University of Waterloo Class Survey on Educational Technology


As part of MSci 442, the Impact of Information Systems on Organisations and Society, students responded to an online evaluation of their use of and attitudes to information technology. The survey was based on the Educause ECAR annual student survey and used a selection of questions from that survey. Questions were included on the use of technology in the classroom. It was distributed to 320 students and 118 responded – responses were fully anonymous. The results are an interesting insight into information technology usage and perceptions of this at the University of Waterloo. The students were final year undergraduates in engineering, math or computer science programmes.

Much effort is being made at UW and in other universities to effectively use information technology to enhance the learning of students. This classroom survey is intended to support that effort. If you would like access to the full survey results please email the author of this post: pdcarr@uwaterloo.ca

Some of the labelling of the charts in this post is very small – you can click on the chart itself to view an enlargement and read the chart detail.

The students who responded to the survey had a strong information technology orientation as their responses to the questions in the following chart illustrate:

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The survey first asked about the information technology items that students owned. 93 % had smartphones (either Blackberry, Android or Apple) and a wide range of other devices were owned by the respondents. Laptops remain ubiquitous with 95 % of students owning them, while 44 % owned tablets. No students possessed no electronic devices of any kind.

Student online activity was frequent and widespread. 83 % use instant messaging at least once per day (71 % several times a day). 95 % text message at least once per day (86 % several times a day. Most people use email. Twitter is not in common use with only 20 % using it regularly. Viewing videos is a regular activity as is the use of Facebook with 87 % accessing it at least once per day. LinkedIn is used regularly by only 30 % of students, while few use social studying sites such as Cramster. Foursquare is also rarely used.

Online library resources are never used by 24% of those responding to the survey and only 71 % use the online learning management system (UWLearn). 9 % say that they never use the LMS. 90 % say that they never use e – portfolios. This data appears to indicate that a significant proportion (possibly 9 %) of students are not using the online education environment at UW and may indicate that efforts are needed to overcome this. Most people do not use freely available online course content, such as the Khan Academy, to supplement their studies.

On a scale of 1 – 5  most students indicated that they thought that UW rated a 3 in terms of the level of their technology adoption.

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Most felt too that information technology enhanced their academic experience in a wide range of areas such as helping them work faster, connecting them more to activities at the university, taking control of their own learning and producing higher quality work. Most students seem to beleive that information technology is an important part of the academic process – 78 % agreed with the statement that technology was an essential part of the college experience and 51 % felt that technology was instrumental in successful teaching. The following chart shows the responses on a 5 point scale with 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree:

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66 % felt that the University of Waterloo needed more information technology while only 27 % felt that their instructors used information technology effectively. 65 % felt that they knew more about how to use information technology than their professors did. The following chart shows how the students perceived the use of information technology in their university experience:

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When asked about the type of online learning environment that they preferred, the students provided a range of responses. Seminars and other smaller classes with some online components were most popular, while classes that gave students the option of using online components were also preferred. The following chart shows the responses:

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While there appears to be substantial support for the use of information technology in teaching at the university by students, they are much less comfortable with entirely online courses – only 14 % thought that a course taken only online was of equal value to that in the classroom:

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The final question in the survey was open ended and asked: “Please describe in as much detail as you can how your university or professors could use technology better when it comes to providing you with the best possible university and learning experience. Please mention any additional technology that you think would be beneficial to your education, or ways to make current technology use more effective.” 41 students responded to this question. This post concludes with a selection of the comments which are posted below:

  • Professors who insist on only teaching off the blackboard with no online resources are awful
  • All materials need to be posted online. It is easy to study from there, some professors do not like doing it
  • I absolutely hate it when professors try to teach Mathematics or any type of technical content using power points.
  •  Online courses don’t offer the face to face time that I believe is required for proper learning
  • Learn what’s out there. Let us actually do real applications when solving problems. If it needs simplification then simplify it
  • I like when professors use technology to enhance their point not replace it.
  • Using Learn all professors should follow a general outline of what should be up there for a course. From course notes to tutorials and in class handouts. Currently there is a lot that is lacking in that regard, some professors use Learn effectively while others barely do so. I believe audio+video lectures should be available online for at least the period of 2-4 weeks allowing students the opportunity to view a lecture in case they missed out
  • Links to video that can supplement course material
  • Marks for assignments, midterms, labs should all be posted as soon as possible to keep students up to date.
  • Some professor use technology above and beyond my expectations. Some professors on the other hand hardly use technology available to them.
  • I believe technology should be used as an aid and/or support to professor’s lecturers. Overwhelming the use of technology can easily turn the course into learning a technology rather than learning the course material
  • There is the danger of professors being overloaded with having too many new tools to learn, meaning that they will either give up on using them, or their ability to use these tools will be slowed to the point that no benefit can be drawn.
  • Professors need to incorporate more e-learning into their course. They can do things like online workshops, real world model relations, providing actual examples of the practicality of the course, building on in-class lectures through supplemental notes and examples, recruiting industry experts to talk about the course for a day, etc
  • I think the best way to go is to have normal lectures and put all content they teach online. Some students do very well when they study on their own, and some, do well by attending classes. In both cases, students still need to review the course material after class. By putting notes online, you can do well whether you like attending classes or not. You have the information, and you are responsible to learn it which ever way that works for you. For me, ive always been an independent learner and whenever a prof had organized notes posted online, i ended up doing well in that course
  • Make high quality lecture videos and post them online. This allows a student to learn at their own pace. Then, hold interactive practice tutorials for students to interact with their instructors and peers to sort out confusion. Sitting silent in large lecture halls while a prof gives a lecture that they have given dozens of times before  doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. This seems to be wasting a lot of people’s time doing low quality learning.
  • It is a waste to have paper textbooks when a lot of times are not used, especially for certain type of courses. E-textbooks can also allow interactivity between the text and the student and new editions don’t need to be re-printed.
  • Technology speeds up the rate that information can be delivered however this is not a good thing in the classes. Learning is limited to a certain amount rate and trying to speed that process up will only serve to overload the student with information
  • One of my professors used to take notes on his tablet and project onto the screen during lectures. he would then save these notes and upload them on Desire2Learn so that we would have access to them later on. I thought this was very advanced and useful.
  • Use Desire2Learn more effectively. Many features are not used or are used poorly. For instance, I have never seen the calendar feature used for any course I have taken.  Video tutorials of software that we are required to use in labs (and have never been formally taught) would help getting the most out of lab time.
  • Most times in learning we only take in 20% of what the prof says. To be able to review things again will be very valuable. However, it can take up more time to view the entire lecture again. It would also discourage people from going to class because they can just view it online, which has it’s pros and cons.
  • Teaching of courses that require 3D ‘thinking’ such as organic chemistry should be done with video or software
  •  It is frustrating to have a lecture in a class room that is out of date by 30 years when we pay such a high amount of money. Overhead projectors should not be allowed as resources by professors as they are very difficult to see, especially in front of large classes
  • The university should encourage and teach professors to use the technology available and if it is to cumbersome, develop software that is more efficient
  • Most professors should record lectures. Slides should not be relied upon as the ONLY reference regarding the lecture. Lecture notes are extrememly helpful as well.
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