UW Today

March 23, 2012

Tech survey shows students want better connections, faculty want more flexible classrooms

News and Information

One of the most common questions concerning technology that is uttered by UW students is, “Where do I connect?” whereas the most common question from faculty would be something like, “Is this classroom wired?”

UW Information Technology recently completed its survey of technology use and attitudes among faculty and students. The results provide a snapshot of where the UW is going in its use of technology and has proven helpful in identifying both opportunities and obstacles. Similar surveys are conducted every three years to spot trends and identify ongoing issues.

“Were seeing greater variety in the use of technology in classes of different sizes,” says Cara Giacomini, research manager with UW-IT. “We see students using more technology-based tools with their classmates – well beyond those assigned by their teacher.”

The survey revealed very few obstacles to access for obtaining technology. But students would like to see more places where they can plug in laptops, more consistent wireless access, and more choices among places to use mobile technology. “This is especially true of informal places on campus,” Giacomini says. “”Students want more convenient electrical outlets and more places that dont become oversaturated when a bunch of students are using wireless devices.”

Faculty and TAs, for their part, would like to see more consistent classroom technology, so that as classes move from one room to another over the course of a year the teacher can use one design for the classroom experience that works in different settings. ”Theyd like more classrooms that are not only adequately equipped but also support more flexible uses of facilities,” she says. “Many classrooms are configured for one model of teaching, and using another model can require moving heavy tables, for example, to allow students to work in small groups or plug in laptops.”

Students were somewhat critical of the way faculty use technology when it comes to the availability of online information: theyd like to see all material related to a single course online in one area, preferably MyUW. “We find that standards for posting information online vary a lot from department to department,” Giacomini says.

This year, for the first time, the survey included a substantial group of researchers. The survey showed that the key issue for faculty across a broad range of disciplines is data management. As datasets grow – whether in science, engineering or in humanities fields such as art history – the increasing need for storage is creating challenges. Most researchers are still addressing these needs by adding storage on their own personal computer. Faculty typically rely on local support – from a departmental expert or from colleagues – when they have questions.

The study also reconfirms a fact, that faculty frequently bring their research into the classroom. “Todays technology raises some intriguing possibilities for using the same technology that faculty are using for collaboration among their peers and incorporating into classroom instruction,” Giacomini says.

The survey revealed no major obstacles for faculty and students acquiring knowledge about how to use technology: Both groups rated themselves relatively high in mastery. Most feel very comfortable with their ability to understand the “how to” of technology, but the survey suggests much less confidence in addressing the issue of “when and why,” Giacomini says.

The entire survey is available at http://www.washington.edu/lst/research/research_projects/2011techsurveys.