Student Attitudes towards Technology and Their Preferences for Learning Tools/Devices at Two Universities in the UAE

Matthew Andrew, Jennifer Taylorson, Donald J Langille, Aimee Grange, Norman Williams
Journal of Information Technology Education: Research  •  Volume 17  •  2018  •  pp. 309-344

The purpose of this study was to survey student opinions about technology in order to best implement and utilize technology in the classroom. In this paper, technology refers to ‘digital technology’. The aims of this study were to: (1) examine student attitudes towards technology in regards to enjoyment and perceived usefulness; (2) investigate what tools and devices students enjoyed and preferred to use for learning; (3) examine whether students preferred learning with books and paper instead of technological devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, smartphones); and (4) investigate whether student opinions about digital technology and preferred learning tools differ between two universities (based on their level of technology implementation) and between two programs (Foundation Studies and General Studies).

Previous studies have investigated student device choice, however, fewer studies have looked specifically at which tools and devices students choose for certain academic tasks, and how these preferences may vary according to the level of digital technology integration between two different universities.

In this study, a mix of quantitative and qualitative data was gathered from 1102 participants across two universities in the United Arab Emirates from an English-language Foundation Studies program and a first-year General Studies program. A questionnaire (containing closed-ended and open-ended questions) was followed by three focus-group interviews (n=4,3,2). ANOVA and t-Tests were used to test for statistically significant differences in the survey data, and qualitative survey and interview data were analyzed for recurring themes.

This study aims to provide a more comprehensive account of the learning tools (including books/paper, laptops, tablets, and phones) students prefer to use to complete specific academic tasks within a university context. This study also seeks to evaluate student attitudes towards using digital technology for learning, in order to best implement and utilize technology in the context of higher education institutions in the Middle East and around the world.

Findings suggest that participants enjoy learning how to use new technology, believe it improves learning, and prepares them for future jobs. Books/paper were the most preferred resources for learning, followed closely by laptops, while tablets and smartphones were much less preferred for specific educational tasks. The data also revealed that respondents preferred learning through a combination of traditional resources (e.g. books, paper) and digital technological tools (e.g. laptops, tablets).

These findings can be used to recommend to educators and higher education administrators the importance of adopting learning outcomes related to digital literacy in the classroom, to not only help students become more effective learners, but also more skilled professionals in their working lives. Additionally, classroom practices that incorporate both traditional tools and newer technological tools for learning might be most effective because they provide flexibility to find the best learning tool(s) for the task.

Participants preferred books and paper for learning. One reason was that paper helped them remember information better. More research needs to be done on the learning benefits of using more tactile mediums, such as paper for reading and writing.

The findings from this study suggest that some learners may benefit more from the use of digital technology than others. Institutions and organizations need to provide flexibility when it comes to technology implementation for both students and faculty. This flexibility can accommodate different learning styles and preferences and not isolate individuals in the classroom or workplace who may be slower to adapt to new technologies.

Future research is needed to investigate student attitudes towards digital technology at higher education institutions in other parts of the world. In addition, this study focused mostly on student perceptions of learning tools and devices in the classroom. More research needs to be done on the impact technology has on learning per se – specifically how certain tools may help learners more effectively complete different educational tasks.

student attitudes, digital technology, device choices, learning tools, higher education
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