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Earlier this month, Inside Higher Ed published an article on giving students who are the first generation in their families to attend college the right digital tools to achieve success. Written by the authors of Technology and Engagement: Making Technology Work for First-Generation College Students, the article highlights the feelings of inadequacy that first-gen students may have because they lack “foundational academic literacy.” This unfortunately leads to a much higher rate of withdrawal from college compared to continuing-generation students. Providing the right tools for engagement and academic research can help first-gen students overcome a lack of confidence.
The authors suggest that faculty be “much more purposeful and intentional “in selecting digital tools to support first-gen college students’ needs. Why are these tools so important? Many of these students enter college with deficiencies in critical academic principles related to writing, discipline-specific vocabulary or analytical skills. Here are three ways to effectively integrate digital tools to boost academic performance.
1. Promote supportive relationships using social media. Going to college is a rite of passage for many students, a time when they leave home to forge their futures. For first-gen students, however, a network of family and friends has likely played an instrumental role in encouraging these students to enter college, and they continue to do so when first-gen students get to campus. For this reason, college administrators and faculty should encourage—rather than discourage—family involvement. To facilitate this, the authors recommend, “Institutionally, administrators might consider expanding the scope of information typically shared with family members to include information about the academic experience and strategies to support their child during high-stress times.” In addition, the authors suggest that use of social media can be used to build supportive relationships with peers and mentors. Teaching assistants, for example, could use messaging apps to promote engagement.
2. Augment learning with technology. Apps become powerful tools for first-gen college students. “In our study,” the authors note, “apps preloaded onto institution-provided iPads served as scaffolding for first gens’ academic transition by providing information and instruction on note taking, time management, mind mapping, idea generation and strategies for learning complex information.” Sometimes, social media makes education more accessible, such as when faculty had students create Facebook profiles for characters in literary work. And while many faculty restrict the use of mobile devices—phones or iPads—having access to dictionary apps allows first-gen students to quickly look up terms they don’t understand during lectures. This is particularly important because first-gen students say they often refrain from asking the meaning of words because they don’t want their peers or professors to think them unintelligent.
3. Provide a user-friendly academic research database. Because many first-gen college students receive less exposure to academic principles, having an intuitive research platform can help immensely. Not only can an academic research solution like Nexis Uni® help students find ideas for research papers, but it supports collaboration with other students. Additionally, the ability to export academic citations helps first-gen students become familiar with a variety of citation styles that they may not have been exposed to in high school.
What practices have you put in place to help first-gen students reach their academic goals?