By HANNAH GALEONE
Students and faculty at the University of Mary Washington have mixed feelings about the use of technology in an academic environment. The two most recent generations, “Generation Z and Millennials,” rely on technology in every moment of their lives, whether it is the use of a smartphone to send an email or Tweet or using a laptop in class to live stream a lecture. Just like the millennial and the Z generations, UMW students rely heavily on technology in the classroom.
“As a digital generation, Generation Z expects digital learning tools such as [Skype and online forums] to be deeply integrated into their education,” said Forbes in a recent study. “For [Generation Z], technology has always been a fully integrated experience into every part of their lives.”
Professors at UMW have mixed feelings when it comes to the use of technology in their classrooms. Figuring out what is acceptable and what is not is something that they work to decipher on a daily basis.
“One of my goals for my creative writing students is achieving writing fluency,” says Dr. Warren Rochelle, an English Professor at UMW. Dr. Rochelle wants “as much as possible, to facilitate and support students’ writing processes and to make the link between imagining a character, a place, a conversation, the story, and writing down the story as fluid as possible.”
Rochelle continued, “technology is a tool that can help students become more fluent as writers, and for them to see that process and product are connected.”
Although technology can be beneficial in the learning environment, there can be negative aspects to the use of electronic devices in the classroom.
“Having worked for a long time in the software industry, I see both value and drawbacks to incorporating technology into our classrooms, just as we do in our daily lives and in our professional futures,” says Dr. Brenta Blevins, an Assistant Professor of Writing Studies at UMW. “I talk with my students about how using technology in the classroom for non-class purposes is distracting not only to them, but also to their classmates,” Blevins states. “Classroom technology use should help students learn and do their work, not distract them from learning.”
When asked about technology in the classroom, several students expressed their apprehension toward the use of electronic devices in class.
“I think [electronic devices] hinder the learning process. I like to write stuff out [when I take notes],” said sophomore Rick Altenburg. “Having a laptop out [while I’m in class] is too distracting.”
“I feel that technology in [the] classroom hinders the learning process. There is just no good use for general technology [in the classroom],” said Chris Hanbury. “If someone has a learning challenge, then it is acceptable for them to use technology to be on an even playing field with the other students.”
“I always feel that I have more of an understanding of what is going on in class when I don’t use technology [during the lecture],” said senior Dan Clark. “When I take notes I always hand write [them].”
Although technology is a distraction for some students, the Learning Disabilities Association in Ontario said that using a laptop can help students with handwriting difficulties.
“For students with handwriting difficulties, being able to take notes on a laptop or computerized device (such as an iPad) can improve the quantity and quality of the notes,” says the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario. “Using a word processor can help students to complete work that is more organized and includes less spelling errors than handwritten work.”
At UMW, the Office of Disability Resources works to make sure that every student at Mary Washington has the tools they need to learn to their fullest extent. The ODR has technology available to approved students that can assist those with “specific learning disability conditions/dyslexia, attention deficit disorders, speech/language impairments” according to the Office of Disability Resources website. There is a font, called “Dyslexie,” designated to improve the reading abilities of those with dyslexia
When asked about the acceptance of smartphones and laptops in class, students reflected on their professors’ opinions on electronic devices.
“Most of my professors are OK with you having your laptop or tablet out as long as you’re actually taking notes,” said Altenburg.
“I have one professor who does not want to see our phones in class,” said Hanbury.
In a recent study, Barnes and Noble said that “as digital natives, [members of Generation Z and Millennials] expect technology to play an instrumental role in their educational experience.” This study revealed that 64 percent of students said that they preferred to use websites with study materials over paper textbooks and 84 percent of students preferred to have a Smartboard in their classroom over a chalk or white-erase board.
The battle to find equilibrium where technology benefits those in an academic setting and does not detract is something that the current generation, alongside the previous generations, continues to take part in. Research shows that technology in the classroom is highly effective — the goal now is to integrate technology seamlessly into the world of education.