In the fall of 2020 EDUCAUSE conducted a special study to gain insights on the student experience during what has been an exceptional time of disruption. In these reports, we share our results from the study related to student experiences with technology in the for-credit courses they were taking in fall 2020 in which they felt they were learning the most, as well as experiences, issues, and pain points students had with connectivity—specifically internet and device access—as they did their academic work in 2020.
The studies include key findings from our analysis of students' responses, concrete next steps your institution can take in response to those findings, and opportunities for connecting with peers who are implementing innovative practices.
Student Experiences with Connectivity and Technology in the Pandemic
Not All Internet Access Is Created Equal
Nearly all students have internet access at home, but some connections are better than others. Most participants (83%) reported having home internet reliable enough to meet most or all of their needs as a student.
The Struggle Is Real
Many students struggled with internet access, no matter their housing situation. Over a third (36%) of respondents reported that they always, very often, or sometimes struggled to find an internet connection that met their academic needs; students in rural areas very often or always struggled (16%) more than students in suburb (9%), city (8%), and town (7%) locales.
Get Creative or Go Without
Students have limited options away from home for an internet connection, and even then they may need to get creative. When we asked respondents where they most typically go when they are struggling to find an internet connection to do their academic work, the most common response was "home or primary place of residence" (43%), followed by "a public space on campus" (23%).
Some Devices Aren't Up to the Task
Nearly all students have access to devices for school, but not all devices can handle the demands of remote learning. Ninety-nine percent (99%) of students reported having access to a reliable device that meets most or all of their academic needs. Most (76%) told us those devices were laptops; 18% said they primarily use a desktop for their school work, and 3% said they primarily use a cellphone.
"Do-It-Yourself" Device Support
Most students are DIY'ers when it comes to troubleshooting devices problems. Our results indicate that students don't often tap their school's IT/tech support units for help when they have a device issue. Almost three-quarters (72%) of respondents reported that they try to resolve device problems themselves when issues do occur.
Student Experiences Learning with Technology in the Pandemic
Learning Environment and Course Modality
Pandemic learning happens everywhere and whenever. While the choices students had for the type of learning environments and modalities were dependent on their institutions' approaches to pandemic course delivery, some students reported good learning experiences in almost every combination we tracked.
Instructor Use of Technology
Subject matter experts (SMEs) helped us to identify seven instructor behaviors associated with the effective use of technology in teaching that we asked students to evaluate in the courses in which they were learning the most.
Course Organization and Design
Because course organization and design shapes students' learning experiences and their opportunities to interact with their instructors and one another, we asked students to rate eight design features of the courses in which they were learning the most.
Most Effective Use of Technology
When we asked students about the most effective uses of technology that they experienced in their courses during the fall 2020 term, some common themes emerged. Perhaps the most frequently cited technology critical to the student experience during the pandemic was the learning management system (LMS).
Least Effective Use of Technology
Students' worst technology experiences in their courses last fall were all over the place, but generally fall into one of three very broad categories: 1) explicit technology issues, 2) attempts to use technology that failed, and 3) poor pedagogical choices and course management practices.