses this point: The technologies already used by students are diverse and prolific, especially in regard to mobile devices.  “Nearly all students own a laptop, and more students in 2012 than in previous years own handheld mobile device such as tablets, smartphones, and e-readers.  There is diversity in brands and operating systems among these devices, and consequently there is a growing need for device neutrality of apps designed for these mobile technologies” (12).  If there ever was a time that all students owned and used the same technologies, it has passed.  While I’m downloading my course readings to my Nexus, my classmates are downloading to Kindle Fires and iPads and everything else.  Educators must embrace and prepare for such technological diversity among users.

Here’s how the device ownership and use breaks down:

Point 1: Laptops are the most popular device, with 9 out of 10 students owning one.  Of these laptop owners, 76% use PCs and 21% use Macs.  Interestingly, younger students and those enrolled at 4-year colleges prefer Macs, and community-college students are less likely than their four-year counterparts to own any laptop (13).

Point 2: Tablet and e-reader ownership is on the rise.  Fifteen percent of respondents own a tablet and 12% own an e-reader.  Tablet users prefer iPads (57%) to Android devices (25%), and e-reader owners prefer Kindles (59%) to Nooks (24%).  But whether the student owns a tablet or an e-reader, make no mistake: she/he is most likely going to use the device for some academic purpose; 67% of tablet owners and 47% of e-reader owners responded they use their devices in this way (14).

Point 3: Smartphones are de rigeur when it comes to mobile devices.  Smartphone ownership grew from 55% in 2011 to 62% in 2012.  Along with the rise in ownership comes a rise in the number of these students who use their phones for things other than, say, texting or taking Instagram pics of their lunch.  “Nearly twice as many [respondents] in 2012 (67%) than in 2011 (37%) reported using their smartphone for academic purposes” (14).  This is a trend educators would be wise to keep in mind when considering how best to deliver content.

So, what do students do with all these mobile devices? 

Point 4: In this relatively early stage in the integration of education and mobile computing, emphasis is still very much on consumption rather than production.  That is, a student will readily and easily use her/his tablet to download course materials, read articles, search for content, check grades, and correspond with instructors and fellow students.  Fortunately, respondents seem satisfied with their learning institutions’ ability to deliver for consumptive purposes.  Seventy-three percent are happy with reportage of academic progress (i.e., grades); 70% with delivery of course content (17).

There remains, however, a vast and untouched frontier when it comes to mobile devices and production.  Writing papers and producing other academic work is still cumbersome, if not impossible, on some devices or with some platforms.  The study offers this important caveat: “Unless and until tablets become easier to use for producing required coursework, they will remain somewhat marginal in the academic world” (16).  While use of mobile devices for academic purposes will probably continue to grow, a question of further study might ask to what end?

Citation: Dahlstrom, E. (2012, September).  ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology.  Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERS1208/ERS1208.pdf

Undergrads and Information Tech: Part 1

The other day, on my way up to DUX, I shared the elevator with a couple undergrads who were heading to the 5th-floor group-study lab.  It’s impossible not to eavesdrop on others’ elevator conversations, even when I pretend to be deeply absorbed in some highly important text message I’m composing or in staring at my own, blurry, reflection in the elevator’s interior metal doors.  The young women were complaining about a class they’re taking whose instructor relies too heavily—in their estimation—on online, rather than traditional face-to-face, instruction.  The quizzes, tests, assignments, and lectures are conducted mostly online, they lamented, feeling this detrimental to both their engagement and success with the material.  This is just anecdotal, of course, but it speaks to a real concern: the ways in which technology is integrated into the learning environment impact all aspects of students’ academic performance.

Enter the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, an annual survey (conducted by EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, a nonprofit association of IT professionals interested in technology’s role in higher education) that seeks to “create a profile of undergraduate students’ ownership and use of technology for academics, to identify ways that technology helps them achieve their academic outcomes, and to assess their perceptions of how well institutions and instructors use technology to enhance the academic experience” (p. 4).  Because adopting new technologies and developing curriculum demands a major investment of time, energy, and money, the study’s secondary objective is to encourage institutions to use the collected data to make informed decisions when planning for technology.

The size of ECAR’s study sample is in no way slim; in 2012, it surveyed approximately 100,000 students from 195 academic institutions (including IUB), hoping both to identify trends in and discover topical and emerging issues related to students’ technology use.  The full report is worth reading; it delves into demographics data (e.g., users’ perceptions and behaviors broken down by sex, race, enrollment status, etc.) that space limitations won’t allow me to highlight here.  This post, though, will outline some of the more salient points, spread across what researchers identified as four recurrent themes.  I will cover the first theme here, and the other three in subsequent posts.

Theme 1: Students expect and value blended learning environments.

  • Point 1: It’s no surprise that today’s undergrads, seemingly born Internet-connected and with cell phone in hand, say educational environments that include both an online and a traditional classroom component best suit their learning styles and needs.  Seventy percent surveyed say it is in these mixed-modality settings that they can be most successful.  Three quarters of students surveyed have taken a course with some online component, and classes that combine both traditional and nontraditional modalities are especially attractive to nontraditional students; the study reveals that “more students age 25 or greater (older students) than younger students preferred classes with online components” (p. 7).
  • Point 2: The number of courses offered completely online is growing as well.  “In fact, twice as many students are taking online courses in 2012 (31%) than in 2008 (15%)” (p. 8).  With more online course offerings, students often have greater access to educational opportunities.  Many students surveyed take classes concurrently at more than one institution or take a combination of campus- and online-based classes.
  • Point 3: They expect their instructors to step up to the plate and use technology in a way that is engaging and academically supportive.  One particularly interesting statistic reveals students’ satisfaction regarding this concern: “More students than ever gave positive marks for their instructors’ use of technology.  Two years ago, less than half (47%) reported that most or almost all of their instructors effectively use technology to advance students’ academic success, whereas this year more than two-thirds (68%) said that is the case” (p. 9).
  • Point 4: Students’ expanding use of portable computing devices and social-networking leads to the assumption they should be able to connect with their learning institution and instructors via similar channels.  A majority of students (67%) use things like their school’s website, online tutoring sessions, and email to feel connected (p. 10).
  • Point 5: Students would like to see an increase in instructors using Open Educational Resources (OERs) and Game-Based Learning.  These numbers have rocketed in just a year.  Respondents desiring the inclusion of freely available content from OERs to support their learning grew from just 19% in 2011 to 57% in 2012.  Similarly, those wishing simulations and learning games would become a regular part of the classroom grew from 15% in 2011 to 55% in 2012 (p. 12).

Although students expect technology to be integrated into their learning environment, they also expect it to be used effectively.  The young students I encountered in the elevator, sighing exasperatedly as they commiserated over the unhelpful inclusion of technology in their class, are testament to this.  Further parts of the ECAR study, which I will discuss in upcoming posts, look at the varied technological devices, platforms, and tools students are using, as well as the ways in which they want to use them when it comes to education.

Citation: Dahlstrom, E. (2012, September).  ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology.  Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERS1208/ERS1208.pdf