Cognitive Effects of Technology Over Four Years of College

Chad N. Loes, Kem Saichaie
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 1  •  2016  •  pp. 181-196
Technology permeates higher education, yet less is known about the use of established technologies, such as email and other electronic communication mediums (e.g., discussion boards, listservs) for instructional purposes on important student outcomes such as cognitive development. In this study, we use data from the Wabash National Study to estimate the effects of email and other electronic medium use for academic purposes on three measures of cognitive development over four years of college. To investigate this, we regress each measure of cognitive development on email and electronic medium use, while simultaneously controlling for a wide array of potential confounding influences. Net of these influences, we find that email and electronic medium use are positively associated with gains in students’ Need for Cognition. These same technologies fail to have more than a chance influence on students’ critical thinking skills, however. Lastly, email use is associated with gains in the Positive Attitudes Toward Literacy measure for Whites and females, whereas electronic medium use leads to gains in the same outcome for racial and ethnic minorities. While institutions consider newer technologies for instructional purposes, our findings suggest established technologies can play a powerful role in the development of students’ cognitive skills.
Effective college teaching, pedagogy, technology, cognitive development, critical thinking
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