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Students, Faculty Have Contrasting Views of Classroom Technology, ECAR Surveys Find

Faculty and students vary widely in their impressions of technology's impact on campus, and their expectations are evolving rapidly, according to research presented last week at the 2017 Educause Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

The latest Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) surveys feature responses from 11,141 faculty members at 131 U.S. institutions and 35,760 students at 110 U.S. institutions.

One obvious contrast between students and faculty is how they get tech support. "It is apparent from the responses that students have a DIY mentality when it comes to tech support," said D. Christopher Brooks, ECAR's director of research. "They search the internet or ask friends for help before they think of turning to help desk services on campus." Faculty members, on the other hand, report seeking institutional help as their first option. "Yet most help desks are geared for student support, and not so much for faculty," noted Jeffrey Pomerantz, ECAR senior researcher. "A discussion could be had about the service model."

The Learning Management System

ECAR's survey found that most faculty members are satisfied with their learning management system (LMS) for course management functions such as publishing a syllabus or recording grades, and the satisfaction level did not vary by vendor. But few report using it for more advanced, interactive purposes. "The LMS is accepted as a utility. It is the phone system, the plumbing," Pomerantz said. "Now we need to think creatively about the next steps to using it more creatively for interactions with students."

Students also view the basic features and functionalities of their LMS favorably, but the more sophisticated the task and the more engagement required of students, the less happy they tend to be, ECAR noted.

Tech in the Classroom

Students' experiences with their instructors' use of technology in the classroom are a mixed bag, the survey report revealed. "A majority of students said most of their instructors have adequate technology skills, use technology to enhance learning, and encourage the use of collaborative technology tools. However, students said fewer faculty use technology for sophisticated learning tasks (e.g., engagement, creative and critical thinking), and relatively few faculty ask students to use their own devices for in-class work."

"We know smartphones are a target of faculty ire," Brooks said. Approximately 25 percent ban their use in class and 75 percent discourage it. In surveys, students admit to engaging in non-class activities on their smartphones in class. "Many are doing so because they are bored," Brooks added. "When faculty directs them to use it for some pedagogically sound purpose in the classroom, it tends to mitigate distracted use. If there were more student-centered activities tied to those devices, we would see things change."

Student Success Systems

Students and faculty also have different impressions of the value of student success systems, according to the surveys. At least 80 percent of students found applications ranging from degree audit, planning and mapping tools to early-alert systems, self-service tools, recommendations for courses, suggestions about academic resources and tips about improving performance at least moderately useful.

Despite these systems' potential to inform faculty members' teaching and advising, many faculty members reported that they do not use them, which points to faculty concerns about the functionality of such systems, ECAR suggested.

Tech in Decline

A majority of faculty members and students agreed on a few technologies they would like to use less in the classroom rather than more, including social media and e-portfolios. "There may be solid pedagogical reasons for using those, but faculty may have to do a better job of conveying that," Pomerantz said.

Among students, laptop use remains strong but tablets are on the way out. The survey report found that students view their laptop as critical to their academic success, and three-quarters of students said their smartphone is at least moderately important. "But tablets appear to be in decline in terms of ownership, utility and importance, in part because their functionality is duplicated by a combination of laptops and smartphones," the report noted.

Winning Faculty Over

The ECAR executives were asked what they would tell CIOs trying to support faculty members in deploying more technology in their classrooms to better meet student expectations. In response, Pomerantz said he would not suggest stressing student expectations to faculty. "Faculty are not swayed by student demand," he said. "That is not going to win hearts and minds." Instead, he suggested emphasizing research on effectiveness and learning outcomes in hybrid learning environments. "Faculty members should be swayed by data. In addition, more support needs to be provided. There are always early adopters, but the rest need hand holding and instructional design support."

The reports are available on the Educause site.

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Innovation and Government Technology.

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