Home Higher Education The Digital College Campus: What Role for Tech in Higher Ed?

The Digital College Campus: What Role for Tech in Higher Ed?

by Ryan Schradin

Despite the often cited benefits of integrating technology in higher education, the jury is still out on whether using tech in the classroom and the dorm room is overstated. While students of want to use their smartphone or tablet during class, is it the best thing for them and are they actually using it to learn?

While tech companies and digital advocates will tell you yes, many professors – who are, frankly, tired of staring at students who are staring at phones and/or laptops during lectures – will say no. Studies also fall on both sides of the debate.

One recent study, for example, found that law students who take notes by hand do better than peers who use laptops for notetaking. After completing their Note-Taking Mode and Academic Performance in Two Law School Courses study, researchers said that their finding supports similar studies and it “meaningfully contributes to the ongoing discussion about whether computer usage in the higher education classroom might be hindering academic performance,” according to a recent post on TaxProf.

Regardless of findings like this, laptops and smartphones will continue to be common in classrooms, it seems, unless individual professors ban them. And that may be a good thing, because, as a study published in NeuroRegulation found, “College students who used their smartphones most frequently reported higher levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed, and anxious—symptoms suggestive of digital addiction.” Maybe they need the break afforded by a lecture or lab to stop “continually texting, scrolling, clicking, or looking at their smartphone instead of engaging with the people next to them.”

Arizona State University may not want that to happen to quickly, given that it has embraced digital learning and even has put an Amazon Echo into every freshman engineer’s dorm room. The university recently published a study, done in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group, that espouses the benefits of digital learning and is facing skepticism from educators.

Making Digital Learning Work: Success Strategies from Six Universities and Community Colleges
looked at ASU, the University of Central Florida, Georgia State University, Houston Community College, Kentucky Community and Technical College System and Rio Salado Community College. According to an article about the report, it suggests that when colleges and universities take a “strategic approach to digital learning” and invest in design and development, they can achieve three major objectives: improved student learning outcomes, improved access for disadvantaged students, and an improved financial outlook for the institution.

The report emphasizes that students should combine face-to-face classes with online courses and shares that “other success factors included making an effort to engage faculty as partners, paying close attention to design, working strategically with outside vendors, and using emerging metrics to refine courses and platforms, as well as learning outcomes.”

Clare McCann, Deputy Director of Federal Policy at New America, shared that “Online programs have shown huge variation in quality, with some showing comparable outcomes as face-to-face programs, and others falling well short of good outcomes for their students. For instance, research has found that students in online courses have worse grades, learn less, and lower rates of retention than other students. And some colleges have used their online programs to reduce, or eliminate, the kinds of high-quality interactions with professors and peers that studies suggest are necessary for deeper learning.”

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