What Students Don’t Know About Technology

two people holding cell phones

“My students know more about technology than I do,” is a common statement made by educators. But is it really true? They may have more apps than their professors on their phones, but it’s not clear if they are actually as savvy at using technology and the Internet for learning as we might assume. In reality, an average instructor and student may have more common ground than expected. That said, students do expect technology to be used in higher education, but they may need more guidance than is often assumed. Below are the top three technology shortcomings of students entering college and ideas about how to address them.

  1.  Students are not necessarily able to use and evaluate Internet sources effectively. Although today’s students have used the Internet to find information for classes for many years, they may not have the online research skills needed at the university. Instructors should address digital literacy in their discipline as students complete research projects. Duke Libraries offers resources on how to evaluate sources and other digital research skills. For all disciplines, one easy way to raise their awareness of using appropriate sources, is to teach students how to find open-access images for their work.

    student reading newspaper and listening to music with headphones
    By Lisa Risager (Multitasking)
  2. Digital natives are not better at multitasking than anyone born before cell phones were ubiquitous. Today’s students have not unlocked a second sense that allows them to hear lectures while texting. However, there are learning gains to be made from deliberate technology use in and outside the classroom; teaching consultants here at Learning Innovation can help pinpoint them. At the minimum, instructors should make a choice about how smart devices may or may not be used in instruction and articulate that policy to your students.
  3. Students do not innately understand (or appreciate) all educational apps. Instructors who decide to incorporate technology into their teaching should build in practice time for students. In order to avoid last-minute technology fails, ask students to view an online tutorial or assign a low-stakes assignment early in the semester. Share with students that Duke offers opportunities for students needing assistance with technologies. It is important to explain why you chose a certain technology and encourage students to offer feedback. This will allow you to learn early that a technology isn’t working out and students may suggest better alternatives. Finally, although students appreciate the effective use of technology for making their studies easier, they shy away from the use of certain technologies for learning (especially their social media accounts). Instead, they tend to appreciate an instructor’s smart use of an LMS (like Sakai or Moodle), lecture capture, or a curated collection of online resources than can deepen learning or help fill in knowledge gaps. For future insights about what students expect, view the latest ECAR study on undergraduate technology use.
Elise Mueller, Ph.D.

Author: Elise Mueller, Ph.D.

Elise Mueller is the consultant for the language departments at Duke. Her goal is to help instructors explore the best ways to support language acquisition through technology. As a member of Sakai group, Elise leads training sessions, troubleshoots technical issues, and develops documentation of the support site. More recently, she has assisted faculty with the planning and development of Coursera courses. Her interests include using multimedia in the classroom, emerging models of higher education and e-learning,  and experiential learning.