Faculty/Student Research Examines Students’ Use of Technology
January 23, 2009
Emmanuel College Associate Professor of Information Technology Gouri Banerjee and two student research assistants, Meaghan Duval ’09 and Haley Byrnes ’09, recently conducted a study inspired by the seemingly natural abilities of students to quickly learn new technologies. With freshmen students arriving extremely well-informed about the intricacies of the iPhone, GPS systems, digital cameras, mp3 players and social networking web sites, the research team explored whether such skills could be replicated towards academic learning.
“I’ve seen students show so much enthusiasm about iPhones, mp3 players and new technologies, but less about learning computer programs and science,” said Banerjee. “I was interested in transferring that enthusiasm.”
The research was modeled after Educause’s applied research department, an organization that studies the use of information technology in teaching and learning and conducts national surveys of several thousand students each year to document the use of digital technology. Banerjee, Duval and Byrnes investigated students’ use of computers, communication devices and Web tools to enhance learning and communication. The findings indicated that Emmanuel students are voracious and creative consumers of technology and use technology as much as students in far larger institutions. With students utilizing exceptional technological skills for communication and recreation, the findings suggest that such skills could also prove useful in a classroom setting.
The research looked at technology used both academically as well as recreationally. The survey results indicated that students are impressive consumers of music and video; they collect and download text, photos, video, and music with great ease. Emmanuel students spend 11-20 hours on the Internet each week, about two to three hours social networking to stay in touch with friends and family. Many students have two profiles on social networking web sites, with female students having more profiles, and generally using much greater caution in social networking sites than males.
Freshmen and sophomore students were shown throughout the surveys to be enthusiastic about learning with technology, and said they were more engaged in courses that used information technologies. Students felt that online learning enhanced their education and online courses were a nice option for them to have, although they preferred learning in class slightly more. With expertise in technology, students look to put it to greater academic use.
“As a student, I can see that a gap exists between what [technology] is available and what is actually used in the classroom,” said Byrnes. “I think that this research will be useful in understanding how students like to learn today and will help professors more effectively use technology in the classroom and better serve their students.”
The research team also explored the concept of “self-efficacy,” described by Banerjee as “the idea that to be successful learners students need to be able to perceive themselves as being capable of achieving specific goals, being able to set actionable goals and having the cognitive abilities and skills to achieve them.” Results varied significantly between males and females, with female students appearing to have very high self-efficacy.
The overall results of the study, proving Emmanuel students to be extremely knowledgeable of new technologies, impressed Banerjee.
“I was surprised by how technologically savvy Emmanuel students are,” she said. “Especially when they work in groups, they can discuss consumer gadgets in such a skillful way.”
Differences in self-efficacy between male and female students were quite clear. Female students believed that they were very capable in mental calculations, and could also make estimates and calculations with pen and paper quite easily. They said they could interpret graphs and charts, and analyze statistical reports with accuracy. Male students, on the other hand, observed that they could estimate probability with confidence but had greater difficulties with charts and statistical reports. All students were honest in that they had trouble using statistical models to predict change, compute rates of change and had trouble in metric measurements and calculations.
Duval, majoring in psychology, and Byrnes, a sociology and communication major, each earned weekly stipends for the hours of work contributed, which varied based on their academic demands. With funding from Emmanuel’s faculty-student research development grants, the girls each worked with Banerjee for a full semester, Duval in the Spring and Byrnes in the Fall of 2008. After receiving the grant, Banerjee chose the two student assistants based on their outstanding work in her “Problem Solving with Computers” course and both were eager to participate.
“Once I figured out that I would be able to fit the work into my schedule, I accepted Professor Banerjee’s offer right away,” said Byrnes. “Sociology is one of my majors, so I knew that working on this type of research would be a very good learning opportunity for me.”
“I enjoyed the experience very much,” said Duval. “It was great to actually have the opportunity to work with a professor throughout the whole experimental process.”
Banerjee believes the team’s research will be advantageous to the College’s entire faculty, especially those looking to advance their own style of teaching with technology.
“I think that the research I am doing is important for faculty who are thinking about teaching with the newer technologies such as social networking and Web 2.0 tools,” said Banerjee. “Students are very curious about how their peers use technology and compare their uses with others. Faculty who do research about teaching and learning are interested to find out what the relationships are between self-efficacy and successful adaptation to new consumer and learning technologies.”