Undergraduates’ technology problems and needs

Technology has helped many students continue their education during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has also increased their burdens. Now, a new survey of 820 US college students underscores the new normal—from the student perspective—of the higher-ed-tech landscape. The 2022 Students and Technology Report: Rebalancing the Student Experience survey was released this week by Educause, a nonprofit organization focused on information technology in higher education.

Despite the broad tech understanding among college students, the survey found that many struggle with tech challenges beyond their control, such as: B. unstable internet access. At the same time, assistive technologies designed for students with disabilities seem to help all students. While students are largely self-sufficient in solving technology challenges, colleges still have a role to play by providing support as they work to solve technology problems, the survey report authors concluded.

Technology often enhances students’ ability to learn, but it can also present barriers. In the past year, more than three-quarters of the students who took the survey (77 percent) had at least one technology challenge, and more than half (51 percent) said those challenges caused stress.

Most survey respondents (64 percent) struggled with unstable internet connections, including more than a quarter (29 percent) who said they lost connection during a class reunion, exam, or other synchronous activity.

Almost half of respondents (46 percent) experienced a malfunction of a required device when needed, and more than a third (39 percent) were unable to run a required application or software when needed.

“Empathetic classroom practices like flexible deadlines and attendance policies will go a long way in helping students navigate unreliable Internet access,” said Jenay Robert, Educause researcher and author of the report.

According to Jessica Rowland Williams, director of Every Learner Everywhere, an organization focused on digital learning in higher education, solutions to technology challenges are not one-size-fits-all. Rather, digital learning challenges can look different depending on the type of student and institution. For example, according to Williams, urban HBCU students without Internet access may face different challenges than rural tribal college students without Internet access.

“A lot of these challenges are multifaceted,” Williams said. “Even if we solved all internet problems and everyone had great internet [you need to ask], ‘Do you have the right device?’ or ‘Are you working from a mobile phone’ or ‘Do you have a laptop?’ And when they have the right device, ‘Is the course structured in a way that actually engages the students?’”

Assistive technology helps all students

Although few students surveyed (5 percent) identified a disability for which they sought assistive technology, many more still rely on these tools. Almost one in five students (18 percent) said they needed each assistive technology from a list of nine, including closed captioning on video, digital player/recorder, word prediction software, digital highlighter, text-to-speech software, speech-to-speech Word software, pentop computer, digital magnifying glass and screen reader.

“Ultimately, when you design for students on the fringes, you really support the success of all students,” Williams said. For example, “closed captions in videos are not only beneficial for students with hearing disabilities, but also for students who work in places where they cannot listen to the video.”

Many students indicated that they needed at least one of the assistive technologies. More than a third of respondents need captions for videos (38 percent), digital players or recorders (36 percent) or word prediction software (34 percent). At least a quarter require text-to-speech software (26 percent) and pen-top computers (25 percent). Almost one in five (18 percent) needs a screen reader.

For this reason, Robert suggests that colleges should consider raising awareness of how all students have access to assistive technology services. You could also look at policies that impede access to these services, such as For example, “requiring students to justify requests for assistance with medical records,” Robert said.

Students mainly obtain technical solutions themselves, with the support of universities

Previous studies have found that students tend to solve technology problems alone or with the help of family or friends. Still, according to survey respondents, colleges have a role to play in reducing the technology burden on students. For example, many students rely on access to campus hardware available in computer labs (21 percent) or access to campus Wi-Fi (14 percent) to troubleshoot technical issues.

“Students are working from parking lots, anywhere they can find Wi-Fi,” Williams said. “We need to create more hotspots for students.”

“Institutions could consider how physical spaces should be used to support students taking distance learning courses while they are on campus,” Robert said.

With nearly a quarter of the students surveyed reporting having purchased a new digital device, such as a laptop, desktop, or tablet computer, Robert also suggests that colleges “could offer more one-to-one device services, such as device rental programs.”

“Faculty must consider designing courses so that students can be successful even when they don’t have high-quality Wi-Fi connections,” Williams said. Fewer synchronous sessions and more videos that can be downloaded or recorded webinars will help, Williams said, as will options for students to post if they have access to Wi-Fi.