April 14, 2011

Well-connected students seek more mobile apps

by Diana Pounds

Typical Iowa State students have laptops and smart phones. They check their Facebook pages several times a day, but they seldom tweet. They believe educational technology (like WebCT or Blackboard) enhances learning. And they're clamoring for more mobile apps that will make campus life a bit more convenient.

These are some of the findings from a fall 2010 survey of student technology use. Nearly 1,300 students responded to the survey, developed by ComETS, a group of faculty and staff interested in educational technology, and the Research Institute for Studies in Education.

Educational technology surveys

"The survey was intended to help us identify how students use technology in and out of class and how satisfied they are with educational technology at Iowa State," said Jim Twetten, director in information technology services and member of the ComETS steering committee.


There were some surprises in the survey. Ninety-one percent of surveyed students reported owning a laptop. And 69 percent own a smart phone, capable of connecting to the Internet.

"We didn't anticipate such high numbers," Twetten said. "However, the smart phone statistics are in line with similar surveys around the country."

Social media

Not so surprising, Facebook was the runaway favorite in the social media category, with 94 percent of students reporting they use the site. Of that group, about 77 percent drop in daily and well over half check their page multiple times per day.

Running a distant second to Facebook among ISU students was Twitter. Only 24 percent of surveyed students had a Twitter account and, of those, only 27 percent used it daily. About 16 percent of surveyed students said they had a LinkedIn account and 4 percent, a Foursquare account.

Students split along seniority lines when asked if they thought it was OK for instructors to ask students to use their social networking sites for class. A slight majority of upperclassmen and grad students disapproved of leveraging social media for academic purposes, while a slight majority of freshmen and sophomores approved.

In class

Students generally reported satisfaction with educational technology at Iowa State. Ninety percent said educational technology, such as WebCT and Blackboard, enhances learning, and 77 percent said it makes class time more effective.

Twetten said IT staff will conduct focus groups to dig deeper into concerns expressed by students who were not satisfied with the use of educational technology at Iowa State.

What students want: Mobile apps

One thing that came through clearly in the survey is that students want more mobile access to ISU information, both in and out of class, Twetten said.

Students indicated they'd like to see mobile applications for grade checks, assignments, syllabi, class announcements, dining hall menus and hours, AccessPlus, CyCash, athletics tickets and more.


The survey prompted several recommendations:

  • Develop strategies and systems to meet growing demand for mobile-friendly information.
  • Find ways to expose freshmen to educational technologies that they'll experience during their academic careers.
  • Build an optional instructor template for WebCT/Blackboard that includes the primary tools students indicated they want in their course management system.
  • Given increasing laptop ownership and decreasing computer lab use, take a closer look at students' needs for lab space.
  • Re-survey students frequently to assess their needs in fast-moving technology fields.

Twetten said the ComETS steering committee will work with administration and the colleges to implement the recommendations made in the report.

Faculty/staff technology survey

ComETs also did a survey of faculty and staff on their uses and needs in educational technology. That report is available on the ComETS website.

ISU student survey results

Tech gear ownership%
Cell phone99
Desktop computer29
Digital camera72
Smart phone69
Windows mobile device7
  Numbers are rounded to nearest integer.
Educational technology Agree
Learning is enhanced 90 10
Interaction with classmates is enhanced 59 42
Interaction with instructors is enhanced 67 33
Class time is used more effectively 77 23
Instructors seem comfortable using WebCT 72 28
It is easy to access WebCT 90 10
I like to have technology integrated into my classes 90 10
I can get adequate technical assistance when I need it 83 17
Overall, I'm satisfed with WebCT 85 15
  Numbers are rounded to nearest integer.