Insights From the 2016 ECAR Study

We know that our students use technology. Lots of technology.

We know less about how they use it, what they use it for and the devices they use. We’d like to know more about how they use technology for learning.

That’s where the 2016 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology can be most informative. This year’s report focuses on four areas of student technology use:

  • the importance of technology to students
  • the technology experiences of students
  • the technology preferences of students
  • the effects of technology on students

Here are a few things about undergraduate technology use from the report that captured my attention:

Academic libraries are doing better with the provision of wifi than I would have anticipated. Of course, we’ve all been working to increase the wireless capacity in our facilities, so it may make sense that students report they are having a good wireless experience in the library when compared with other campus facilities.

data table from ecar report
Student Experiences with Wireless Networks

One of the biggest debates among higher education instructors is whether to allow students to use their devices in class or to not allow them at all. While some faculty simply want to end what they see as a distraction to learning, others believe that students’ technology can be a powerful learning tool if applied properly. A majority of the respondents¬†indicated that their instructors were not attempting to have students user their own devices.

data table from the ecar report
Faculty Use of Technology as a Means to Engage Students

My takeaway is that when librarians work with students for research skill development, students are likely expecting to use their devices – or even library workstations – as a component of library instruction. So if we aren’t engaging students with technology – and particularly their own technology – we need to rethink that.

Further encouragement for librarians may come from a high percentage of students reporting that technology helps them conduct research for class assignments. Then again, the report doesn’t go into any specifics about what technologies students are using to conduct research. Is it the library resources? Is it google? We don’t know. But what we do know is that students are using technology for their assignment research – we just need opportunities to point them to library resources and provide guidance in their use. Perhaps a next step is to share this with students and hear what they have to say about the resources they choose for assignment research.

data table from ecar study
Student Content Technology Engagement

There’s much more insight into student technology use in the ECAR report. It would be great if academic librarians could find even more takeaways about student use of library technologies here. Hopefully we’ll see more of that in future reports.


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