Most students (70 percent) say they prefer mostly or completely face-to-face learning environments, but those preferences are greatly impacted by specific demographic factors.
This finding and others about learning preferences and digital tools are documented in EDUCAUSE’s 2019 study on students and information technology. The report pulls from data on more than 40,000 students across 118 U.S. institutions.
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Married students or those in a domestic partnership, students working 40 or more hours weekly, students age 25 or older, and those who have both a physical and a learning disability requiring technology for coursework all say they strongly prefer classes that are mostly or entirely online, according to the research.
There are several activities that students say they prefer to complete in face-to-face environments, including labs and demonstrations, faculty-student conferences, and lectures. Surveyed students say they view in-class lectures as a chance to engage with instructors and peers, and technology is a means to that engagement.
Many students voiced a desire to be more than audience members in class:
“I want my professors to stop reading PowerPoint slides word-for-word off of a screen, and to start using the technology at hand to create a different kind of lecture that will engage their students in the learning process,” one student said in the survey.
“I’d love for there to be more interactive polling and questions during class. Even though I don’t like the idea of being in lecture every day, that would keep me more engaged if the instructors were more dynamic with their tech use,” another said.
Most students say they prefer a blended environment for coursework such as projects with peers, submitting homework or other assignments, peer review activities, and exams or tests.
“To turn these findings into action, instructors can take a more student-centered approach when choosing an environment for a particular learning task. Incorporating active learning strategies that integrate technology (such as online collaborative quizzes and polling) into traditional lectures and labs offers opportunities to engage students and maximizes face time with instructors and peers,” author Dana C. Gierdowski writes. “With online and blended learning rated No. 2 in the 2019 Key Issues in Teaching and Learning, it’s clear that higher education community members see the importance of working in this area.”
Despite students’ preferences for blended environments when it comes to coursework, students rate campus housing and outdoor spaces poorly when it comes to reliable Wi-Fi. More than one-third of surveyed students say their campus has poor or fair outdoor Wi-Fi access–but libraries and classrooms are rated highly for their Wi-Fi reliability.
Students who use online success tools say those tools have become more useful in helping them with activities such as degree planning and auditing, as well as identifying ways to improve course performance.
Just half of students who have a physical and/or learning disability requiring accessible technologies or accommodations rated their institution’s support positively, according to the report. Twenty-one percent of this student group said their institution’s support is poor or fair, while 24 percent said their institution’s awareness is poor or fair. Eleven percent of students with disabilities said their institution is not aware at all of their technology needs, suggesting that many of these students are experiencing barriers to disclosing their disability.
The report offers five recommendations for IT leaders and institutions to create stronger IT offerings that align with students’ needs:
1. Leverage analytics to gain a greater understanding of the student demographics that influence learning environment preferences.
2. Continue to promote online success tools and provide training to students on their use through orientations and advisement sessions.
3. Expand efforts to improve Wi-Fi reliability in campus housing and outdoor spaces.
4. Allow students to use the devices that are most important to their academic success in the classroom.
5. Establish a campus community to address accessibility issues and give “accessibility evangelists” a seat at the table.