Paige Price, a junior creative writing major at Ball State University, comes home from work a little after 10 p.m. on a Monday night and kicks off her shoes. She showers quickly and warms up a bowl of leftover chili. All she wants to do is go to bed, but knows that there is homework waiting for her. She has no time to do it in the morning because she has to be back at work in twelve hours.

She is both mentally and physically exhausted after a hard day of work and classes, but she wills herself to open her laptop and begins her homework.

Paige is operating in this way because she feels she must fulfill her obligation as a student by getting her work done in any way she can. In today’s world, technology has become integrated in several aspects of everyday life, including our education. Today’s generation of students are considered digital natives, having grown up surrounded by technology.

In the last twenty years or so, schools have been teaching children how to operate computer programs for education. Now, as college students, they are expected to know how to work on a digital platform, as opposed to the more traditional work of in-class lectures and hard copy homework—which has lead to a change in expectations.

Holding Yourself Accountable

Juggling obligations in and out of school can be difficult for a student, especially if that student is working to pay for their education, like Paige. She works an average of fifteen hours a week at Woodworth dining hall, often during the busiest hours. She says this tends to interfere with her schoolwork.

But she isn’t the only one. According to Laura Perna of the American Association of University Professors, 8 percent of the nation’s working undergraduate students work at least 35 hours per week. And according to a study by the Chronicle of Education, 48 percent of college professors expect their students to spend at least six hours per week devoted to homework and studying. Combined with the time students spend in classes, this can leave little time for them to relax, possibly leading to feeling overwhelmed.

It doesn’t help that instructors can now post assignments to programs designed for students to turn in their work online instead of in class. Now work can be turned in from the student’s couch the night it was assigned, rather than the next day in person. Because students have access to their assignments anywhere at anytime, they are expected to have them done by the time they are due. However, they may be under the pressure of being expected to do too much.

It might seem like the opportunity to do most of their work online would be a blessing for full-time college students who also work, but that isn’t always the case. Sure, it allows them more time to complete their assignments and gives them some flexibility in when they’ll do it, so they can possibly work more and worry less about scheduling issues, but it can also make things more difficult.

Having the expectation to complete and submit assignments earlier through online platforms can be stressful, and can cause pressure to schedule time to work on it. On the other side, it allows students to learn material at their own pace, rather than rushing to understand it before class is over.

It can create more personal discipline, but it’s up to the student to take control of that. The technology changed the level of accountability—it’s all on the students now.

Putting Things Off

Technology has opened up new opportunities for students when it comes to education, but it’s up to the students to take them. A prevalent factor causing students to cringe at deadlines is procrastination, which isn’t an uncommon behavior.

According to an article published in 2007 by Piers Steel of the University of Calgary, 80 to 95 percent of college students have procrastinated. Paige is one of them. With assignments due at odd hours of the day, such as before class the next day or on the weekend, pushing deadlines is a very real possibility. It can become easy to forget about the assignment due Sunday, a minute before midnight, as soon as one steps out of class that Friday.

But online homework can also be a way that students practice self-discipline and time management by getting projects done on time, or even earlier. It allows them to set their own schedules and take charge of their own education.

Eva Grouling Snider, a professor in the English department at Ball State University, has been teaching at the university for six years and hasn’t witnessed a change in the tendency to procrastinate due to technology. There hasn’t been a significant change in the tools they use for class, so it’s difficult for her to tell if the procrastination relates to the use of technology.

However, she can track which of her students complete the homework and when they do it through the Blackboard site. When a student completes something, or doesn’t, she can tell.

She often assigns videos for students to watch in order to understand the material for the next class meeting instead of using lecture time to explain it. Snider says that students often watch these videos the night before or the day the assignment is due, but this might not only be because they’re procrastinating.

Although some might wait until last minute for no reason other than that they didn’t want to do it, some might learn better that way. Sometimes, looking over the material right before class might help them retain the information better in a short-term sense. However, speaking more long-term, their ability to retain that information likely decreases or doesn’t change.

So while technology allows them the opportunity to put things off, it might not be in their best interest in the long term.

Digital Natives

Students who are in higher education today are part of a generation surrounded by the digital world. Computers, video games, and television have been elements that they’ve grown up with. Because of this, these college students are considered “digital natives” or “tech-savvy.” There is some truth in these statements, but for others, it might not be the case.

Some students don’t possess the gifts of automatic knowledge when it comes to programs such as Photoshop or the other Adobe programs. Many either stagger their way through the program until they gain an understanding, or they ask friends or instructors who might know it better. Professor Rory Lee, the director for the Digital Writing Studio at Ball State, says that students often learn from each other.

Lee started up the tutoring facility at the university after his experience with it during his time at Florida State. His goal is to provide students with a better understanding of technology software through hands-on help with tutors and videos. With workshops such as this, students can have a better understanding about the technology that they must integrate in their classwork in order to succeed in the workplace later on.

According to Snider, there has been a poor integration of technology in education by instructors who believe the myth that all students of this generation know how to run every program as second nature. Many students, such as Paige, believe this is an unfair perception of the current generation. Lee proposes that it is a result of not taking technology seriously enough in the academic world. Using a smartphone for class ten years ago would be strange compared to today, where it is much more common.

The expectation of students to know everything about the digital world is not only high, but also an unfair burden; however, there are ways to lessen it. Snider says this can be achieved by training faculty how to operate the technology being used at the school, adjusting the curriculum to include more digital literacy classes, and helping students when they may have questions. Lee suggests that schools from elementary to college should be teaching students new technology and how it changes, as it is quickly evolving as time goes on.

This era is a defining time to show the world how capable its “digital natives” are of finding their place in the workplace in this new way of learning.

No matter how tired Paige may feel, she still does her homework because it is her job as a student. The way education is being carried out may have changed, but the hard work and drive to be successful has stayed the same.

Whether or not a generation has grown up surrounded by technology, it is still a tool that must be learned to properly understand it. When there’s an assumption that someone knows everything about something, it can end up leading to unachievable expectations.