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Survey Shows College Students Overwhelmed, Underprepared

A survey jointly conducted by education solutions provider Cengage Learning and higher education research firm Eduventures concluded that students are entering college with too few essential skills and too many external demands on their time to optimize their higher education experience but that the use of digital tools can help take some of the edge off.

The 2011 report, "Instructors and Students: Technology Use, Engagement and Learning Outcomes," released this week, identified significant obstacles to student success, most notably financial pressures and lack of adequate preparedness in certain skills areas.

Seeking to identify specific ways in which educational technology affects student engagement and learning outcomes, the partners administered the survey in December 2010 to 751 college students and 201 instructors throughout the United States.

"Students today face new challenges and are increasingly spread thin, whether it's [because they are] working full time, balancing finances or caring for families. Instructors feel the pressure, too, as they try to do more with fewer resources and teach students who are either ill-prepared for their day's lesson or distracted by other issues," said William Rieders, executive vice president of new media for Cengage Learning. "Companies need to develop innovative technologies that make it easier to keep today's students more engaged and better equipped for future educational success."

The survey identified a broad range of timely pressures, limitations, and needs among students eagerly embracing technology but facing an often unfriendly economy. Additionally, instructors surveyed frequently cited technological innovations as being a predominant factor in improved student engagement. The key findings include:


  • Roughly half of those surveyed hold full- or part-time jobs;
  • 30 percent of students have significant external responsibilities, such as paying for school, paying off other debts, raising families, etc.;
  • 71 percent of students who are employed full-time and 77 percent of students who are employed part-time prefer more technology-based tools in the classroom;
  • 86 percent of students say that, in the last year, their average level of engagement has increased with their increased use of digital tools, and 67 percent prefer courses that integrate technology;
  • The use of technology has not had a noticeable effect on external distractions most frequently cited, such as employment, personal issues, or course-related distractions such as opinions about irrelevance of material; and
  • Use of digital resources in and out of class has helped students improve in such areas as being prepared for class and general aversion to technology.


  • 58 percent of those surveyed "believe that technology in courses positively impacts student engagement," and an equal percentage indicated they prefer to teach courses that use "a great deal of technology"; and
  • 71 percent of instructors that rated student engagement levels as "high" reported that using technology as an integral component of courses has a highly favorable impact on learning outcomes.

"Today's students want to participate in the educational process," said Ken Baldauf, director of the program in interdisciplinary computing (PIC) at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "Lectures need to transform into brainstorming sessions, and textbooks need to move online to take advantage of the wealth of resources available there."

For detailed survey results and further information about the research, send a request via e-mail.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.

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