Posts and Tweets and Emails – Oh My! Investigating students’ mobile technology use and preferences in the classroom

Concurrent Session 10

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

We report on a survey of 608 undergraduate students regarding their uses and preferences for mobile technologies for specific instructional activities. Results indicate that students prefer to compartmentalize their use of mobile technologies, utilizing laptops for most academic activities and cell phones for more personal applications. 


Patsy Moskal is the Director of the Digital Learning Impact Evaluation in the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where she evaluates the impact of technology-enhanced learning and serves as the liaison for faculty scholarship of teaching and learning. In 2011 Dr. Moskal was named an OLC Fellow in recognition of her groundbreaking work in the assessment of the impact and efficacy of online and blended learning. She has written and co-authored numerous works on blended and online learning and is a frequent presenter on these topics. Patsy's co-authored book--Conducting Research in Online and Blended Learning: New Pedagogical Frontiers--with Dziuban, Picciano, and Graham, was published in August 2015. She currently serves on the OLC Board of Directors.

Extended Abstract

Much is written, in both the media and academic writing, regarding students’ growing use of mobile devices. In fact, a walk across any college campus will provide a look at a growing number of people – both students and faculty – interacting with their cell phones. With the adoption growth of these devices and their increased use, many assumptions are made concerning students’ device preference in the classroom.

However, little research has been conducted regarding what students’ device preference is for the various instructional activities they may encounter in a classroom and how this might compare with their personal device use. Is there a difference in the educational setting versus students’ personal activities and if so, why?

Early research by two of the session presenters (Brown & Groff, 2011) indicated that students compartmentalize their lives into “education” and “personal.”  However, mobile technologies and their adoption has increased, as has the number of educational applications that are for their use. How has this technology growth impacted instruction? This purpose of this current research was to continue the investigation into today’s students’ usage and preferences for mobile technologies in the educational setting. As online instructors, how concerned should we be about creating a course that is available to students on their mobile devices?


This research began as a joint scholarship of teaching and learning project with UCF faculty from the Nicholson School of Communication, Anthropology, Psychology and the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness. A survey was developed to investigate what digital devices students use in their academic work, why they use those devices, and what their preferences are for specific educational and personal uses. A survey was created in Qualtrics and administered using UCF’s Psychology Research Participation System (called SONA) – an electronic system that is used to facilitate students’ participation in ongoing research projects. These research opportunities are part of the immersive experience that is required by all General Psychology students, although other courses can also require that students participate in research through the system as well. As part of the General Education Program, General Psychology has a wide mix of undergraduate students from various majors, which allows for a good representation of our undergraduate students.

Preliminary Results

The survey was administered to students in spring 2017 with 608 students responding. Student demographics indicated that 82% were 18-24 years of age, 58% were female, 41% were freshmen, 50% were unemployed and 66% lived off campus.

In terms of device ownership, 100% owned smartphones with 75% of those being iPhones. More than half (52%) did not own a tablet device although 31% owned an iPad and 17% owned another tablet.  

Preliminary analyses have been completed and some results are shown here. More details will be provided in the session. Results showed that students indicated a preference for laptops for academic activities and phone use for more social functions. We will also share details of the breakdown of activities in terms of those that require more “active” participation (writing posts, uploads, emails, etc.) versus “passive” participation (viewing grades, reading posts, etc.). When asked how they felt about an instructor using various applications in courses, students were negative about social media applications (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram) and instant messaging. They were positive about the use of text messages by their instructor.

In addition to students’ preferences, we asked them about their exposure to faculty who had used these technologies in their instruction, anticipating that perhaps lack of familiarity with mobile technology use in the classroom might skew students’ perceptions. We are analyzing this data, but will share the results by modality, and also examine the impact that students’ exposure to classes that utilized mobile technologies might have had on influencing their preferences.


Although there is a strong push to make our instructional materials mobile friendly, our research questions whether students have a preference on device use and also indicates their prior experience with the use of some mobile for specific instructional applications. This research addressed the “what” of students’ use of and preference for device use. Future research plans are to investigate the “why” of that question by examining students’ preferences for specific device use more closely.

As part of the session discussion, presenters will engage the audience in a number of polls to determine the extent that audience members incorporate mobile friendly activities in their instruction and also investigate what they have found with regard to student preferences. We propose to begin an interactive discussion at this session, collaboratively continuing the discussion in the form of a Google Doc with the audience after the conference. We are particularly interested in encouraging research and collaborating with others regarding the use of mobile technologies.