College students are surprisingly good at managing the demands and distractions of a digital world, according a study by Project Information Literacy at the University of Washington. The study investigated how undergraduates manage technology during "crunch time" — the last weeks before final exams — and how they use libraries in the digital age.
The researchers conducted 560 interviews with students in libraries on 10 college and university campuses. They found that most undergraduates weren't playing games, looking at YouTube videos, emailing friends or otherwise demonstrating the lack of attention so often attributed to today's students, says Alison J. Head, PhD, lead researcher for the study.
While 40 percent of the students used cellphones and laptops in the library, few took iPods or gaming devices. "Most students tended to have cell or smart phones so they could keep in touch as they studied, and then a laptop or library desktop computer for preparing assignments, research, studying and reading," says Head.
The most often used computer applications were Web browsers for conducting research and word processing programs. "Only 13 percent had Facebook open at the time of the interviews," says Head, and then often as an incentive or reward for finishing their work.
The researchers also found that students use campus libraries to conscientiously "dial down" their technology usage. "Students talked about using the library as a refuge," says Head. "They ... lock themselves in a study room where there are no distractions." Many use library computers to avoid being distracted by what they had downloaded for private use on their home computers, the researchers found.
Such findings counter the cliché of the woefully distracted student juggling several devices, Head says. "We found students really attempting to manage their devices and strike a balance between scholastic productivity and personal communication," says Head.