This month, students from around the country will head off to college. This group of college-bound millennials may be the most “connected” generation to date. As the director of the Pew Research Center said, “we are in the midst of the largest experiment in human history” as societies and cultures adopt new technologies to communicate.
As these students head off to college, what should their professors and administrators know about the generation? With 9 out of 10 students going online multiple times a day, we have summarized 7 technology trends that colleges must be aware of in order to meet students where they engage.
Author side note: these trends and statistics are being pulled from the most reputable and up-to-date sources on how college-bound students utilize technology, however these surveys are nevertheless generalizations. Every student is different and we would be mistaken if we take any statistic as a panacea.
1. Your Students Are Constantly Creating Content
Teenagers now share more information about themselves on social media sites than ever before. A recent survey from Pew found that 91% of teens post photos of themselves, up from 79% in 2006. These aren’t just “selfies.” Teens are posting their poetry, inspirational quotes, fashion tips and musical talents.
One of my favorite quotes that sums up the revolution in communication technologies is from a VP of ABC stating “you won’t turn passive consumers into active participants on the internet.” Turns out, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course he had no idea of the future power of the smartphone, high speed internet, and click-to-publish concepts that dominate young people’s online “social lives.”
Colleges must understand that students want to engage in the content creation process – this means professors and university administrators must continue to evolve their curriculum beyond rote memorization and regurgitation of facts.
2. Your Students Are Poly-Social Networking
You’ve seen the headlines on Mashable. One 13 year-old girl doesn’t use Facebook, but another 15 year-old girl does. So do teens use Facebook or not? Well, according to an annual survey of 4,000 college bound students, Facebook is still the most popular social network. Almost nine out of ten students report having an account and about half report using it multiple times a day. Twitter usage was also up (from 30 to 34%), and Instagram was the fastest growing network, growing from from 30% to 42% year over year. It’s important to note social networking isn’t a zero sum game.
Breaking down the networks further, we found that 90% of students who use Twitter and Instagram also have a presence on Facebook. For teens, each social network serves a distinct communication purpose and while this may be common sense to teenagers, colleges must understand where students trends are headed if they want to keep up.
3. Your Students Are Addicted To Their Phones
Perhaps that headline is a little dramatic, but have you spent time with a group of high school students who wasn’t sending texts or taking photos every few minutes? Almost 50% of students report using their mobile device for all of their web browsing. In order to fully engage this generation, colleges must look into a student’s relationship with their smartphone and how it will affect their academic, social, and college transition process.
Students send around 3,000 texts a month (about 100 each day) and are constantly in touch with their friends. As Sherry Turkle explains in Alone Together “… people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people – carefully kept at bay. We can’t get enough of one another if we use technology to keep one another at distances we can control.” This is especially true for teens, where over half of them exchange text messages every day with their close friends and family.
With the popularity of texting also comes a new breed of “texting apps” which rely on data plans instead of a fixed amount of SMS credits. Snapchat, Kik and WhatsApp are growing in popularity as a way to be “always connected without a trace” and according to Apple, Snapchat has 5 million daily active users who send over 200 million photos a day.
4. Your Students Aren’t Rocking Tablets
While students may be highly engaged on their phones, the “tablet revolution” isn’t coming to most college campuses this year. Students heading back to school will be sporting laptops this fall season, not tablets (only 1 in 10 students report owning a tablet). Of course this is true unless you go to Arkansas State University where each incoming student receives their own iPad.
And while platforms like CourseSmart and Inkling can offer a new breed of digital textbooks, 60 percent of students still prefer to read on paper. It’s important to note, as the essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out, we overestimate the impact new technologies are going to have on our lives. Even though digital textbooks can provide the “same information” as a paper book, they don’t necessarily offer the same experience.
5. Your Students Still Read Books
Some people may see millennials as the generation that has ditched reading for technology, but that could not be further from the truth. According to research from Pew, College-aged adults from 18 to 24 years old have the highest reading rate of any age group. When looking at young people aged 16-29, more than eight in ten have read a book in the last year.
While students may still be reading, research shows they prefer less rigorous books than their peers read decades ago. Looking at the top 40 books read in grades nine through 12, almost all of them were below the high-school reading level. According to Stickney, as quoted in this NPR article “The complexity of texts students are being assigned to read,” Stickney says, “has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years.”
SuHua Huang, author of “Reading Habits of College Students in the United States,” explains that more than 40% of the time they spend reading is on social media, and these digital experiences often contain shorter bits of content.
6. Digital Tools Can Increase the Student Classroom Experience
In order to keep students’ attention, innovative educators are turning to a wide variety of tools to engage their classrooms. Research from the University of Wisconsin showed students were more satisfied with their classroom experience when teachers implemented digital technologies. According to Tonya Joosten the author of Social Media for Educators, social media can be implemented to take advantage of the tools students are using. She found 74% of students reported social media facilitated better communication with instructors. Furthermore, they found these interactions more effective and it helped increase student participation throughout the course.
Since social media tools can be used to improve engagement in the physical classroom, there are even more opportunities to use similar tactics to engage distance learners.
7. Students Aren’t Spooked By MOOCs
Currently more than 6.7 million students (32% of higher ed’s total enrollment) took at least one online course through a university during the fall of 2011. This number has almost doubled from 23% to 45%in the past five years. There’s no doubt digital content delivery will continue to play a role in the classroom, but there’s no telling exactly how far the MOOC trend will take us. These philosophy professors from San Jose State wrote a compelling rebuttal when refusing to adopt the EdX course.
Flipping the classroom, digital content delivery, and MOOCs may be controversial topics, but there is also a trend among teachers who implement technology for students into their current classroom setting.
At the end of the day, while technology can be used as a tool to deliver information, find information, and share information, nothing can replace a passionate and engaging teacher, mentor or administrator.
Education is not the filling of a barrel, but the lighting of a fire. I’m a strong believer in the power of technology to help with this, but I’m more concerned with the message than the medium by which it is delivered.