Student and Faculty Use of Technology

(This is a very brief summary of a paper a colleague and I presented on Monday, March 31, at the AIR Forum in Chicago, IL.  Both the paper and the presentation are available on the NSSE website; please consult the paper or contact us for more detailed information.  We hope to further develop this paper and submit it for publication very soon so your comments and questions are very much appreciated!)

In the paper Allison BrckaLorenz and I presented earlier this week, we used data collected with the 2009 administrations of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) to examine how often these two populations – students and faculty – use academic technologies.  We added several questions about technology to the surveys administered to some institutions.  In this paper, we examined the responses to those additional questions from senior undergraduate students and faculty who teach them at 18 institutions who participated in both NSSE and FSSE.  Specifically, we (a) compared student and faculty responses and (b) explored responses across academic disciplines.  However, to keep this blog post a manageable and readable length, I will omit most of the discussion of disciplinary differences; I encourage you to read the full paper if you are interested in those findings.

The survey question on which we focused was multi-part and asked respondents how frequently (Very often, Often, Sometimes, or Never) they used some academic technologies:

  1. Course management systems (WebCT, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Sakai, etc.)
  2. Student response systems (clickers, wireless learning calculator systems, etc.)
  3. Online portfolios
  4. Blogs
  5. Collaborative editing software (Wikis, Google Docs, etc.)
  6. Online student video projects (using YouTube, Google Video, etc.)
  7. Video games, simulations, or virtual worlds (Ayiti, EleMental, Second Life, Civilization, etc.)
  8. Online survey tools (SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, etc.)
  9. Videoconferencing or Internet phone chat (Skype, TeamSpeak, etc.)
  10. Plagiarism detection tools (Turnitin, DOC Cop, etc.)

The average responses to this question are shown in the figure below.

A few things are apparent from this figure and the responses that it displays.  First, the only technology that students and faculty really use is course management systems (CMSs); most respondents never used the other technologies.  Second, except for Plagiarism detection tools, students are reporting more frequent use of these technologies than faculty.  This is particularly noticeable for collaborative editing software, a technology that students probably use outside of class to collaborate much more often than they use it during class or when specifically assigned to use it.

Another way to make sense of these survey responses is to use cluster analysis to group respondents together.  For students, a 4-means cluster analysis made the most sense:

The students in the High and Medium Use clusters used multiple technologies with relatively high or medium frequency (remember that most students never used most of these technologies).  Students in the Low Use cluster only used CMSs.  And students in the No Use category didn’t really use any of these academic technologies.

A 3-means cluster analysis was most appropriate for the faculty respondents:

As with the student clusters, faculty in the High Use cluster used multiple technologies with some frequency.  Faculty in the Low Use cluster only used CMSs and faculty in the No Use category didn’t really use any of these academic technologies.

From these figures, it is clear that most students and faculty are making little use of academic technologies except for course management systems like Blackboard and Sakai.  Given the resources campus have invested in these particular technologies, it is probably good that faculty and students are making frequent use of them.  However, we stop short of making a subjective judgment based on these responses as there are certainly many instances in which technology is neither helpful nor appropriate in classwork and assignments.  A better approach – one that may be impossible using self-administered surveys – would be to understand not just how often students and faculty use technologies but how often they use them appropriately and well.

More interestingly, students are reporting a higher usage of these academic technologies than faculty.  Most likely, these technologies are not be required by faculty but used by students on their own initiative to complete their work and collaborate and communicate with one another.  The differences between student and faculty responses might be a result of the methodology of this study.  But these differences are probably real and point to genuine differences in how frequently students and faculty use these and other technologies, differences that may result in tension and other differences between these two groups.