Monday, December 12, 2011

Undergraduate students don't feel confident in their technology skills

Last week I mused about the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) which our students who meet on campus complete every year.
This week I read a report about a survey that the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) conducted of undergraduate students' perceptions of information technology. Some findings were not surprising. For instance, students believe that technology gives them easy access to resources, makes them more productive, and can make learning a more engaging and relevant experience. But the study also found at least one thing that might be surprising particularly to the returning to school mid-career crowd. Traditional undergraduates might seem comfortable using technology but a surprising number say they are not fully confident that they have the technology skills to meet their needs.

I like to say that in their searching skills new students are confident, but not competent. They think they can do research because they can always “find stuff.” But according to this study, they don't feel quite as confident with technology.

Some areas where they feel they could use some help include the use of spreadsheets, e-books, presentation software, course management systems (i.e., eCollege), their library's web site and word processing. We tend to assume that freshmen can figure all this out because they were born digital. But if their technological know how is self taught, there are certainly some holes in the curriculum.

Equipping students to be life-long learners requires relevant technology. For example, HIU students need to be able to effectively use the features in their classes to participate as needed, but they also need to know when they have left the “classroom” and entered the library.

Ironically, websites are designed to give users mixed messages because everyone wants technology to be seamless. Users don't care that we have moved from one service provider to another as we click along. We just want the shortest distance from point A to point B. We don't want to log in again. We don't want to have to upload, download, install, enable, agree, verify, sign in or sign up in order to move forward.

So, successful web developers make navigation through their sites transparent. This means that it nearly impossible to know how to tell technical support how we got into trouble when we're in it (if we can even figure out whose technical support to contact.)

We know. The library gets emails and phone calls from students asking us for help without knowing what they need help with. They just know that “it doesn't work” and they found an Ask a Librarian link to click on. We also receive cries for help with what turns out to be questions for the bookstore, Information Systems, HopeOnline, or other student services. We understand and we welcome the call because we see it a teachable moment. We can usually help them figure out what they need help with and point them in the right direction. Hopefully, next time they can save time by going straight to the proper source for help.

Image from EDUCAUSE (


Tiffaney Tiffin said...

Well, said, Robin! Although the traditional undergraduate population seems to have it all together regarding technology, this report supports our thought that students could use a helping hand especially with the educational technology they must navigate.

Robin Hartman said...

Thanks, Tiffaney. I'm glad that, according to this study, students recognize it as a problem. Now we need to address it!