Elyse Adler is an Assistant Professor of Information Technology
Computers, tablets, smartphones… the average college student today has grown up with these tech tools; they used them in middle school and high school, and they have them for their own personal use. The average college student knows how to use social media, take pictures, make movies, stream media, and more on their devices. However, ask one of these students to create an Excel spreadsheet, move a file, or do some other more “business-like” task on their device, and you will often get a look of confusion.
Think about the nontraditional college student—the mom returning to get a degree after she’s raised her children, the adult seeking a career change, the individual looking to further their education after years out of the classroom. These students may not have experience attaching a file to email, creating a Word document, or formatting a PowerPoint presentation. Just the thought of having to complete tasks on a device makes them sweat.
I’ve just described two very different groups of college students. Your students may easily fit into one of these groups, or maybe they are a mix of the two. Regardless of the specifics, there is one thing that all these individuals have in common: they are anxious about the expectations we are placing on them in regard to their use of technology to complete their degree.
How can we help these students to overcome technology anxiety? Especially when many of these skills are needed in the workplace? We can start with the basics. We can put some simple procedures and information into our courses to make technology less scary. Here are some practical ways we can help these students:
1. Assume no one in class knows how to use the required technology tools.
Provide information and instructions on how to access and utilize any learning platforms and tools that you are requiring students to use in class. Do this on day one (or as you begin using the tools throughout the term). Walk the students through the basics of the digital platform’s layout and highlight the important tools and features that they will need to use.
2. Ask if students have questions about how things need to be completed.
Often students need you to open the door for them to ask questions, especially if they are already intimidated by the technology. If the questions are more in-depth or require more time than class allows, invite to meet with the student one-on-one to show them how to use the tools needed for class.
3. Create how-to documents for specific tools in your class.
For example, do you require students to submit files as compressed files? Consider providing step-by-step directions for compressing a file.
4. Be aware of the tutorials and resources available to students.
Get familiar with websites that offer tutorials for the different platforms and tools you require your students to use—and provide students with links to these resources as appropriate. Also know what IT resources are available on your campus. Does your IT department have a help desk? Do they offer tutoring or assistance? Know what is available so you can point struggling or anxious students to the appropriate sources of help.
5. Be patient.
Often, students who are anxious about technology get flustered and frustrated. They need you to be patient with their attempts to figure out how to appropriately use the technology. Maybe you need to allow them to resubmit a document or give them an extra day to meet with the tutor to learn how to format a file. Show extra grace—especially at the beginning of a term.
Regardless of how you approach the help you provide your students, the most important thing that anxious students need from you is help and patience. It’s not that students with technology anxiety don’t want to learn, it’s that they feel behind the curve and are often embarrassed that they are lacking in that particular knowledge. Be kind. Be the one to help them become technology-literate.
Want to learn more about student technology anxiety? Watch this recorded webinar session: Don’t Fear the Computer: Tips to Address Tech Anxiety with Jenny Billings.