The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Study Finds More Technology Use in Classes

4 min read

According this year’s National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, students are craving more technology use in the classroom, and it seems from both University of Mary Washington students and professors that they are on board with this idea as well.

Responses in the study, which was conducted in June, were taken from 3,000 students in 1,179 colleges and universities across the nation, according to the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research.

At UMW, there are many basic online services professors can utilize, such as Canvas or the UMW blogs.

Whether or not technology is used in the classroom is up to the professor.

Jim Groom, the director of teaching and learning technologies said, “As a university we need to understand how this communications revolution is transforming our culture. And probably the best way to do this is through experimentation.”

UMW has a resource for professors called the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, of which Groom is a part.

According to the website, “The services of DTLT are available to any UMW faculty member who wishes to explore how digital technologies can augment and transform teaching, learning, and research at the University.”

Assistant Professor of English Zachary Whalen utilizes social media through Twitter in his classe The Graphic Novel and his seminar, Code, Culture, and Postmodernism.

While Whalen no longer requires Twitter use for a grade, he encourages it and hopes that students will find it useful.

“A lot of students do already use it, some warm up to it in the course of the class, and still others will not ever use it,” Whalen said.

In class, Whalen likes to use Twitter as a “backchannel,” and outside of class as a way to “network or coordinate things,” or simply for discussion.

He points out that writing on Twitter is different than anywhere else, because of the 140-character limit

“I think that’s a good thing, it forces us to pay attention to what we’re writing. A constraint can be a really productive aspect of creativity,” Whalen said.

Results in the study showed that 43 percent of students agree that their institution needs more technology.

Sophomore Tonto Duncan said, “I personally think incorporating technology in the classroom is cool.”

He references his Intro to Creative Writing class, in which blogging is incorporated for students to share their writing with fellow classmates and the professor.

Duncan said, “sometimes in classroom settings students are too shy to volunteer,” so commenting on the blogs creates an outlet for many students.

UMW Junior Maura Downey spoke about her Introduction to Statistics for Psychology class with Professor of Psychology Dave MacEwen.

The class is a “hybrid” class that incorporates online homework, online quizzes, Google documents and online work with other students.

While she said that at first she did not like the class because she wasn’t “technology savvy,” it grew on her.

The online work in the class means that Thursday classes are optional.

“I think more classes should be like that because I work a good amount so it’s really easy with my schedule,” she said.

According to the survey’s results, Facebook and other social networking sites are a controversial aspect of technology used in academics.

In measuring academic success with Facebook, 25 percent of students surveyed find Facebook “valuable” or “extremely valuable,” while conversely 53 percent think its academic value is limited or nonexistent.

Sophomore Katie Van Valkenburg thinks that teachers should make an effort to incorporate techonology in the classroom.

“For professors to ignore such social media is almost crazy at this point,” Van Valkenburg said.

“We should also learn how to effectively convey opinions online because of its growing importance in daily lives,” Van Valkenburg added.

When asked about Facebook interactions, 60 percent of students surveyed found it appropriate or “no big deal” if a professor were to friend request them on Facebook.

In discussion about Facebook use in the classroom, Whalen said he has attempted to use it but describes it as “too intimate in ways that make me disinclined to use it.”

Communications Professor Rao also uses social media in his classes.

“Social media is important because it is about more than just reporting what is going on—it is about developing shared meaning and content,” Rao said.

Rao says the question is not about whether or not to incorporate social media and networking in the classroom but instead, “how should we best incorporate social media?”

While the majority of students in the study agreed that technology use should increase in the classroom, not all did.

Many students are happy with the use of technology that their institutions use, as 19 percent of students say that their school uses it effectively.

When asked if technology personalizes the curriculum for students, 15 percent said it did not.

Similarly, when given the statement that technology “helps me think out of the box,” 15 percent disagreed.

While Duncan likes the use of technology, he understands that for a lot of school subjects, blog use may not be plausible.

“In terms of social networking, I don’t know if it could work with say, a literature class or a linguistics class, or ones that are run orally with participation in a classroom,” Duncan said.

Whalen finds some conflict with technology use in the classroom, also.

Since he encourages students to bring their laptops to class, problems sometimes arise.

“I do get sort of annoyed when students are obviously chatting on Facebook or Google chat instead of participating in whatever we’re supposed to be doing in class,” Whalen said.

While using Twitter as a “backchannel” is his goal, he said, “the backchannel can become the front channel,” creating a distraction during class.

The EDUCASE has been conducting this study since 2004.

The EDUCASE, ”Provides research and analysis to help higher education leaders make better decisions about information technology,” according to their website.