Student Attitudes Towards IT

Since 2005 I have been in conversation with undergraduates around the country, inquiring into their relationship with their digital tools. When I am invited to speak on other campuses (see more about these campus visits), I offer to teach one or more undergraduate classes. In each of these sessions, typically lasting an hour, I ask students to fill out a questionnaire that poses questions such as “Do you ever feel like you spend too much time online?” and “Do you ever feel the need to slow down and quiet down?”

After students have responded in writing and I have collected their responses, I lead a discussion of the issues raised by the questionnaire. The surprising (and consistent) result is this: Students overwhelming express concerns about how much time they are spending online and voice a desire to find ways to counteract this. These in-class conversations and the accompanying questionnaires (which, technically, constitute classroom exercises, not formal research) suggest that our common understanding of digital natives is wrong: although these students have grown up with the technologies, they have concerns about their engagement with them that mirror those of older generations.

More research is of course needed to confirm these findings, but the powerful, cross-generational conversations I have consistently been having suggest that we educators are missing an important opportunity to engage in dialogue with students about their relationship to IT. For further discussion of this topic, see an op-ed piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education.