Friday, May 18, 2012

Tech advice from the class of 2012

In my 2012 tech survey of students at Salisbury University (my former institution)I asked a new question: "What do you think is the one most important technology skill for a college graduate to have?. My survey received over 600 responses. I may come back to this question in future blogs, but since we are in the month of graduations, I thought it would interesting to see how the seniors 2012 answered this question.

A couple of interesting observations about seniors first. This is a group that spends a great of time online.

How many hours a week to you spend on the internet?

11-15 31%
16-20 18%
more than 20 hours 26%

I also asked seniors which technology tools the used the most.

PowerPoint 94%
Blackboard 95%
Campus library site 72%
Spreadsheets 62%

I did not ask about word processing programs since I was pretty sure that with 99% computer ownership, word processing was pretty universal. So we see that these are students who are on the web a great deal and use productivity tools extensively. So what did they think were most important tech skills college graduate should have?

Well, I got 126 student open ended responses. Almost half felt that all graduates should be well versed all of the programs included in the Microsoft Office Suite. Almost half of the responses focus on the suite or parts of it (Word, Excel and PowerPoint). They think that this is the basic tool set of almost any career, regardless of the field.

The second most often skill noted was the ability to do critical research on the internet. By critical I think they mean knowing the difference between opinion and scholarly research. They phrase it differently, but they seemed to know that not all web content is equal.

The third most often mentioned skill was general computer literacy. Knowing how operating systems work, storing data, dealing with different files and formats seemed to be important. A fair number singled out email use as important.

Several respondents also mentioned that knowing how to type is an important asset. There were many others carried opinions touching on knowing how to effectively use social media and using the web for business networking. Two students focused right in on learning to adapt new technologies.

A summary review and aggregation of responses suggests that the class of 2012 feels that college graduates need to know the tools of business that(or the world of work) focus on the communication of ideas and communication between people. Many are thinking critically about what is good information and bad information on the web. They also think that they should know something about about how a computer works beyond the basics of a particular program.

I know that my sample is small (126) and that the opinions they expressed varied. I think the "take away" for colleges is that we need to acknowledge what students think is important and spend even more time making sure that we provide what they think they need, regardless of the academic discipline. I am not at all suggesting the technology become the center of their education, but noting that they recognize that they are entering a world that requires certain skills and we should too.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How viable are tablets for schools

This is a guest blog from Estelle Shumann, with permission. I think the topic and point are perfect for these times. I see too often that colleges, schools and even individuals think that spending money on technology will fix "whatever ailes them". All too often hardware and software are wasted because little or no planning was done. Thanks Estelle!

The classroom is typically quick to adapt to advances in information technologies. High schools, colleges and universities are among the first places you’re likely to see cutting-edge computers, laptops and other technological equipment. In fact, many are turning cutting edge technologies into accredited online universities.

One technology that’s just starting to make the leap towards widespread use in higher education is the tablet computer. In institutions of higher education, tablets are perceived less as luxury commercial technology than as useful tools with the potential to make education more efficient.

Grandview High School in Jefferson County in Missouri is one high school attempting to increase the use of tablets for schools. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch story from August 2011 reported that the school spent approximately $164,000 to provide tablets and wireless Internet access for each of its 330 students. Grandview principal Matt Zopf said that students would retain the same tablet throughout high school and keep it after graduation.

Once the tablets are in the students hands, there are several ways that this equipment can impact their educational lives. Tablets can be used to take tests or complete and submit homework. Entire online classrooms can be created through different tablet applications, such as Moodle. Textbook software can also be downloaded to the tablets, giving students a digital textbook and cutting down on paper printing.

Although Grandview’s tablet implementation has progressed smoothly, other school districts have suffered different fates. Jennings School District in St. Louis County spent $1.25 million on 2,500 handheld computers. Poor management led to seldom-used tablets and $77,500 in missed rebates, costing the district $300,000 more than was budgeted for the project.

Cost is a big factor in implementing any new technology in education, and tablets are no different. An infographic printed by McClatchy Tribune compares the prices of tablets and educational software over the course of the six-year life-span typical of most college textbooks. For a typical classroom of 32 students, the cost of equipment and annual software upgrades would total approximately $36,000. This figure is almost three times the estimated cost of traditional text and workbooks for the same classroom.

Statistics indicate that tablet ownership among students is growing, especially at colleges and universities. A 2012 study conducted by the Pearson Foundation found that 25% of all college students own a tablet, up from only 7% the previous year. Of those students who owned a tablet, 90% felt that their tablet was useful for educational purposes. Approximately two-thirds of all college and high school students surveyed believed that tablets and digital textbooks would replace traditional textbooks within five years.

The use of tablet computers has encouraging potential for the future of education. Like laptops and other recent technological advances, tablets take the power of computing and wireless Internet access and make it even lighter and more portable. Although cost-prohibitive at the moment, technologies have a way of becoming cheaper with time. As the price tag on tablet computers plummets, so will any major obstacles keeping schools from implementing the use of tablets on a much wider scale.