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Technology's effect on 'study time'

08 Jul

Do today’s students study less? I see opinions on this pop up on Twitter and in blogs, usually accompanied by views about students being less motivated than past generations as a direct cause of being distracted by new technology. Let’s briefly compare today’s university students with yesteryear’s.

How did students find information before the Internet?

  • Visiting a library
  • Searching for books
  • Borrowing books
  • Photocopying pages from books
  • Writing notes from books

How do students find information today?

  • Search engines
  • Online journal and newspaper searches
  • eBooks
  • Social networks
  • Smart phone apps
  • Podcasts
  • Question/answer communities

Our everyday lives are flooded with access to information. This is something today’s students have grown up with, causing them to be resourceful and efficient. They’re more capable of sorting through irrelevant information, they use long tail keywords, they prioritise and sift through Google search results at a glance.

How did I find information as an undergrad?

In ancient 2003, when my class was given an assignment, I would almost break out into a full sprint to the library where I’d borrow as many books as possible on the topic before my classmates had the chance. If my university library didn’t have what I needed, I would drive to the National Library, request books from the catalog, wait half an hour for them to be picked out by staff, and photocopy or hand-write notes from those books. Sometimes the books weren’t what I expected and I’d spend more time searching, requesting, losing out. This would take an entire day, if not longer. Not to mention the time involved in using dial-up Internet. In my undergrad days, I must have looked to outsiders like I was studying really hard.

Imagine how much extra ‘study time’ students put in during the days of typewriters.

My study habits today

When looking for information today I download Kindle books in seconds, search online directories of journal articles, look up Google books, tweet questions to my Twitter followers, join online discussion forums, listen to iTunesU lectures … all this from the comfort of my couch.

When my professor mentions a book or website during an online lecture, I immediately bring it up on my laptop screen. I type lecture notes, exchange them with a classmate and learn things I may have missed. I listen to marketing podcasts while working out at the gym. I write essays on the weekends while IMing my friends and looking up recipes for dinner on an iPhone app. This is the world I now know, integrating my degree into everyday life.

This uncontrollable shift in the methods students use to find and consume information must not be seen as a threat. Instead of blocking technology in the classroom, educators should embrace it and include it in their curriculum. Students need to be prepared for the new workforce.

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