I will not quickly forget when Nynke Bos* declared in 2009: “Smart phone ownership has grown to 50% in one year amongst our students.” A mouthwatering statistic for an ICT in education policy maker! Something you can bite into and use to anticipate future service and teaching/learning opportunities. When she started working at the Faculty of Humanities, and planned to hold the same survey amongst her ‘new’ students, I jumped on that band wagon and suggested we hold it amongst the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences as well. And as a good idea often does, it ballooned into a survey amongst all students of the University of Amsterdam.
Behold, the result of our toils (with a huge thanks to everyone who helped us on this endeavor!): “How do students use ICTs in Higher Education?“.
The survey focused on four areas:
- Hardware ownership (phones, laptop, tablets, etc)
- Use of Social Media
- Satisfaction of UvA services
- Use of ICTs in education
And now we don’t have to guess the answer anymore when we ask ourselves the questions: do 50% of all UvA students have a smart phone, and what model? How often do they use Facebook, how many own a tablet and do they prefer digital syllabi versus hard copy? Should we provide affordable tablets? Do most of them have Macs, or a windows laptop? What do they prefer, more commitment for digital tests or the use of ICTs for increased interaction with their teachers?
Here are some things we can conclude based on this survey:
- Who would have guessed, but there is (for me) a surprising lack of smart phones amongst Faculty of Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science students
- Maybe some might have guessed, but more students at the Faculty of Medicine own an apple laptop than at any other faculty
- 85% of students have a Facebook profile and it is more popular amongst freshmen than seniors.
- Female students check their Facebook profiles more often than male students, which fits the general findings regarding women and social media
- There is no doubt, across the board, students want mobile access to their Blackboard announcements
- Twitter use is growing, but still low at 30%
- Students who have web lectures provided as a service, can’t get enough of them
- Students want more digital low stake tests
- Investing in improving ICT skills amongst some teachers is not a foregone stage.
Now comes the time where we analyze and discuss what these statistics mean for the way forward.
What students want does not immediately imply that is in their best interest. For example, if supplying web lectures structurally (in a setting where lecture attendance is not mandatory) results in less attendance, this could affect the experience of studying in a negative way. Knowing what they want does however provide insight into how best to approach them when aiming to increase student engagement, increase succesful completion of study programmes and identifying where possible deficiencies exist.
The university has the task to prepare students for future careers, as scientists, researchers, public servants and private sector employees/entrepreneurs. In this role the university needs to keep an eye on the current and future demands made on employers and employees of the future, and provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills. Insufficient ICT literacy may be a hindrance in achieving the most out of a study programme as well as the ability to apply existing potential fully in later careers. Providing too many support measures to assist studying may be considered coddling, when the skill of managing self-study is a very beneficial one in the perspective of life-long-learning. In this regard the phase of study should play a part when choosing which support measures to implement and which ICT literacy skills to hone.
This study “How do students use ICTs in Higher Education?“is a step towards ensuring that the educational policies set out by the university is a match with the levels, tools and needs of students. It is my recommendation that it should be monitored annually, building on the experience we have now.
* previous ICT in education coordinator at the Faculty of Medicine, UvA, current ICT in education coordinator at the Faculty of Humanities, UvA