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College Students and Technology

Students in One of the Libraries Studied

An interesting article from researchers at the University of Washington. A nice summary of the article is found here. The full article can be found here. Here are the basics:

A new University of Washington study found college students – only weeks away from final exams and in the library – tend to pare use of electronics. It’s their way to manage technology that permeates their lives.

Today’s students may often be considered “heavy multitaskers” who are unable to concentrate on one activity at a time. However, based on 560 interviews in 11 college libraries around the country near exam time last spring, researchers found most students using only one or two technology devices to support only one or two activities at a time — coursework and to a lesser extent, communication.

“Our findings belie conventional wisdom about the multitasking generation – always online, always using a variety of IT devices to communicate, game and do their homework,” said Alison Head, a research scientist at the UW Information School who co-directed the study. “Our findings suggest students may be applying self-styled strategies for dialing down technology when the pressure is most on them.”

Many students were using the library as a refuge and to limit technology-based distractions, such as Facebook. Few had used books, electronic or print resources, or librarians in the previous hour.

Most said they were in the library because it was the best place they could concentrate, feel more studious and take advantage of library equipment, such as computers and printers. Almost 40 percent had used the library’s computers or printers; the rest depended on materials and devices brought with them.

The researchers also found that students use Facebook as a reward after 15, 30 or 60 minutes of study. During the interviews, one student said, “If I get done reading a chapter, then I get on Facebook as a reward.”

And this concluding comment on the methodology:

Researchers observed and interviewed students rather than merely rely on self-reporting. The 10 colleges where data was gathered included the UW, the University of Puget Sound, Northern Kentucky University, the City College of San Francisco, Ohio State University and Tufts University.

For me, the results here are only mildly interesting due to the numerous problems with the study design. The biggest glaring omission is the lack of randomness. Look at the methodology. The universities are not randomly selected, and seem weighted toward the midwest and west coast. Also, there is no information about when the students were observed. Were there large periods of observation in which random students were approached for data collection? If so it would seem logical to comment on this procedure. It seems more likely, due to the silence on the topic, that researchers likely went to each library at one time and walked around interviewing students according to no set plan/design. The full study design does not add any useful information about randomness to the details above. Based on these critiques I think that the results can only be used as fodder for further research, rather than used as a basis for recommendations (as the full article does).

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