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Technology in the College Classroom

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College campuses are overflowing with students packing Blackberries, iPods, laptops, and cell phones. College students are obsessed with the latest technology – whatever it may be. In today’s college classrooms, the latest technology captures an audience.

When it comes to technology, college students are hard-core consumers. 86.1% of college students have a cell phone, with 12% owning a smart phone with internet access. 83.1% of college students have some sort of leisure device – music, video, or game devices. When it comes to computers, 73.7% of college students have laptops.

College students certainly have the necessary equipment, but what do they do with it? Students utilize the internet a great deal. 44% of students surveyed use the internet 15 hours or less a week. Instant messaging (IM) and social networking websites are often used to communicate. 58.9% use IM on a daily basis and 69.3% visit social networking websites (MySpace, Facebook, etc.) on a daily basis. Technology is deeply imbedded in the daily life of most college students.

It’s no surprise that information technology is a major part of college life. Professors are making their course materials easily accessible to students by posting them on the Internet. Students are e-mailing their teachers to hand in assignments and obtain quick answers to questions while they study. Many universities are attracting students by offering entire programs and degrees over the Internet.

Overhead projectors and chalk boards will probably always be necessary, but new ways of using technology in the classroom are fast becoming the norm. Students are receptive to these new technologies. When asked about their willingness to adopt new technologies, 36% of students indicated they were innovators or early adopters of technology, 50.6% were mainstream adopters, and 13.5% considered themselves late adopters.

A student’s major does influence the amount and kind of technology they adopt. Engineering students use technology the most. They tend to use spreadsheets and graphics software the most. Social science and humanities majors use library technology the most. Business majors use spreadsheets and presentation software more than others. Fine arts majors use graphics, audio, and video software as well as contributing to and using blogs.

While students are familiar and comfortable with technology in the classroom, they prefer moderate technology use in the classroom. There are few extremes –only 2% preferred no technology and 2.8% prefer classes taught exclusively using technology.

The most common technologies used by college students are e-mail, CMS, course web sites, spreadsheets, and presentation software. CMS (Content Management System) is a system used to manage the content of a Web site. Content management systems are used primarily for interactive use by a large number of contributors. Some common CMS systems are ANGEL, WebCT, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, FirstClass, Sakai, and Moodle. Some institutions use a homegrown system tailored to their exact needs. 72% of students have taken a class using a CMS. 90% of students have accessed class syllabi, readings, and other course materials in a CMS. The most highly rated features of a CMS included monitoring and improving performance, keeping track of grades, handing in assignments online, and accessing course materials. Most students viewed their CMS use as a positive experience.

Students are obviously able to adapt to technology in the classroom, but what do they think about the use of technology by their instructors? 51.5% of students felt that their instructors use technology well. Technology use often requires an instructor to restructure the way they teach a class. Instructors have to become quicker on their feet and more creative. One common complaint was that instructors “speed up” or go too fast when using computer-enhanced technology. 36.8% of students felt this was true. 23.7% stated that technology use contributes to instructors glossing over complex topics too quickly. Students require time to let the information sink in before they go on to the next slide. Other student concerns were that faculty may not relate the use of technology to the particular topic of the course (18.5 %); that faculty may not know how to use the technology itself (10.5 %); or that the technology in use requires too much class time or personal time on the part of students (10.5 %).

Further complaints include faculty members using technology in order to “hide behind it”. In other words, some students perceived technology as a way for faculty to distance themselves from their students. The use of technology made the classroom environment or the teaching style of the faculty member more impersonal. Other student responses indicated that the use of technology allows “bad teachers to become worse.” – disorganized instructors are made even more so with use of technology. While some of these criticisms are harsh, they were infrequent (6.3% of student responses).

Students that learn using technology have an advantage in the “real world.” Businesses are looking for people who are proficient and comfortable using technology. There is an expectation that college graduates are just going to know how to do these things on their own.

While students are positive about technology in the college classroom, do they think it improves learning? 50.4% thought it did, with 10.5% strongly agreeing. Technology appears to enhance classroom instruction. It also seems to help engage students and capture their attention. Most students do agree though that the use of technology is no substitute for face-to-face interaction with faculty.

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