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Student tech trends: more laptops in class, fewer personal printers

Of Emory students who own laptops, more than 87 percent use them in the classroom, according to the annual student technology survey. Emory Photo/Video.

More than 87 percent of Emory students who own laptop or tablet computers use them in the classroom, a sharp increase from just five years ago, when fewer than half of students reported using personal laptops in class.

Some 57.8 percent of laptop/tablet owners use their own computers in Woodruff Library, and only 16.4 percent of owners generally leave their devices at home or in their dorms, according to an annual survey by Emory's information technology division, now called Libraries and Information Technology Services (LITS).

For the past 13 years, the division has sent out a survey to every student at the university — undergraduate and graduate, Emory and Oxford — to track the technology they use, how they use it, where they use it, and what services they'd like to see more of.

The data tells the story of how new technology has changed the student experience — laptops have replaced bulky desktops, and tablets and smartphones are now ubiquitous. But the survey also helps the university gauge student technology needs and how well they are accommodating those needs, says Tony Shiver, manager of LITS Student Services.

"Some questions are historic, we have asked them every year, but we have added questions and taken others out over the years," Shiver says. "We put all of the data together and then we see what is happening in terms of trends. In a way, the results usually support what we as a team know already from observing the students throughout the years."

Among the trends shown in this year's results:

  • For students who own laptops, 46.8 percent own a Mac and 42.32 percent on a PC.
  • For students who own tablets, 72.6 percent have an iPad or iPad mini.
  • 86.1 percent of laptop or tablet owners use their devices in the classroom; 44 percent report that they "always" carry their laptops/tablets on campus.
  • For students who manage or coordinate an Emory group online, 74.7 percent do it through Facebook, with Blackboard Organization a distant second at 32.2 percent.

Fewer personal printers, more gaming

Some of the questions that have fallen by the wayside include whether your computer "is equipped with a wireless network card," as that technology has become standard on all computers. Also gone is the query as to where students want to see wireless networks, since the expectation is that Emory Unplugged covers the entire campus.

"As a team, we look at the responses and use those to inform how we will implement new services and new technology," Shiver says. "Often there aren't a lot of surprises, but we have used the survey to educate and inform students through the survey questions."

For example, if students didn't know they could call the University Service Desk at 404-727-7777 or that there are support staff at the UTS Student Technology Support Office (STS), they would answer that they hadn't used the services, but from reading the question, they now know where to go and what number to call.

Similarly, the question about whether students have installed Emory software to print wirelessly from their laptops to printers in public computing areas serves a dual purpose of informing students that the software is available.

Over time this strategy has worked, Shiver says, pointing out that fewer students bring personal printers to campus now — just over 52 percent — than in 2006 when 85 percent of students lugged printers into their dorms.

"We don't really want students to bring their own printers, so this has helped to show them that printing services are available to them on campus," he adds.

New questions added this year centered on gaming on campus, both playing and watching.

"This is the first time we've asked about gaming because it really has become part of the daily experience for incoming students," Shiver says. In fall 2013, LITS put an Xbox One station in the Cox Hall Computing Center and later added a PlayStation 4 system. Both have proven extremely popular, both with players and spectators.

Suggestions for improvement

Many of the survey's questions, including what technology students are using and where they're using it, are answered by Emory's network monitoring.

"Back when the survey started, students were using computers behind closed doors and this was a way to get in and get information on what they were using. Now we know when they are logging in, how many students are connected to the network at any given time, the types of devices they are connecting with, and even what operating systems they are using," Shiver says.

At the end of the survey, students are given the option of answering the open-ended question, "Do you have any suggestions for improving computer support for students at Emory?"

That's when the floodgates open, according to Shiver.

"They want the Computing Center at Cox Hall open 24 hours and on weekends, they want free printing, more computers," he says. "But the things they want the most are more power, places to plug things in; comfortable seating; mobile furniture; more quiet study space; and more places for group study and collaboration."

The renovation of Level 2 of Woodruff Library, the first phase of a multi-level, multi-year NextGen renovation, will address many of the students' requests, Shiver says.

Avoiding 'survey fatigue'

Because the LITS survey is long — more than 50 questions — and because it is sent at the end of spring semester just before exams, response rates hover around 12 to 15 percent. That is, unless something goes wrong.

"If there is a problem with the wireless network or if printing goes out or if the students experience any technology problems at all, survey responses go up," Shiver says. A problem in 2011 saw the response rate jump to more than 2,700, while responses in previous and subsequent years are fairly steadily in the 1,700s. This year the survey was sent to more than 14,500 students and garnered 1,783 responses, slightly more than 12 percent.

"We are at a crossroads in thinking about the value of the survey because there really aren't a lot of surprises in the results," he says. "There may be a different way of getting information from students. We are looking at how we can make sure we are sending this out at the right time and asking the right questions. There may be more value in doing a short survey at the beginning of the year, then addressing some of the concerns we hear, then sending a short survey at the end of the year to see how things were received."

Currently, students answer a national technology survey from EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) in the fall that asks many of the same questions as Emory's survey for a national analysis that provides information on how Emory stacks up against institutions around the country.

"Students get survey fatigue. If we are going to go to the effort of doing a survey, we want to get the best data possible from the results," Shiver says.

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