Thinking about Time and Technology for Academic Work

My phone is on its way out. It’s an Iphone 5 and my service contract has expired, so I should probably upgrade. But I’m not a fan of the current Iphone 6 — it just seems too big to me, even in it’s non-phablet form. Because I’ve read that Apple is planning to release a smaller Iphone 6 soon, I’m waiting to get a new one. (Not always very patiently waiting, sigh.)

This self-imposed waiting for a new phone has required a few recent behavior modifications on my part. One of the ways that the phone is breaking is that there’s something loose inside that makes an audible noise when I move it too quickly, so no more shake to undo if I type (or delete) something I want to revert, a feature I use infrequently but do like. I also can’t really turn my phone off anymore because it crashes repeatedly for the first 10 minutes or so that I turn it back on. And the battery life + indicator have both gotten a bit flaky — sometimes the battery seems to drain faster than it should (occasionally in combination with the phone getting warm), and other times the battery indicator doesn’t change at all, even when I’ve been using the phone for a while and I know the indicator should be going down.

All of this wonkiness combined has meant that I have to think about my phone much more than usual. Specifically, I have to think about whether it’s charged, when I might need to charge it, and where I can charge it. I’ve started to bring my charger everywhere and actively scope out places to plug my phone in when I’m not using it, even if the battery seems full. This is a big change for me — I used to carry my charger only on days when I knew I’d be out and using my phone heavily (hello, conference Twitter). Now the first thing I do when I get into my office is plug in my phone, and the same with the classroom where I teach this semester. On a recent train trip I was made somewhat anxious when the train was too full for me to get a window seat adjacent to an outlet and had to sit on the aisle; lucky for me at one of the major stops someone next to a window got off and I was able to change seats. I also sometimes use my laptop to charge my phone now, depending on how long I need to use the laptop.

I realize that this is more detail that you ever needed to know about me and my phone habits. It’s the most minor of inconveniences, really, but the time I spend thinking about dealing with (and then dealing with) my semi-functional phone is time I could spend doing other things, and requires me to work around the technology in ways that I didn’t have to when the phone was fully functional.

This has been on my mind recently as Mariana and I are working on a project about the ways that technology shapes time for our students. Technology can be incredibly useful for our students’ academic work; the student we met during our first round of research several years ago who talked to us about writing her papers on her smartphone on the subway is the example that springs to mind most readily. But if that student has to print her paper to hand it in, and she prints on campus because it’s free (even if she has a printer at home), and there’s a long line or a jam at the printer when she gets to the library, time saved by technology can become time stolen. She is working around the technology rather than having the technology work for her, and there are real implications for her academic work.

These are just some preliminary thoughts as we begin to dig into our project — we’ll share more about this project as we go.

New Year’s Update

It’s been pretty quiet around here lately, but not for lack of work on the project! We’ve been filling practically every spare minute since last summer finishing up coding and analyzing our data gathered from all of the fascinating students and faculty we interviewed.

We’re also delighted to report that we’ve been busily writing up our results and look forward to sharing them. In fact, there’s so much great data that we’re writing a book this time around, rather than just a brief report as we did early on in the project.

We sent out a book proposal before the holidays so we don’t have a publication date just yet. But the book is definitely taking shape, so we thought we’d share our tentative title and table of contents here:

The Scholarly Habits of Urban, Commuter College Students

Chapter 1: Introduction

Section I: The Scholarly Ecosystem of CUNY Students
Chapter 2: Information and Communication Technologies
Chapter 3: On Campus and in the Library
Chapter 4: On the Commute
Chapter 5: At Home
Chapter 6: Fitting it All In

Section II: CUNY Students and Research-Based Assignments
Chapter 7: Faculty Expectations for Student Work
Chapter 8: The Student Research and Writing Process
Chapter 9: Support and Engagement: Keys to Success

Chapter 10: Conclusions

a. Methodology and Participants
b. Recommendations for Librarians, Faculty, and Administrators

We’ll post more updates as we have them. Now back to work with us!

“The Campus Doesn’t have a Refrigerator”

Many thanks to our colleagues at Hunter College Libraries for inviting us to present today at the Hunter College Library Faculty Teaching & Research Forum. It was great to have the opportunity to share some of our the data from our student and faculty interviews at Hunter and to discuss our results. Thanks to all who came to the program!

I’ve just uploaded our slides under Results & Findings.

Fall 2010 Update

We’ve finished collecting data at City Tech and Brooklyn College, and are busily compiling a preliminary report that we’ll share soon. We’ve also started this year’s data collection at our research sites for 2010-2011 — Bronx Community College and City College — and look forward to another round of student and faculty interviews.

About this Study

This project uses ethnographic methods to examine student approaches to research at New York City College of Technology (City Tech) and Brooklyn College during the 2009-2010 academic year. Ethnographic techniques such as interviews, questionnaires, photo surveys, and mapping diaries will be employed at both colleges to gather qualitative data from faculty and students. To our knowledge, there have as yet been no studies on colleges similar to City Tech and Brooklyn College: diverse, urban, public, commuter colleges in a large university system. Our project fills a gap in the research on student scholarly habits, and has broad utility to many stakeholders in the academic community.

Guiding questions for this study include:

  • What are faculty expectations for student scholarly work and assignments?
  • How do students study, research, and complete their assignments?
  • How do students use the library for their coursework (and, if they don’t, why not)?

Principal Investigators:
Maura A. Smale
Assistant Professor, Information Literacy Librarian
New York City College of Technology, CUNY

Mariana Regalado
Associate Professor, Associate Librarian for Information Services
Brooklyn College, CUNY

This work is supported (in part) by grants from The City University of New York PSC-CUNY Research Award Program.