Eric Kunnen\’s GRCC Blog

Time Spent Online is Time Spent Learning!
December 23, 2008, 12:11 pm
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A while back, we posted a poll on our Blackboard portal to garner a pulse on how much time students spend online. Here are the results:


While this quick poll is not steeped in research methodology, it does provide an interesting pulse on the habits of students.  That is, more than half of the students indicated that they spend more than 2 hours per day online.

So what are students doing online?  Are they wasting time? Are they learning?  Based on some recent research that I picked up after reading a blog post entitled “Time spent online important for teen development” by Dan Tapscott in his Growing Up Digital blog, the answer is that in many cases these teens are learning important skills that will help them to become productive citizens in the future.  In his blog post, he refers to a recent report entitled:  “Living and Learning New Media” conducted by the University of California, the University of Southern California, and the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education that was sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation.

Here were some of the major findings in the report’s summary:

  1. Youth use online media to extend friendships and interests.
  2. Youth engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online.

So in other words, students often use social networking tools to stay connected and to communicate with each other.  This finding was supported by another Blackboard poll we conducted, where 61% of the students said that the primary reason they use Facebook is to communicate.  Here are the poll results:


The second major finding related to learning online that is self-directed and peer-based.  Through learning from each other, and with each other while trying out new applications and tools, they are learning to become self-directed learners.  They are learning to become problem solvers which allows them to be resourceful when they come across a problem or situation that requires them to discover a solution.    This actually poses an interesting question for educators and educational institutions:

That is, how can we tap into this interest-driven and peer-based engagment activity that goes on online? How can we use, faciliate, and engage students to become self-directed learners at school?

The report’s summary continues with some implications that can be drawn from the research:

  1. Adults should facilitate young people’s engagement with digital media.
  2. In interest-driven participation, adults have an important role to play.
  3. To stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions need to keep pace with the rapid changes introduced by digital media.

So how can a college better connect with students in the online realm?  How can we engage students online to capture their attention, engage them, encourage them to continue their learning by spending time ONLINE with content and by communicating with each other.

I think as adults and educators we need to help facilitate a student’s engagement online through modeling.  Educators need to be where the students are.  Educators need to go out and they need to see what their students are doing.  They need to model appropriate behaviors by using Facebook, YouTube, Wikis, and Blogs to teach with and to interact with their students.

At the same time, educators need to be free to explore new tools that enable them to faciliate learning outside of the classroom and to encourage students to learn from each other.  Administrators and institutions should support faculty that are willing to take risks and to try new teaching strategies.

I suppose this boils down to deliberately designing courses and ensuring that all educators facilitate and teach in a way that allows and encourages students to be self-directed and to take charge of their own learning using resources at their disposal (their teachers, their peers, and technology).

I’ll end this blog post with a final poll from our Blackboard portal.  This chart reveals that students are spending a great deal of time on Facebook and also on our Blackboard system.  The question is, how can we make it easier for students to engage with content outside of the classroom through Blackboard as it is for them to communicate with each other through Facebook?


I think one way that educational institutions can make it easier to engage with students outside of the classroom and in the social networking space is to leverage tools that provide the ability for a college to better connect with students WHERE they are already.  Tools such as ClassTop’s CourseFeed and Blackboard Sync (which GRCC has already deployed) provide a good step forward in building an environment that is highly engaging and collaborative.

One company that is pioneering the way is called Inigral Inc. Inigral is beginning to create an exciting new class of applications that provide educational institutions with the ability to leverage the power of the social network for admissions marketing, enrollment management, alumni communications, and student engagement in ways never before possible.  Their “Schools on Facebook” application is the only system that I’m aware of that allows an institution to create a private and secure, yet very powerful presence on Facebook.  If you are interested in learning more, Inigral recently placed some informational videos on Facebook.  You can view them here.


What are your thoughts?  How do we encourage students to translate time spent online to time spent LEARNING online?


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hello Eric,
Your postings were very interesting. Taking quick survey pulses of your students thoughts and habits is crucial. While institutional data is helpful to track and assess year after year, by the time the data gets analyzed, it may be out of date. This is something that challenges many institutional researchers at colleges and universities and is fairly normal.

I believe it is important to do the best you can for the students that are in front of you at any given point in time…that you can change a students mind today about attending or staying if you have some intentional strategies in place. Technology is definitely helping schools do this type of interaction and intervention in real-time, which can make the difference in yield and retention points as well as over all morale at the institution.

I actually work for an organization that develops engagement tools for higher education. I pasted a link to a video walk through of our “purpose network” tool. It is unique from a social network in that students DO go onto the site for academic and social purposes as related to their experience at college. And they are OK with administrators, faculty, RA’s and Peer Mentors contacting them through the site.

The tool is currently being used by over 100 institutions as a private community with educationally purposeful content for various audiences including accepted students and their parents and current students and their parents. We also integrate an online portfolio and goal tracking tool.

Just wanted to let you know of other services out there such as the ones you listed and happy to discuss it more if you wish.


Comment by Ingrid Ramos

Thanks for posting this additional information and resource Ingrid!

Comment by ekunnen

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