Are today's students truly 'tech savvy'?

Summary:A new report released by the ESRC puts doubt in the theory.

It is difficult to prove that the Generation Y and young people today are not more technologically adapted than their older counterparts.

They may sometimes display an unhealthy level of dependence on their mobile phone, become bored easily when taught in school how to use basic commands in Microsoft Word and be called upon often to fix the problem with the printer, but are all members of this age bracket clued-up and comfortable with technology?

A new study conducted by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) explored this question in an attempt to find out just how the younger generation connect and use technology.

Among other findings, the council discovered that there is a minority of students who choose not to use email and are confused by the range of technology used and available at universities. However, many students demonstrated heavy dependence on their mobile phones, and often find themselves distracted by social media during study.

The research was led by Dr Christopher Jones of the Open University, a global course provider, and is named "The Net Generation encountering elearning at University". The team interviewed and collated data from over 2000 students in their first year at five British universities. Dr Jones said:

"Our research shows that the argument that there is a generational break between today's generation of young people who are immersed in new technologies and older generations who are less familiar with technology is flawed.

The diverse ways that young people use technology today shows the argument is too simplistic and that a new single generation, often called the 'net generation', with high skill levels in technology does not exist."

The study found:

  • 97.8 percent of students owned a mobile phone;
  • Just over three quarters -- 77.4 percent -- owned a laptop and 38.1 percent owned a desktop computer.
  • 70.1 percent felt their access to computers was sufficient to meet their computing needs.
  • The mobile phone was chosen by 83.2 percent as the device students would miss the most if it was taken away.
  • A small minority of students don't use email or have access to mobile phones.

Students 20 years old or younger reported being more engaged in instant messaging, texting, social networks and downloading video media than students who were aged 25 years or more. Only 4.3 percent of those 20 or younger never used social networking sites, and for those 35 or older this rose to 78.5 percent.

Younger students were more likely to use these services for information and communication, whereas the older age bracket claimed to use them for study purposes. Social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter were commonly referenced as distracting, but students said they sometimes turned them off or 'took breaks' when studying.

Certain technologies used by universities were used by students rarely, no matter the age; contributing to blogs -- only 21.5 per cent -- and wikis -- 12.1 per cent -- and just 2 percent stated they had used a virtual world, outside of gaming.

Despite the rapid development and increased adoption of mobile technology, students still inhabit the same 'learning spaces' that other generations relied upon. They continue to study in their bedrooms, university libraries and study spaces, and few choose to use mobile technology more than occasionally to study in other areas, such as coffee shops.

According to the research, there was little evidence that today's students demand modern technology when entering university that the academic institution cannot provide. Technological integration is expanding, however in terms of study, students may not be as reliant on it to learn as we stereotype them to be.

Image credit: Bartosz Maciejewski

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Topics: CXO, Collaboration, Social Enterprise

About

Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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