A group of master’s in strategic communication students, working a large-scale student survey from 2019, found students have a complicated relationship with technology and their smartphones.  

The Student Survey on Attitudes Toward Technology (SSATT) is conducted annually to collect information from freshmen and seniors about their relationship to the technologies they use as students and young adults. The data analysis and media design exercise is carried out by students in the course “Integrated Media Projects” course, under the supervision of faculty advisor Ulises Mejias of the communication studies department, and with help of the college’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment.

While that survey of 367 students preceded this semester’s move to remote learning, it nonetheless showed the internet and smartphones’ enormous impact on their lives.

Among the findings on how students live and learn with technology:

  • 58 percent agree that the internet has had a positive effect on their lives
  • 77 percent said they check their smartphones as soon as they wake up, although they admitted this habit can provide added stress and anxiety
  • 71 percent agreed that they are distracted by their personal devices in class, while freshman are significantly more likely to lose focus in class/work by checking their cell phones than seniors
  • Half of the students said they are distracted by their devices during face-to-face communication
  • Two-thirds of the participants strongly agreed or agreed that they were notified by important issues through social media
  • 68 percent of students said they look up more information on social issues discovered via social media
  • 60 percent of students reported they fact-check or cross-check news stories
  • 45 percent said they rely on social media as their only source of news
  • 71 percent said they text others in class or when doing work outside of class

Some 2019 figures show the importance of access to reliable internet, even before this semester’s shift to learning online:

  • 85.8 percent of participants said they strongly agreed or agreed they would not be able to maintain coursework without the internet
  • 77.7 percent either strongly agreed or agreed that not having access to high-speed internet would impact their academic performance
  • Seniors relied on high speed internet access significantly more than freshman

Building awareness

Strategic communication major Fabio Machado said the findings should prove helpful for SUNY Oswego students to better understand their relationship with technology, as well as for anybody interested in how technology and academics can better connect.

“I think we can improve the relationship, and learn how to take what is positive from it and try to maybe work on the negatives,” said Machado, who was the social media analyst for the project. “Maybe we can look at how we can make our students more aware about how they’re using technology and what is beneficial with them, what is positive about your interactions and what is not. What you can control better.”

Fellow strategic communication major Nick Derbabian noted that data was especially relevant because it utilized attitudes from fellow students. Since it was the first survey of its type, he added, the group was working with a blank slate in finding students’ positive and negative relationships with technology.

“I think a big finding that we saw was how it was contradicting sometimes. They found their phone and having access to the internet were sometimes distracting to them,” said Derbabian, the project support officer. “But they also said: ‘We absolutely need computers and the internet to get our coursework done.’”

“They acknowledge how distracting it can be in classes or how when they wake up it was the first thing they check,” Machado said.

The team was surprised to learn two out of every three students relied on social media for news to such a high extent, but found it encouraging that many sought out other sources.

In addition to Machado and Derbabian, the master’s students in the team included Kurt Albrecht, data analyst; Curtis Cady, video designer and producer; Brenna Maclsaac, website and tap course designer; and Pedro Boller, website designer and SEO analyst. 

For more information on the findings, project and process, visit the team’s multimedia website.