College students cite technology preferences

A survey by CourseSmart and Wakefield Research in 2011 reported that 73 percent of college students cannot study without at least one piece of technology. Whether it be finding assignments on Moodle, creating class presentations, answering email from professors and peers, accessing databases, or writing essays, technology is now an integral aspect of nearly every course of study.

According to a survey conducted by the Office of Information Technology and Educational Technology Services during Orientation Week 2014, 98 percent of incoming students brought a laptop with them to New College.

“Just to qualify, [the sample consists of] first-year students who actually came to the session during Orientation and decided to click the button,” Educational Technology Services Coordinator Allen Goldberg said. However, he continued, “this is a reasonable sample of incoming students.”

These results parallel national statistics from a 2013 study by re:fuel College Explorer, which found that a laptop was owned by 85 percent of college students, and campus statistics from a recent poll conducted by the Catalyst, which found that 92 percent of students preferred a laptop over a tablet.

“Most people’s tablet is a pad of paper,” Goldberg continued. From the Orientation Week survey in 2013 and 2014, 67 percent of students just simply used pen and paper rather than a tablet. Out of the tablet users, iPads were the most common in 2014.

“Laptops are the most practical,” Goldberg said. Now that a lot of software can be run on personal computers, students are granted the flexibility to sit anywhere in the library, for example, instead of having to work in the lab.

Since the WiFi was improved in the library last year, the number of students using their own laptops instead of the open-use lab in the Academic Resource Center has increased. “People are anywhere they want now in the library with a laptop,” he continued. “Again, for the flexibility of laptops, it makes a lot of sense.”

First-year student Wes Harper represents the minority of those whose tablet is not a pad of paper. “I use my tablet for school because it doesn’t run the games my laptop can,” he said. “In regards to school stuff, my tablet does everything I need it to do besides Sapling [a program for chemistry students].”

“As things have been progressing along there has been a lot of productivity software that allows you to use any device and then the data will be on all of your devices,” Chief Information Officer Ryan Noble said about tablets. “For instance, if you did want a tablet and you wanted it to take notes and organize them using a tool like Evernote, it will then show up on your laptop.” He also added that while they may not be ideal for beginning a large project, tablets work well for note-taking. Goldberg mentioned that taking notes on tablets with a stylus is particularly useful when a student needs to draw something, such as a diagram, in their notes.

“It is a lot lighter to carry a tablet,” Noble continued.

The national College Explorer survey’s results concluded that out of those who own a tablet, 33 percent use it for work and research, 33 percent use it for note-taking, and 37 percent use it for e-textbooks.

When asked about e-textbooks, Goldberg said there are multiple reasons why they are not as widespread, specifically at New College.

“We are not a textbook-driven institution, so we don’t see it in the same way that some other schools do where you are much more [likely to be given a list with] ‘these are the textbooks [you need for classes],’” he said. “We have some obviously for certain fields, but for most of our AOCs, we don’t have a lot of textbooks.” Plus, the e-textbook market is still evolving and currently lacks standardization in publishers, licensing, format availability, etc. However, it really boils down to the individual, and whether they prefer reading off a tablet or a physical book.

College Explorer reported that the second most commonly owned device by college students nationally was a smartphone, which was also the device most students planned to obtain in the coming year. According to the Orientation Week 2014 survey, 62 percent of incoming students with a phone owned an iPhone, up from 45 percent the year before. Androids took second place at 29 percent in 2014, down from the previous year, and a regular old cell phone took third at 8 percent, down almost ten percentage points from the previous year.

Gaming systems, many of which also include video streaming services, are quite common on not only college campuses around the nation, but on campus here as well. Nationally, video game consoles were the third most commonly owned device by college students at 68 percent. While that towers over the Orientation Week 2014 statistic, still about a quarter of the incoming class came with a gaming console.

“People are trying to recreate their environment from home,” Noble said, a possible reason behind the large number of gaming devices.

“It terms of computers, this campus has always been more PC than Mac,” Goldberg said. “We are starting to see that Mac uptick clearly, it is still almost like 2 to 1 (PC to Macs), but I know when I started here three years ago, it was much more the other way, and just anecdotally, sitting in the library, I [now] see a lot more Apple logos.”

This is reflected in both the 2013 and 2014 Orientation Week surveys, which found more people utilizing a Windows operating system for their laptop or desktop rather than a Mac operating system with it becoming slightly more balanced in the latter year.

“I just find Windows to be way easier to navigate than Mac,” second-year student Danielle Husband said. “It’s also what I’ve always used in the past. I feel most people stick to what they know. Especially with technology, which is always changing.”

She went on to say that contrary to popular opinion, she enjoys the tile format in Windows 8. “Very easy to navigate and find things,” she said.

In contrast, Harper owns a Mac, an iPad, and an iPhone. “I can easily send stuff back and forth between them because of the same softwares,” he said. “I can utilize iMessage on all three of my devices.”

“I do overall prefer the Apple operating systems with how they’re laid out and in terms of the user interface,” Harper continued.

“I think you need to use what works for what you’re trying to do,” Goldberg said. Conclusively, there is no universal right or wrong device: the particular technology choice satisfies the demands of the user.

Information for this article was gathered from and

Leave a Reply