Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Brief note on Educause Live's Presentation on ECAR Survey

On Monday (01/09/06), I hooked up to listen to the Educause Live! event "The ECAR 2005 Study of Students and Information Technology." I was waiting for the archive to become available before posting. You can find the archive to the event here. Some of the stuff I heard in terms of what the students do with technology were things I knew instinctively. The conference served to confirm some of those hunches. The ECAR survey is based on 18,039 students at 63 higher education institutions replying to questions about information technology, their skills with information technology, and how it adds to their learning. Here then are just some brief notes and thoughts.

  • We often assume that students come in with the skills in IT. Is this really true or not? How much skill do they actually bring? The survey looks at ownership of computers for instance and how the students see themselves in terms of their IT skills. However, as I listened to the conference, I found the survey seems to favor traditional institutions and traditional students. My campus, an open admissions commuter campus defined as a Hispanic serving institution, certainly is very different from those other institutions. We get traditional students, but we also get a significant older/nontraditional population. For many of our students, for instance, their only access to broadband/fast internet connection may well be our facilities. They may or not own a computer at home, and often if they do, they have dial-up. I know, I am sure a lot of readers cringe at the mention of dial-up, but that is the reality. So, I wondered about this issue of access.
  • A finding from the survey: Students like to manage their own learning experience. This is illustrated by their desire to see their academic progress and grades online.
  • According to the survey, 96% of the students own a computer. Over 90% have access to broadband. Freshmen are more likely to have laptops and music devices. A question was asked by a participant, "where was the broadband?" Actually, I had this question as well (see my comment above on access). The survey currently does not answer this; it does not distinguish between access to broadband on campus and off campus. I would have liked to know this. Also, could the ownership rate vary by the type of campus. Again, the access issue. On an interesting note, there was a comment that many students who do own technology often own appliances they no longer use, for instance, updgrade to a new computer and not get rid of the old one, or they have two or three cellphones over time as they get a new one but keep the old ones inactive.
  • Finding from the survey: In terms of electronic devices, they were first used for coursework, then for communication. Specialized applications (spreadsheets, presentation, graphics, etc.) are used less. As I type this, I have to be a little sceptical. Just based on my observations at the Information Desk of the computer lab, I see a lot more students either using things like MySpace (there is the communication aspect) or playing games (Yahoo! Games seems quite popular). Sure, they may eventually get to the academic coursework, but I don't think they are as diligent as they portray themselves. Having said that, they do make use of the course management software and seem to like it.
  • Finding from the survey: Students spend less than an hour a week using a library resource for an assignment. You do have to wonder about the significance of this and implications for libraries. Amazingly, in my estimation, none of the participants remarked on this. This finding does add a bit to the scepticism I expressed above.
  • Another observation is that students overall are averse to training. They prefer "on time at the point of need" training.
  • In terms of recommendations, there is a need in institutions to discuss the integration of IT into the curriculum. There should be asking of questions like how?, how much?, and what exactly do we want the students to achieve? Also, institutions need to monitor the use of technology (not in the surveillance sense, but in the sense of its use) in order to do assessment on what they implement. Assessment would seem to me to be the next area of study.
Overall, this was a useful hour for me. I would definitely recommend other workshops and urge people to connect if they find a topic relevant to their work or professional development. I did have a small connection glitch for a couple of minutes, but overall, a good use of my time.


laura said...

Thanks for posting on this. . . I, too, find their statistics on computer ownership and broadband access a little difficult to believe. Granted, I was last teaching at a university three years ago, but certainly ownership wasn't that prevalent then. Very interesting.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Laura: Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it was interesting. My director, who also watched the presentation in her office had similar questions as well. I would be curious to see how many more might have similar questions. Three years though can seem like a very long time though, so I can certainly believe in an increase in ownership of tech (just look at all the kids with I-Pods these days for instance). Best, and keep on blogging.