At the risk of making this blog morph into something that its not (an iPad blog), this entry will have nothing to do with the iPad (or will it?).
Over the past week as a way of experimenting with Google Forms and to satisfy my curiosity about my student's technology habits, I created a very simple survey for them to complete as part of their homework assignment. Because the assignment sheets, materials, and anything else they would need are already accessible online through the course website, asking them to click on an extra link was not at all Herculean in its magnitude. Also, the prevailing argument across the faculty and administration here is that student's don't have as reliable access to the internet as we think (or want) them to. I wanted to put that argument to rest.
The original catalyst for this was to find a quick and easy way to gather a class email list without collecting note cards with information written on them, typing in the addresses, etc. Once I had set up that portion, I said "Why not expand it a little more and learn a small bit about what they have and what they use?". So I did just that. I asked them about the various pieces of technology in their household, the web services that they use, and what platform (Mac, Windows, other) they are most comfortable with. The coup de grace question was direct data mining about whether or not it makes sense for us to push harder for a wireless network on campus. Just so you know, we're one of the top schools in the region, piles of awards, and our overall technology access and integration is horrible. There is no official method for faculty to use their own devices on the network, never mind students using their own netbooks, laptops, etc.
One-hundred percent of my students responded to the survey before the next class meeting (it was, after all, assigned as part of their homework.) Yes, 100%. No excuses - I showed them where the survey was located, how short it was and they did it. In my larger classes (26 and 30 respectively), I haven't had 100% compliance on anything all year. That intrigued me right then and there.
From there, the responses (I felt) were fairly typical and predictable. 80-85% of all the students have their own personal email address, nearly 95% of all my students have facebook/myspace/other social networking accounts, a relatively small percentage (under 20) use AIM/Google Talk/Skype, and all other web services are overall very low.
90% of all respondents said that they had internet access- although a handful of those that said they didn't, responded that they had a wireless network. I think the terminology is what confused them. Given the compliance of the survey, and the time stamps on responses that were no, I'm inclined to believe that the actual number is closer to 100% for internet access at home. Far more students have video game systems than laptops: again, not at all surprising.
Lastly, and this surprised me given the prevalence of the iPod-Apple-ecosystem... Preference of using Mac OS X was in the single digits. Over 90% use Windows in their homes.
The Wireless Response
Over 50% in every single class responded that if the school were to establish an open wireless network for students to access that they would bring a netbook or a laptop to school and use the device in their classes. I had a hunch that the number would be statistically significant, I didn't know that it would eclipse a majority.
We are doing such a disservice to the students in equiping them with 21st century skills for use beyond their high school years. Even now, in April, I'm still struggling against the accepted culture of technology use and integration in my day to day teaching. However, this small sample of around a hundred students is indicating to me that they have the desire to use more and to make their lives as students more simple. The other side of this argument is that if more students are using their own devices during the day time, it'll free up more of the school's computers for students who may not have as reliable access off campus.
Now the hard part is fighting the uphill battle with those in charge of IT to figure out ways to get access to these students. If the faculty can't have a wireless network (especially those who float), it is tough to see the student's gaining access any time soon.