Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Are our undergraduate construction students really ‘digital natives’?

In the higher education world we often hear that nowadays the students joining our courses have grown up immersed in digital technologies and are already highly proficient in using these technologies. They are the so-called ‘digital natives’ whilst the older generation are the ‘digital immigrants’. I realise that these ideas have been challenged but in my experience it is a widely held view that young people entering higher education are very ‘tech-savvy’ and don’t need any advice from us about the use of technology.

I wanted to get the students’ own views on this issue in order that we can adapt our provision to cater for students’ needs. At the start of the academic year last month I conducted a survey of all new students joining the Construction Studies Undergraduate Programme to identify the level of access they had to computing and how familiar they were with various technologies. The programme comprises five honours degree courses in construction-related disciplines, namely Architectural Technology, Building Engineering, Building Surveying, Construction Management, and Quantity Surveying & Commercial Management.

The survey yielded a total of 99 responses out of a total intake of 129 students so it is obviously just a small snapshot from one programme in one university. Nevertheless, it does produce some interesting results. Here are just a few of the key findings:
  • The vast majority of students (93%) have access to their own laptop. The majority of these devices run the Windows operating system.

  • Only around half the students currently have access to a tablet device.

  • The overwhelming majority of students (95%) have a smart phone. Around a half of these are iPhones.

  • Use of social media is nowhere near as widespread as we might expect. Whilst most students have a Facebook account, around two thirds of them post to Facebook rarely or never. Around 40% of students do not have a Twitter account and of those students who do, most of them rarely ‘tweet’. Google+ is only used frequently by around 20% of students.

  • 95% of students have never maintained their own blog. Similarly, around 95% have limited or no experience of using wikis, and almost 90% have limited or no experience of using discussion boards.

  • 95% of students have limited or no experience of using social bookmarking (such as Diigo or Delicious) and almost 80% of students have limited or no experience of using image hosting services (such as Flickr).

  • Around half the students do not use any form of cloud storage.

  • There is very limited use of ‘productivity’ web apps such as notetaking apps (e.g Evernote) or ‘to-do’ list apps (e.g. Wunderlist).
What does this tell us?
In my view this suggests that we cannot simply assume that our students are highly proficient in the use of digital technologies. I think our courses have to incorporate guidance on digital literacies and the effective use of digital technologies so that students can get the most from their studies and be better prepared for the professional world.

Further information
A document summarising the responses to the survey is available in PDF format here.

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