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Report: Increased Access to Emerging Tech Key to Student Success

While students are starting to gain more access to augmented/virtual reality headsets and 3D printers, a new report from Educause says ensuring access to these technologies is important to students' academic success.

woman wearing virtual reality headset

The majority of students have access to smartphones and laptops at their colleges and universities, but more expensive technologies, such as augmented/virtual reality headsets and 3D printers, are only available to 4 percent and 3 percent of students, respectively. This is one of several findings from ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology released ahead of the 2018 Educause Annual Conference.

"Increasing student access to 3D technologies … encourages student experimentation, provokes innovative interdisciplinary applications of these technologies and may support larger institutional XR goals and initiatives. Limited or no access to these expensive emerging technologies, especially based on student major may exacerbate existing or produce patterns of digital exclusion among students at U.S. institutions," the report found.

For the 2018 version of the report, 64,536 students from 130 institutions in nine countries and 36 U.S. states participated in the research. The findings for this report were developed using 54,285 survey responses from 114 U.S. institutions.

When it comes to device access and ownership, only 65 participants, or fewer than 1 percent of respondents, reporting have no access to smartphones, laptops, hybrid devices or desktops. In the classroom, 98 percent of students reported using laptops in at least one course last year, and 94 percent rated laptops as very or extremely important. The report found a much higher use of laptops and desktops compared tablet usage in the prior two years.

The number of instructors who have banned or discouraged laptops in their classrooms has also decreased down to 19 percent, compared to 40 percent banning tablets and 70 percent banning smartphones in 2017. "Instructor policies that ban or discourage mobile device use in the classroom may disproportionately affect students of color, students with disabilities, first-generation students, students who are independent and students who come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Given that these groups of students attach high levels of importance to these devices for their academic success, instructors should set aside their concerns about the use of such devices in class," the report found.

In regard to WiFi, the report found that there is room for improvement in network access in dormitories, student housing and outdoors. This becomes especially important as more colleges move for print textbooks to open educational resources that will need upgraded networks to meet the demands of increased student traffic to access and engage with the materials.

For learning management systems, three-quarters of students reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with their institution's LMS and more than 75 percent of students reported that their LMS was used for most or all of their courses. Undergraduate students at private colleges reported the highest use of LMS, while more students at public institutions reported that they did not use their school's LMS for at least one course.

When it comes to learning environment preferences, 55 percent of students reported preferring some form of a blended learning environment over purely face-to-face or online courses. The report also advocates moving more courses to blended learning environments to help students "prepare for the demands of the 21st century workforce."

Accessibility remains a problem for institutions, according to students. Of the 7 percent of respondents who self-identified as a having a physical and/or learning disability requiring accessible or adaptive technologies for their coursework, 27 percent rated their institution's awareness of their needs as poor. To help increase institutional awareness and provide better support, the report recommends institutions become a collaborative partner in testing and implementing assistive or accessible technologies and provide professional development to IT staff via workshops, conferences and trainings.

To help increase the use of technology in educational institutions, the report also makes the following recommendations:

  • Continue providing students with access to the basic technologies that are most important to their academic success.
  • Eliminate classroom bans of student devices important to their access.
  • Increase the reach and quality of campus WiFi networks.
  • Expand student awareness of the benefits, expectations and demands of blended learning environments.
  • Ensure that commuter students have the tools and information they need to take advantage of blended and online learning and leverage their institution's technology to meet their academic needs.
  • Build collaborative partnerships across campus to increase awareness and better meet the needs of students who disabilities who require assistive or adaptive technologies.
  • Increase the use of student success tools.

The full report is available for download here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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