Thursday, 24 October 2013

Undergraduate Uni Tech Preferences: Part 1

The EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2013 report was published in September. I have read through the report and analyzed what I see as the significant points to inform an evidence based approach to learning technology implementation. I’ll summarize these in a short series of blog posts.


The 2013 ECAR technology survey was sent to  approximately 1.6 million students at 251 college / university sites across 13 countries. There were 113,035 respondents. Throughout the report statistics were broken down by country: U.S.A., Canada, and other countries.

It is a longitudinal study that helps to recognise trends in undergraduate technology use in their studies.  "Reviewing 10 years of study shows how students are generally slow to adapt to new technologies and practices, especially where it relates to their academics." p3

 Findings from the study have been grouped into four main themes this year.
  1. Students' relationship with technology is complex - they recognise its value but still need guidance when it comes to better using it for academic study.
  2. Students prefer blended learning environments while beginning to experiment with MOOCs.
  3. Students are ready to use their mobile devices more for academic purposes, and they look to institutions and instructors for opportunities and encouragement to do so.
  4. Students value their privacy, and using technology to connect with them has its limits.


Theme 1: Students' relationship with technology is complex - they recognise its value but still need guidance when it comes to better using it for their academic studies

Students have a tendency to be circumspect in the ways they integrate technology into their academic lives. This trend has persisted over several years. Educational technology need not be flashy or greatly innovative for students to appreciate it. They appreciate the Content Management System (CMS) / Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), asynchronous discussions, and online course contact. About 75% of undergraduate students believed that their academic outcomes were aided by technology. A similar proportion believed that technology better prepared them for future education. However, only around the 60% mark agreed that the technology used in their course prepared them for the requirement of the workplace post graduation. Those students who had an increased interest in being better trained or skilled in the use of technology had higher expectations for their preparedness in the workplace.

"Students are generally confident in their preparedness to use technology for coursework, but those who are interested in more technical training favor in-class guidance over separate training options." p10

Students who responded by saying that it was very or extremely important to be better trained and more skilled in using available technologies to learn, study, or complete coursework were asked to give their preferences on how to receive such training. The largest proportion of such students would prefer training to be provided by their course instructors, rather than dedicated courses provided by institutional technology staff or indeed by their student peers. They much prefer a face-to-face mode of delivery above online training. And the majority prefer it to be designed like or included into traditional courses. A reasonable proportion would also accept this training designed as on-demand web resources. Far fewer would like on-demand help desk support designed training. For length of training course, short-term format received the highest single response count. However, as with much of the report's findings the combination choice highest selection was for full-length training opportunities from their instructors as part of their course. These findings suggest that students aren't very interested in receiving separate "digital literacy" courses, or for that matter even on-demand web resources or help desk resources.

"Basic technology resources, such as the institution's website and the CMS/VLE, are the most pervasive and most valued." p11

The most used and what students considered the most important technologies came out as the institutional website, the CMS/VLE, and the institution's library website. Though they have all shown a slight decline in usage from the previous year. E-portfolios has also levelled off at about the 50% mark.  

Reading into the survey results, perhaps the areas of technologies with greatest potential over the next couple of years are:
  • E-books or e-textbooks
  • Open educational resources (OERs)
  • Simulations or educational games.

These are deemed to be in the experimental stage for most students currently.

About 70% of students said that they had used freely available course content / OERs over the previous year though for most their usage was only nominal. Only about 10% said that they used OERs all the time, although it is a higher value for older students. An open ended response question asked how students could recommend to their instructors how they could incorporate freely available course materials; they suggested using them as learning aids, as supplemental information sources, and to give different perspectives on a topic. This, they believed, added value by providing more examples and enabling the revisiting of complex or key points outside the lecture. The majority of those who responded could identify resources or activities that related to their academic objectives. Khan Academy was often cited as used by students for supplementary OER purposes.  " . . . it's nice to listen to other styles of teaching like Khan Academy." p12

E-books, e-portfolios, and simulations or educational games are being "experimented" with by students. Generally, they have only been used within one course. However, there was also a substantial minority for each of these technologies that hadn't used them at all. The report highlighted that it should be noted from the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service (CDS) for 2012 many institutions have sparsely deployed some of these technologies and far less have broadly deployed them.

Theme 2 will appear in the next blogpost in this series.

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