Conclusion and Recommendations
In many ways, the conclusions of this 14th edition of the annual ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology are the epitome of social scientific research. To summarize: 1) some do, some don't; 2) the differences aren't very great; and 3) it's more complicated than that.1 Regardless, the importance of conducting research on the ways in which college and university students are thinking about, using, and experiencing technology in the course of their academic endeavors clearly resides two standard deviations above the mean. The more evidence that can be collected in service of understanding students' technological preferences for and relations to technology, the better equipped faculty and IT organizations will be to meet students where they are. In 2017, students see technology as integral, if not essential, to their academic success. They own it. They use it. They want more of it. Certainly, the degree to which instructional and institutional supplies can and should converge with student demands for technology in pursuit of a fleeting equilibrium is subject to a host of constraints including, but not limited to, costs, pedagogical approaches, evidence of impact, and propensity for distraction. What we need to avoid, however, when thinking about how to introduce technology into the lives of students, are kneejerk reactions grounded in anecdote or single studies that confirm our preconceived biases. We hope that this report and its companion, ECAR Study of Faculty and Information Technology, 2017, will serve as the starting point of those conversations.
- Institutions should monitor the loads on their wireless bandwidth, especially in the dormitories, and the coverage of Wi-Fi in outdoor spaces, making upgrades as appropriate. Wireless coverage and reliability are rated highest in the formal academic spaces of campus but may be lacking in the informal learning spaces where students spend the majority of their time studying, playing, and living.
- Evaluate the reach and utility of campus technology help desk services to students and make an effort to understand why such services might be underused. Depending on what one finds, a range of solutions might present themselves including, but not limited to, expanding hours, reducing ticket turnaround times, curating excellent DIY examples, and making help desk services more visible and available.2
- Cultivate a culture of information security on campus that promotes long-term cybersecurity hygiene. Students are already pretty savvy about security but could get even better with more frequent and scalable training options, cybersecurity campaigns that raise awareness of issues, prioritization of student security issues beyond usage policies, and improved campus practices (e.g., two-factor authentication, revised password protocols).
- Create faculty development opportunities to help instructors understand how students are and are not using their personal computing devices and develop ways in which they can be leveraged in service to student learning outcomes. The importance of student devices to their academic success is considerable. Helping faculty learn how to augment assignments that harness students' individual computing power could significantly improve student learning and engagement with course materials. Developing faculty communities of practice around teaching with technology can provide both excellent examples and a network of support when experimenting.
- Seize upon student enthusiasm for digital student success tools and partner with institutional stakeholders to build institutional support services around them. When student success tools are integrated into larger student success initiatives that coordinate campus resources, the digital tools for student success can only be more impactful, especially for groups that are traditionally disadvantaged.
- Take steps to make online learning opportunities the rule rather than the exception. At the institutional level, take steps to eliminate differential pricing structures for fully online courses so that they are accessible to all students. At the program level, consider ways to integrate online and blended courses in the curriculum to meet the learning environment preferences of students (and potentially increase enrollment). At the faculty level, create faculty development programs that help instructors better integrate the LMS into their face-to-face courses, thereby increasing the capacity to produce more blended learning opportunities.
- Begin laying the foundation for the development and adoption of next-generation digital learning environments (NGDLEs). On the technical side, NGDLEs that feature interoperability, personalization, collaboration, accessibility and universal design, and analytics require the development of APIs and open standards that can harness and integrate student success and learning analytics. On the cultural side, investment in faculty training and coaching to better use existing LMS features now will improve the learning experiences of current students, build buy-in for online teaching and learning opportunities, and prepare faculty and students to use and thrive in the NGDLE.
- Curate resources for faculty (and students) that provide evidence of the impact of technologies on teaching and learning, cases of good practices of the use of technology for a range of disciplines, and good examples of managing student device usage in class. Faculty claim that they would use technology more if they had evidence that using it in class works to the benefit of their students. They could also benefit from good examples drawn from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) to think about ways to better integrate technology into their courses. And, resources to help them understand approaches to student (ab)use of devices in their courses may facilitate classroom policies better than reactionary bans.
"This Week's Citation Classic," Bernard Berelson and Gary Steiner, Human Behavior: An Inventory of Scientific Findings (New York, 1964). Nod to J. D. Walker of the University of Minnesota for bringing this gem to our attention.↩︎
For more information on campus technology help desk services, please explore the following EDUCAUSE resources: Deyu Hu, "Training to Improve University Computing Services," EDUCAUSE Review, July 3, 2017; Peter Tinson, "Why You Should Champion Your Service Desk," EDUCAUSE Review, August 11, 2014; and Leah Lang and Judith A. Pirani, The 2014 Enterprise Application Market in Higher Education: IT Service Desk Management Systems, research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, August 19, 2015). Institutions participating in EDUCAUSE Core Data Service (CDS) can use their data to better understand how their help desk stacks up to that of their peers.↩︎