ECAR Survey Finds That Colleges Are Missing Technology Opportunities with Undergraduates

By Michelle Boule |

Last week, ECAR, the EDUCASE Center for Applied Research, released their most recent study on undergraduate students and technology. Some of the findings were quite astounding--a majority of the students own over a dozen technology devices--and some were common sense, like the finding that technology is not being used strategically in the academic lives of students. The report is only 35 pages, and its worth taking some time to look through. Nonetheless, here are some of the more interesting tidbits.

Students did not think their competency with core technology was sufficient and they wanted to learn more specialized technology skills.

This might be classified under the more you know the more you know you don’t know. It struck me that these students, who are connected all the time and own on average twelve technology devices, know that there is quite a lot they still need to learn. This is a golden opportunity for librarians to step forward and offer technology training tailored to meet the specific needs of our subject areas. Things that were mentioned specifically included eportfolios, audio and presentation tools, subject specific software, video creation, and programming languages.

Instructors are not using technology well and are missing opportunities to inspire and create responsive learning environments.

These findings here were heartbreaking to me, but not surprising:

  • Less than 25% of students think their institution uses technology effectively, frequently, and seamlessly.
  • Over 50% of students feel they know more about technology than their instructors.
  • 31% of students say that instructors require student help to get technology working in the classroom.

In the survey, students practically begged for something other than PowerPoint. One student said, “Something, anything, to make it more enjoyable to learn would be wonderful.” Instructors are using technology, but still using it to deliver lectures instead of integrating it into the learning process to enrich the experience. The survey found that even minimal technology in a lecture style class, when used to enhance learning, greatly increased a student’s positive perception of the class. We have to start thinking outside of the lecture box and start teaching in meaningful ways.

Fifty-seven percent of students use ebooks or etextbooks.

Read that line again: 57%. The national average for adult ereader ownership was only at 15% last month. I know use does not correlate to ereader ownership. There are a lot of ways to read ebooks, but 31% of students wanted instructors to use more ebooks. Librarians are tired of hearing about ebooks because professionally we do not know how to handle them, yet. While we are grappling with the what and how of ebooks, the demand is growing exponentially.

Access, effective use, and knowledge level of technology among students, instructors, and institutions is directly correlated to the Carnegie Classification of the institution.

This is one of the least surprising findings of the study, but it does expose the growing digital divide. Institutions granting Associate degrees offer less technology to their communities who in turn have a lower competency rate than students and instructors at four year colleges. Technology may be more pervasive and cheaper than ever before, but lower income students still own less technology and attend colleges with less access to technology than students in higher socioeconomic groups. The digital divide continues into our classrooms. Students who start out on the bottom of the scale become workers who have not been exposed to as much technology as their peers when they enter the workforce.

Students still find great value in face to face learning.

We should not underestimate what the ability to attend a class in person adds to the learning experience. Students responded that they preferred classes with both in person and online components. Classes taught solely online will never live up to the f2f standard until we learn to effectively inspire and create learning environments online. To do this, we have to stop treating online venues like lecture halls.

At the end of the report, ECAR includes some very good recommendations and comments about the responses in the survey. They point out that students went “out of their way” to add comments which indicated that they wanted more “unconventional uses of technology.” ECAR postulated that more students would ask for wider and more creative technology use, but the students have never seen this modeled in acdemia. Most students do not ask because they do not know what is possible.

As we all know, there are some great instructors who are striving to use technology in new ways, breaking out of the mold to create learning environments that inspire students to create and learn. They use Twitter to spark discussions in and out of class. They abandon Blackboard for WordPress. They give students the freedom to create their own content through media.

As librarians, we should support our instructors as they seek new ways of reaching students. We can do this by modeling good technology use in our libraries, offering training for instructors, and being a support network when they need it. For students, we can work with departments to create new training for students in subject specific technology areas and we can offer spaces for the training to happen. Many of our libraries have a wealth of technology knowledge in our staff. It is time we put it to good use.