The Digital Academic Revolution

Technology at least to some degree will always play an unavoidable role in the student of today’s tertiary education. Digital devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets are essential educational tools at university. However, the technology while often enhancing the learning experience of students, also has the same opportunity to disrupt it. A survey (‘The Digital Academic Revolution’) asked university students to describe their attitudes towards technology as a part of their higher education. The respondents included 16 current and 1 past student aged 17-24 from the University of Wollongong.

According to the data in the survey ‘The Digital Academic Revolution’ technology is currently disrupting the way university students learn in an (for the most part) innovative way. With all responders agreeing that technology plays at least some role in their education experience and over 70% of them stating that it plays a major role. The idea that technology’s effect on learning is unavoidable is backed up by other researchers; one article explains how the way information is obtained has changed due to technology and specifically how online learning platforms have changed the way early educators initially envisaged the higher education experience (Danika Kimball, 2017).

“No aspect of higher education remains untouched by the technological developments of the 1980s and 1990s” (Roger Baldwin, 2019). Each component of learning at university has a digital equivalent which according to my primary research is almost always represent an improvement on its traditional/original counterpart; Online resources versus  hand outs, digital note taking versus pen and paper note taking and digital textbooks versus normal text books all have competitive advantages in comparison to the traditional learning method. The only original teaching  method which is preferred over its digital equivalent are live lectures (which still have digital components to them), and communication has a 50/50 split between online and in person.

Technology at university can have both positive and negative effects on student’s learning. When survey participants were asked to list some of the pros of technology, a lot of them made some reference to digital note taking and the majority said something about accessibility to resources. Other pros included collaboration, content creation, obtaining information efficiently and assessment submissions. When asked about the negative effects, around 1 in 3 responders said that technology could often be a distraction, respondents also stated that because of technology users may experience a decrease in spelling and grammar ability, not be able to retain content well, and said that going digital was often reliant on an internet connection. However around 20% said that technology had no disadvantages. After listing both the pros and cons 94.12% of responders stated that the pros did outweigh the cons.  

Participants of the survey also scored how well universities incorporate technology into their university experience, the average answer being exactly 50 (on a scale of 1-100).  What this tells us is that students think technology is not used to its full advantage… so how do we take full advantage of technology in higher education, what is the limit? is there a limit? “As technology advances, an educator’s abilities will grow by leaps and bounds, and without the knowledge of these changes and capabilities, an instructor has a good chance of being left behind” (Clayton Christensen, year unknown). With further research and better training universities and their teaching staff will better understand how to eliminate the cons of technology and better take advantage of the pros… effectively equating to a positive digital learning experience for university students.

What also needs to be kept in mind when analysing the positive and negative effects on learning at a tertiary level are the different levels of effectiveness that different technologies have. The majority of survey respondents communicated that smartphones are both effective and ineffective, smart watches are ineffective, tablets are effective, laptops were highly effective, uni desktops were highly effective, earphones/headphones were effective and smart boards are highly effective. So while most technologies are considered effective in at least some way their level of effectiveness varies. This information could be utilised via the actions tutors, lecturers and the broader university teaching faculty take in regards to technology in lecture halls and classrooms. Further research could be conducted into what aspects of each technology make them effective and which parts make them ineffective. Current academics indicate that while digital devices are important classroom tools however when technology is used for non-class purposes, digital devices may interfere with classroom learning (Bernard R. McCoy, 2013). This conclusion was determined through a survey aimed at 777 students at six U.S. universities which consisted of 15 questions about their classroom use of digital devices for non-class purposes. The Research found that students used their digital devices for non-class activities on average 10.93 times per day. The paper stated that higher education students multitask with digital devices in classrooms as a part of a habitual behaviour which consequently affects their ability to concentrate and learn. A majority (53.7%) of respondents favor policies limiting classroom distractions caused by digital devices. This coincides with my own research where by 0% of survey participants said that they agreed with a 100%technology ban, 23.53% said there should only be a partial ban (technology which is useful should be allowed) and 76.47% said that full use of all technology should be allowed. This indicates that that students are aware of the negative consequences that technology can have on their learning, and reaffirms the idea that policies limiting classroom distractions, and not necessarily banning technology is a good idea. McCoy’s results (that 18-to-24-year-olds are among the most frequent digital device users and are consequently most susceptive to their negative effects) are also supplemented by research by Rainie (2012), Deloitte (2013), and Experian Marketing Services (2013). If universities understand the reasons for this better, lecturers and tutors ability to incorporate technology into learning would be enhanced.

 

Kendal Louis

Student at The University of Wollongong

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