Are Incoming Freshmen Digital Learners?

It’s that time of year again when all the reports come out to tell faculty about this year’s incoming freshman class, like Beloit’s Mindset List which annually reminds us all of how old we are.  The Office of Information Technology partners with our summer orientation programs to survey all incoming freshmen about their technology habits.  This year we had 523 responses to the survey. Follow this link to see all eight infographics and read on for highlights: Freshmen Technology Survey Infographics

Generation Z

100% of students have a smart phone; 82% have iphones & 18% have android phonesSome of those reports tell us that our freshmen are members of Generation Z and describe them as “connected since birth” (Cheryl Faux. “Generation Z: Connected From Birth.” 27 February 2015.)  Our survey results bear that out–100% of survey respondents report owning a smart phone.  In past years, there was always at least one who did not; but this year we’ve crossed the threshold to full ownership.  That constant connection comes out in their digital habits–they spend their time online on social media (85%, with Instagram and Snapchat as the leading apps), 63% check their email at least daily with another 19% checking when notified, and 64% manage their to do lists with reminders on their phone. A staggering 90% of students video chat, with 75% using Facetime (82% have iPhones). Take a look at all eight infographics (also linked from the thumbnail below) to gain more insight into how they take notes, manage deadlines, and prefer to communicate with instructors.

More than Two Thirds of Incoming Freshmen Don’t Maintain a Digital Identity

69% of incoming freshmen don't maintain a digital identityBut students still are not thinking critically about their digital presence.  Of our respondents 69% report that they don’t maintain a digital identity and another 8% weren’t sure.  When asked about a variety of creative activities done online (website, blog, videos, game development), the highest percentage was 30% who “make and share memes, photos, graphics, etc.”  As we’ve seen in past years, students are connected but still need to develop their skills in critical thinking and creating with technology.

90% of Incoming Freshmen Have Used a Learning Management System

90% of incoming freshmen have used a learning management systemWe saw another jump in student familiarity with learning management systems (LMS) like Canvas.  This year only 10% reported that they had never used an LMS.  And, now 45% of students have taken a class online (an increase of 11 percentage points from last year) with 71% reporting that they would do so again. So to answer the question posed in the title for this post, yes incoming freshmen are becoming digital learners.

Makerspaces or Making Technologies?

Student interest in makerspaces and maker technologiesFinally, we see a strong interest in new technologies, especially those associated with “making”, like 3-D printing (64%) or Laser Cutting (51%), as well as drones (48%), virtual reality (49%), and artificial intelligence (54%).  The only new technology where we see a decline from previous years is in wearable technologies like fitbits or apple watches.  44% of students have used them but only 43% are interested.  This is likely one new technology that is not so new anymore.   We also asked students if they were interested in a makerspace; while they show strong interest in the making technologies 81% of students don’t know what a makerspace is.

These are only a few highlights from this year’s survey.  Check out these infographics for more results and thanks to OIT Student Ambassador, Tate Seroczynski for creating them.

Thumbnail of Freshmen Technology Survey Infographic
Click on the thumbnail above to access all 8 infographics.

See results from years past in the following blog posts:

Google, Mobile, and What Else? Insights from the 2017 Freshman Technology Survey (2017)

Freshmen are Mobile, Social, and Always Connected (2015)

Freshmen Technology Survey (2014)


About Rebecca Davis

Rebecca Frost Davis Director of Instructional and Emerging Technology Rebecca Frost Davis joined St. Edward’s in July 2013 as Director of Instructional and Emerging Technology, where she provides leadership in the development of institutional vision with respect to the use of technology in pursuit of the university’s educational mission and collaborates with offices across campus to create and execute strategies to realize that vision. Instructional Technology helps faculty transform and adapt new digital methods in teaching and research to advance the essential learning outcomes of liberal education. Previously, Dr. Davis served as program officer for the humanities at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), where she also served as associate director of programs. Prior to her tenure at NITLE, she was the assistant director for instructional technology at the Associated Colleges of the South Technology Center and an assistant professor of classical studies at Rhodes College, Denison University, and Sewanee: The University of the South. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in classical studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. (summa cum laude) in classical studies and Russian from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Davis is also a fellow with the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE). As a NITLE Fellow, Dr. Davis will develop a literature review relevant to intercampus teaching, which will cover contextual issues such as team-teaching, teaching through videoconferencing, and collaboration; a survey of intercampus teaching at NITLE member institutions; and several case studies of intercampus teaching at liberal arts colleges, including interviews with faculty, students, support staff, and administrators. This work will be summarized in a final report or white paper to be published by NITLE. At Rebecca Frost Davis: Liberal Education in a Networked World, ( Dr. Davis blogs about the changes wrought by new digital methods on scholarship, networking, and communication and how they are impacting the classroom. In her research, she explores the motivations and mechanisms for creating, integrating, and sustaining digital humanities within and across the undergraduate curriculum.
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