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Developing an Understanding of How Students Experience Interactive Technology: A UX Perspective

Adam Wagler (University of Nebraska, USA)
Session Information
July 8, 2015 - 11:20am
Teaching & Learning Effectiveness
Areas of Special Interest: 
Institutional Initiatives
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research and Evaluation
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Plaza Ballroom F
Session Duration: 
50 Minutes
Concurrent Session 6
Virtual Session

A qualitative study exploring interactive technology in higher education from a student perspective. Students expect tech savvy instructors to effectively integrate technology into courses.

Extended Abstract

Technology is increasingly mobile and social, resulting in dynamic digital and interactive environments. The ubiquitous nature of interactive instructional technology presents new paradigms for higher education, creating challenges for instructors to compete for time and attention as students are bombarded by information as they live in a digital, media rich world. The problem being studied, with all of these technological advancements, is how instructors can approach these challenges from a user experience (UX) perspective. A combination of cognitive load theory, communications strategy, and UX perspective are used to provide a structure that higher education faculty and administrators can use to approach content strategies, technological advances, and student perceptions throughout their college education.

The central research question of this study is: how do college students experience interactive instructional technology at a large, Midwestern university? The study also introduces sub-questions including:

1. How do students normally use interactive instructional technology?
2. How are student perceptions formed about interactive instructional technology?
3. Why is using interactive instructional technology easy / difficult?
4. How do students view the advantages / disadvantages of interactive instructional technology?
5. How does interactive instructional technology interface with student study habits outside of class?

A macro level view sees college students taking multiple courses at a time, over many semesters, and using different interactive instructional technology that mix with other forms of online media consumption. The purpose of this qualitative case study is to describe the experiences with interactive instructional technology from the perspective of college students at a large, Midwestern university.

A case study approach to qualitative research is used to develop an understanding of the challenges produced by interactive instructional technology through the lived experiences of participants. A constructivist worldview is taken in this project to seek an understanding of the world we live in through multiple perspectives that are inductively understood by gathering and analyzing data from multiple sources to build a holistic view of the central phenomenon. The case study approach in this project uses a multiple-case design that is frequently used with new educational technology and innovation because of the lessons it provides to the theory of a social process. The primary source of data was collected through focus group sessions with college students. Focus group transcriptions were in vivo-coded and clustered into themes that emerged from the participant responses. Individual cases were then thematically analyzed. A cross-case synthesis was performed to aggregate data across all the cases. Triangulation is used in this study between focus groups, a media usage survey, learning environment observations and analysis of institutional resources to provide evidence from multiple sources that present the same meaning. In addition to triangulation, member checking was used for additional validation of findings.

The data collected found students have complex and robust views of their experiences with interactive instructional technology. Many accounts were shared ranging from happy, painful, surprising, and unusual experiences. Although there was no consensus on implementation of interactive instructional technology, students understand it is a changing environment that they play an active role in shaping its use in higher education. Six emergent themes were developed from the focus groups:

1. Communication as the Number One Priority with Interactive Instructional Technology
2. Line between Personal and Professional using Interactive Instructional Technology
3. Interactive Instructional Technology Creates Layers of Separation
4. Familiarity with the Interactive Instructional Technology Used
5. Building Trust with Interactive Instructional Technology
6. Interactive Instructional Technology Always has Problems

Students point out communication as the number one priority when using interactive instructional technology. However, as more social media is adopted, the line between personal and professional is being blurred for better or worse. Technological advances introduce layers of separation between student and faculty, as well as student and course content, which all impact motivation. Students want faculty to have a familiarity with the technology that provides appropriate and natural interactivity with tools to aid their learning. In turn, this builds trust with their interactions using interactive instructional technology that impacts education. There will always be technology problems, but students now need to actively figure things out when technology isnt working.

Technology is integrated into every part of higher education. The personal and professional lives of everyone are blending. Students are documenting and sharing their lives with their peers. This transition from a youth to an adult is being captured and archived online. There is now an expectation to incorporate school into their personal life. All college students learn a subject area, but they also learn how to grow up. Their social lives online are also going through this transition.

Furthermore, the environment now requires students to not only be comfortable using technology to learn, but to have the ability to troubleshoot if things go wrong. It is fine if technology works, but confidence is broken when things are ambiguous or doesnt work as the user expects. After bad experiences, confidence is shaky, adding more stress for students that has nothing to do with knowledge of course content.

Students all made it clear to use technology carefully when using it as part of their education. Technology is very powerful and the use of it can result in both positive and negative experiences that impact learning. This study identifies successful applications and pain-points students experience during college, which has the opportunity to guide faculty to improve implementations as technology advances. The students in this study offer a number of suggestions and UX tools are provided to improve student experiences with interactive instructional technology.

College is about growth. Students study particular subjects and gain content knowledge, but also they build connections and learn about themselves. Continued exploration using a UX perspective keeps the focus on the environment students experience created by technology, rather than on the technology itself. The one thing we can be sure of is technology will change and environments will evolve. Consistent evaluation is needed to maintain appropriate and sustainable approaches to enhance student learning. A UX perspective provides these tools.

Lead Presenter

Adam Wagler, Ph.D., assistant professor, teaches design, development and strategy courses using both interactive and traditional media. His professional background and research interests revolve around interactive media in communications, advertising and education. Six years of professional work has been supplemented by a number of grant projects at UNL building websites, mobile apps and other digital projects. Adam is an Apple Distinguished Educator (2011), was a visiting professor at Colle+McVoy in Minneapolis (2010) and received the American Advertising Federation's Most Promising Minority Student Nominator award in 2012.