Academic journal article College Student Journal

Undergraduates, Technology, and Social Connections

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Undergraduates, Technology, and Social Connections

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine the spectrum of undergraduate students' social interactions and related technological tools. Qualitative methods were used for this phenomenological study exploring 35 in-person interviews, with horizonalization in an open coding system secured by in-depth analysis which revealed nuanced themes and connections between students' technological tools and their social communication. Results showed that the circle of undergraduate connections included family members, local and distant friends, and official university contacts. Students described using a variety of technological tools for these social connections, often but not always with particular technologies used for specific types of social relationships.

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"When she told me she sent three hundred text messages a day, I just about fell out of my chair!" (Researcher Fieldnotes)

Surprises challenge our assumptions. In fact, "college students...interact with each other using technology in ways that astonish ... [higher education] professionals" (Junco & Cole-Avent, 2008, p. 13). Today's "students ... possess an entirely different set of communication and connection ideals" (Wandel, 2007, p. 192), from those of preceding generations. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the complex experience of college students' social connections in the United States while considering technologically-mediated realities. To clarify the current interplay between social connections and technology, two research questions guided this project: 1) how do undergraduates describe their connections to peers, families and university staff; and 2) how does their use of technology interface with these connections?

Technological innovations proliferate in everyday life; many students of the Millennial generation--those born between 1982 and 2002--have used them all their lives for all kinds of communication (Charsky, Kish, Briskin, Hathaway, Walsh, & Barajas, 2009; Coomes & Debard, 2004). However, "scholarly research on the social consequences of social computing has not" (Tufekci, 2008, p. 545) grown at a pace equal to the growth both of social network sites and of the instrumental internet (Bennett, Bishop, Dalgamo, Waycott, & Kennedy, 2012; Tufekci, 2008). Without knowledge that keeps pace with new developments, individuals such as college professors, administrators and student affairs personnel may not perform at optimum levels (Kattner, 2010; Lambropoulos, Faulkener, & Culwin, 2012; Santovec, 2006; Schwartz, 2009; Waldeck & Dougherty, 2012; Wandel, 2007; Yalcin, 2012). This study provides a snapshot of student technology use as it interfaced with undergraduate social connections in the United States.

Literature Review

Undergraduate technology use. Purcell and Wilcox (2007) define technology as anything that extends human abilities. Within college settings, certain types of technology have become increasingly prevalent including: cell phones (Chen, 2009), email (Johnson, et al, 2008), texting, social network sites on the internet, instant messaging (Kayode, Zamzami, & Olowolayemo, 2012; Quan-Haase, 2008) and video and internet based games (Junco & Cole-Avent, 2008). In this study, "cell phone" refers to talking on the cell phone; "texting" refers to sending text messages via a cell phone. Both activities extend undergraduate abilities to connect socially by means of a single apparatus.

By examining undergraduate cell phone and email use, recent research has begun to refine our understanding of the relationship of technology to social connections. For example, Johnson and colleagues found "few differences ... between long-distance and geographically close relationships when examining [relationship] maintenance behaviors over email" (2008, p. 395). Chen (2009) found significant correlations between self-reported mobile phone dependency and functional, emotional, and attitudinal independence from family members, among other factors. …

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