More than 90 percent of college students use social-networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, but only 28 percent say they have used these tools in a course during the last semester, according to a survey that suggests there is much untapped potential for schools to leverage the technologies that students use every day to help with learning.

The 2009 "Survey of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology," from the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR), included a web-based survey of freshmen and seniors at 103 four-year colleges and universities and 12 two-year schools, as well as focus groups with 62 students from four institutions.

Since 2004, the annual survey has shed light on how technology affects the college experience for students.

This year’s survey shows that student ownership of laptops is twice that of desktop computers (88 percent to 44 percent, with several students owning both). What’s more, 51 percent of students said they now own an internet-capable handheld device, such as a smart phone, and another 12 percent said they plan to buy one in the next 12 months.

"Like the clothes in their suitcases, the technologies students bring to campus change every year," the report said. "It’s hard to believe, but when the college seniors we surveyed for this year’s study began their education four years ago, netbooks, iPhones, and the Nintendo Wii has yet to hit the market."

Still, having an internet-capable handheld device doesn’t mean this functionality is used; more than a third (35 percent) of students who own such a phone said they never use this feature.

Despite the slumping economy, students are entering school with newer equipment, the study says. Nearly eight out of 10 freshmen owned a laptop that was one year old or less, and two-thirds of all students surveyed reported owning a machine two years old or less.

That’s good news for campus IT staff who are concerned about supporting older equipment, the report said–although 18 percent of students said their newest computer was four years old or more.

The percentage of students who say they download music or video continues to increase, from 71 percent in 2004 to 84 percent this year–suggesting that IT administrators must continue exploring ways to shape, manage, or increase bandwidth on their campus networks.

Forty-five percent of students said they contribute content to video web sites, 37 percent said they contribute to blogs, 35 percent said they use podcasts, and 38 percent said they use their computer to make phone calls using a voice-over-IP system, such as Skype.

The surge in students’ use of social-networking tools has been accompanied by "a decline in a technology once seen as the definitive mode of teenage online communication: instant messaging," says the report. Whereas nine in 10 respondents said they use social networks and text messaging, only 74 percent said they use IM.

The use of learning management systems on college campuses is on the rise as well, and students appear to be happy with the technology. From 2006 to 2009, students’ use of learning management systems rose from 80 percent to 91 percent–and 89 percent of respondents in this year’s survey said they have taken a course that used an LMS during the current academic year.

Most students who have used an LMS said their experience was either positive (52 percent) or very positive (11 percent).

"Institutions’ investments in [learning management systems] appear to be paying off," the report said. "[And] instructors who have implemented [the] technology can take heart from our finding that nearly two-thirds [of students] said they disagree … with the statement, ‘I skip classes when materials from course lectures are available online.’"

Respondents were lukewarm about their professors’ use of other technologies, however.

Fewer than half (45 percent) of students said most of their instructors use technology effectively in their courses. Only 46 percent said most of their instructors have sufficient IT skills for teaching with technology, and just 34 percent said most of their instructors give them adequate training for the technology used in their courses.

Although the survey revealed a surge in the use of mobile devices among students, several respondents commented on the distraction these are causing in the classroom.

When asked if they thought instructors should be able to ban the use of mobile devices during instruction, 51 percent of students said yes. Agreement was much higher among older students than younger ones.

For the first time, the 2009 survey asked, "How should your institution first notify you of a campus emergency?" More students said they would prefer to be notified by a text message than other forms of communication, such as eMail, a phone call, or a public address system.

In conclusion, "it appears that a revolution in undergraduates’ use of the mobile internet has already begun," the report said. "A quarter of the respondents to this year’s study told us they are using handheld devices weekly or more often to access the internet. This level of use may not be taxing the support capacity of higher-education IT departments at the moment, but if the numbers of users increase, as they likely will if the cost of mobile internet access drops, institutions could be quickly overwhelmed with demands for technical support and development of new mobile services."

Link:

ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2009