Convenience, Connection, Control, and Learning

ECAR study of Students and Information Technology, 2005: Convenience, Connection, Control, and Learning is a report on the longitudinal study of higher academic students and information technology. It is quite an ambitious study that quantitatively examines the surveys from over 18,000 university and college students. The students are asked about what forms of technology they use, what they use it for, and how they perceive to be benefitting from technology used by their instructors.

A number of the researchers’ findings were interesting and potentially significant. What stood out to me the most was the finding that the instructor’s skill using technology had the greatest positive impact on student engagement in the course, student interest in the subject matter and student grasp of complex concepts (17). If this is so, instructors had better be prepared to be skilled in integrating technology into their course material. This speaks of the need and importance of technology training for instructors that is relevant and effective. The students surveyed also noted that they thought technology could make a good instructor even better (17).

Another finding that is more pertinent to those of us currently in the social computing course is the lack of understanding and use of social software and social computing trends in academia. The researchers noted in the area of their qualitative data that many of the students are using these social tools and that there is great potential to be harnessed from them. Students enjoy the opportunity to be “social” and are intrigued with using them as a part of their learning experiences. In particular, this new phenomenon, Facebook, was referred to often by the students. Blogging and the use of social bookmarks were also mentioned (104). This is of particular interest to me because I have used blogging as an educational tool and I am fascinated with the possibilities that social bookmarking could have especially in the area of teaching information literacy skills to my students. This is something I would very much like to explore in the future.

The study spent a good deal of its time assessing the students’ percerptions of the use of Content Management Systems within their institution. The large majority of the students had used a CMS in their course work. The majority of students reported being happy with the benefits the CMS had to offer in terms of convenience and accessibility. The students reported that this allowed them greater control of their learning and achievements (96). As a high school teacher who uses both FirstClass and a moodle to support the course work of my students, I was pleased to see this finding. However, as I am relying on several online discussion forums for my students, I was not happy to see that this was the least favourite activity of a CMS that the students reported. Online discussions can certainly vary and perhaps it is the significant role of the moderator who can contribute to its success.

Another significant finding raised in this report was that much of what instructors use the delivery of their courses is instructor-centred and not learner-centred. Students reported a desire for control of their learning and this means a greater amount of user-centred instruction.

Overall, one statement that caught my eye in the report was that “students need to learn how to learn with technology” (10). Students are bombarded with so much information and entertainment possibilities through technology that it is incumbent upon we educators to teach those skills of discernment and critical thinking as students make choices.