Nearly All UMBC Students Own Laptops AND Smart Phones

Findings Mirror 2016 National Study of Students and IT

10 of the past 11 years, UMBC has participated in the annual “Undergraduates and IT” study conducted by the Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR). According to the 2016 ECAR findings, 183 institutions, including UMBC, participated in the survey, totaling 71,641 undergraduate students from 25 countries. Of the 452 UMBC student respondents in 2016, 82% said they their overall technology experience was Good or Excellent, which is slightly higher than our peer and other U.S. institutions, while about two thirds of UMBC students believe the technology that they use in their courses now will prepare them adequately for their chosen careers. Overall, UMBC’s survey results mirror ECAR’s key findings that include the following:

  • Student ownership of digital devices continues to grow despite approaching market saturation for laptops and smartphones. From 2015 to 2016, smartphone ownership increased from 92% to 96% and laptop ownership rose from 91% to 93%.

  • Device ownership is greater among students than the general public.

  • Students use their devices extensively and view them as important to their academic success.

  • Students’ choices for the type of learning environment in which they claim to learn the most have remained remarkably stable over the past several years. An absolute majority of students said they prefer courses that have some blended aspect to their design. Only 10% of students prefer entirely face-to-face courses, and 7% prefer fully online.

  • Female and first-generation students are significantly more likely to have their levels of engagement, enrichment, and efficacy raised by technology.

ECAR’s 2016 “study hub” has also provided a very informative infographic, presentation slides and live webinar today at 1 p.m.

Over the years, DoIT has tracked the decline in desktop computing and the rise of the laptop and then the cell phone. Between 2006 and 2016, UMBC smart phone ownership has increased amongst students from 6% to 97% and laptop ownership is now at 98%. There is now a near ubiquitous connectivity as nearly two thirds of all students own three or more network enabled devices, and technology and the network connectivity at UMBC allows for relatively unfettered access. Indeed, 71% of survey respondents rated the ease of login to wi-fi as either good or excellent, which is about 9% better than other schools in UMBC’s peer group and all U.S. institutions. ECAR has contacted UMBC regarding this exemplary rating to consult other institutions on our successful model.

UMBC’s historic data show that faculty use the Blackboard learning management system (LMS) either daily or weekly and the overwhelming majority of student respondents either agree (44.4%) or strongly agree (27.8%) that the LMS is very useful as a tool to enhance student learning. Most of these users (61.8%) expressed overall satisfaction with the LMS (ECAR Faculty Survey, 2015). A little over half of all students responding to the 2016 survey, however, indicate that they wished their instructors used the LMS more.

A Gap in Faculty and Student Perceptions of Mobile Computing

One finding that has emerged each year is a growing gap among students and faculty regarding the use and effectiveness of mobile devices in the classroom. Generally, students view technology as helpful to their studies, but 40 percent of the 2016 study respondents said mobile devices can be distracting in class. Still, this is slightly less than what might be expected from what faculty have reported in terms of how such devices are managed. For example, in the 2014 ECAR study, 54% of faculty said mobile devices can enhance learning, but half ban or discourage smartphones, and only 38% encouraged or required laptops, even though 86% of all students owned a smartphone and 90% owned a laptop. In 2015, the last year faculty were surveyed, ECAR identified a gap in faculty perceptions and student use of mobile devices:

In terms of smartphone usage, faculty are fairly accurate in perceiving that students use them to connect to course materials (36%) and to take notes (13%), but they overestimate their use for nonclass activities by 19%. Based on students’ self-reports, faculty overestimate student use of laptops for accessing course materials by 7%, note-taking by 15%, and nonclass activities by 20%.  (2015 Faculty and IT Study Key Findings, p. 19).

During a 2015 Faculty Learning Community meeting sponsored by the Faculty Development Center, DoIT presented an alternative to banning mobile devices by sharing an effective practice from one faculty member: marking a student as “absent” and deducting participation points if an instructor has to ask him or her to put away a mobile device three times in one day. From the instructor’s syllabus:

“If the instructor notes that you are engaging in the above activities, he or she will ask you to stop. If you need to be told to stop more than three times per class, you will be listed as absent for the day. After three such “absent” listings, your final grade will be lowered by 10 points, or approximately one letter rank.”

As the ECAR findings clearly indicate, UMBC is not alone in reconciling differences in faculty and student perception’s of technology’s effectiveness. However, we welcome feedback and suggestions on how best to help turn a current issue into a potential opportunity to enhance student learning.

Posted: November 30, 2016, 1:46 PM