Students and Information Technology

The 2005 Educause study of students and technology has similar findings as last year’s. Technology used in the classroom is valued first for convenience; students are much less likely to find it improves learning. They want it used, but in moderation. Online syllabi and course readings are highly regarded because hey, it’s convenient. But when it comes to student engagement with the course material? Technology is a wash.

Some interesting findings: students report using computers only 11-15 hours a week, with searching library databases at less than an hour (though it may be hard for them to know that’s what they’re doing, depending on how they get there). More students report using library resources to complete an assignment (88%) than to download music (75%) though nearly all students “surf” the web to support their coursework. By the way, the self-reported use of the library is up a bit from last year.

The author suggests technological fluency is necessary before students can become information literate and ends by recommending that schools should establish technology competency levels and build them into the curriculum. This, to me, seems far less important than doing the same for information literacy – particularly since the skill levels for basic computer use seem far more in place already than the ability to engage with ideas and articulate good questions, to read critically, to evaluate sources of information, and to use them well. Those skills, it seems to me, are also far more durable.

Since students no longer see “technology” as a separate category, but just a ubiquitious part of their lives, maybe we should do the same and think more about learning and less about the tools.

An addendum: Steven and I must have been blogging at the same time about the same report, and he beat me to it. Sorry for the double vision, folks. He has the advantage of living a time zone ahead of me.

New EDUCAUSE Study Shows Use Of Library Resources Increased

The EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) made available its 2005 study on students and information technology. The primary findings relate to students’ preferences for the use of technology in their courses, and their is some good information about the impact of course management systems. While use of library resources is a lesser aspect of the study there is some data offered that I believe provides some cause for optimism among academic librarians.

While student use of the Internet to support coursework (again, no real way of knowing what “Internet” means for our students) is nearly universal at 98% reporting it, use of library resources to complete a course assignment comes in at a healthy 88%. Maybe the Internet is not eating our lunch after all. However, I would think the difference between freshman (86%) and seniors (89%) would be more significant owing to library instruction that occurs during the course of their education. Clearly we have more work to do.

Increases from 2004 in both the use of library resources for assignments (up 4%) and weekly hours spent using library resources (up 5.2% – but the majority report using library resources less than one hour per week overall in 2005) are a cause for optimism, and suggest that academic librarians’ efforts to promote user education and faculty collaboration may in fact be having a positive impact on student research. The report provides some concrete evidence to counter numerous mass media reports that students simply consult Internet search engines when doing their research. They may prefer to consult the Internet search engines first (anecdotal evidence only – not a part of the report), but they clearly do not use those resources exclusively.

Unsettling Categories

In the New York Times today, Edward Rothstein asks “If Books are on Google, Who Gains and Who Loses?” He points out that technology “doesn’t make things easy; it makes them unpredictable.”

He also mentions that the New York Public Library is sponsoring a smackdown this Thursday at 7 pm. If anyone is able to attend, please send us a report!

Libraries Not Alone In Competing With Internet Services

There’s been no dearth of articles in the mainsteam media and in our own literature over the last two years about how Internet services (a generic term for you-know-who) are eating academic libraries’ lunch. To a large extent much of what’s being said is true. Most members of our user communities no longer routinely make the library portal their first stop when they need information, whether it’s for ready reference or more in depth research. But perhaps we don’t need to be the first stop, but just one of the stops that should be made. Perhaps we need to focus more on how we influence our user community to think of the academic library as a stop that’s worth making. And if we can learn from the lessons of others who are in situations similar to our own, then we may find ways to create that influence. But where are such case studies to be found? How about the newspaper industry.

I draw your attention to an op-ed article in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. Like libraries, the newspaper is being portrayed as the 21st century equivalent of the buggy whip maker. It’s a dinosaur soon to be extinct, and who will really miss it because no one really makes use of it any more anyway. Sound familiar? While I’m not sure about the presentation of data that suggests that the Inquirer is actually more heavily read than thought, I think there are some points made here to which the academic library community should pay attention. First, newspapers are realizing that Internet services are eating their lunch, and they are doing something about it, mainly having their own competing Internet presence. Well, academic libraries are way ahead of them. We’ve been on the Internet pretty much since day one. Somehow we failed to make ourselves essential and indispensible to our user communities and they went elsewhere. But we do have an Internet presence and we need to continue to capitalize on that.

The second, and more important observation, is that newspapers are continuing to be relevant to their communities because they are effectively influencing how people think and act. This article clearly demonstrates how the Inquirer rallied individuals to create change in their communities through reporting, editorials, and partnerships within the community. If we look at our academic user communities as a newspaper sees its readership community then we might find some parallel ways to reach and influence their thinking and action. One of the primary ways we can do this is through user education. Whether it happens when a librarian speaks to students directly or when a faculty member has integrated the library into the fabric of the course, it’s an opportunity to influence a member of the user community. Beyond that, like newspapers, academic libraries can create partnerships with other academic units to allow for more opportunities to reach the user community. Newspaper editors appear to be savvy in identifying issues of relevance to their communities where they can get involved. That may be a strategy worth studying more closely.

In the good old days academic libraries could sit back and focus on building and organizing collections while waiting for business to come through the door. Just as newspapers can no longer count on everyone picking up a newspaper on their way to work, academic libraries can no longer afford to wait for the user community to acknowledge our resources and services. We need to pay more attention to industries in situations similar to our own, and identify strategies that will allow us to be more influential in getting our users to think about all their potential options when they have an information need – and how we can be at or near the top of their decision tree when the search process begins.