By Doug Ward

Before you ban cellphones and laptops from your classroom, consider this: Students want to use those devices for learning and are looking to their instructors for guidance.

That’s one of the takeaway points of the latest study by the Educause Center for Analysis and Research on students and information technology. The center, known as ECAR, has conducted an annual survey of undergraduates since 2004, accumulating a wealth of data on students and technology. This year’s survey drew 113,000 responses from students at 251 colleges and universities.

Most of the key findings in this year’s study mesh with my own experiences with students. Among them:

PhotoDune
PhotoDune

Students value the social component of education. More than 40 percent of students have taken an online class, but most still prefer in-person classes that give them the opportunity to interact with instructors and fellow students. Older students who have jobs report a higher preference for online classes.

Students like classes that blend online and in-person components. They say that they not only prefer classes with a flipped, hybrid or blended approach but that they learn more in those classes.

Students want instructors to integrate technology into learning. Nearly three-fourths of respondents would like to have online access to recorded lectures, and slightly smaller percentages would like to see more use of learning management systems like Blackboard. They would also like to see more use of online collaboration tools.

Students’ ownership of technology is growing. Ninety percent of students own at least two Internet-capable devices, and 60 percent own three or more. This includes laptop computers (90 percent of students own one), smartphones (75 percent) and tablets or e-readers (48 percent). Students who own more technology are also more likely to see its potential for learning.

One of the most important points of the survey, I think, is that students want their instructors’ help in understanding how to use new software and new technology, and to use digital tools for learning. Not for texting. Not for watching YouTube videos. For learning.

Saying and doing don’t always go together, of course, and as the study points out, this is an ambiguous and often contentious issue. Students want to learn with technology, but most prefer to separate their social and academic lives. They value their privacy, and they express hesitation about software that tracks their academic work and gives them recommendations for course offerings. They also understand the distractions that technology can bring to the classroom, and many prefer to keep their phones stowed away. Others chafe at bans on technology in class, something that large percentages of instructors do, the survey says.

Despite the distractions that technology can bring, it is an integral part of students’ lives. It’s also an integral part of the learning equation. For instance, 60 percent or more of students say that technology helps them feel more connected to their college or university, and to their instructors. They also see it as important not only for their academic success but for their success in the workplace.

There’s no one size fits all approach to technology in the classroom, but it’s clear that we need to do a better job of harnessing the power of technology for what instructors and students say they want: more opportunities for learning.

Doug Ward is an associate professor of journalism and a fellow at the Center for Teaching Excellence. You can follow him on Twitter @kuediting.

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