My Digital History Students: A Tech Profile

This fall, I am teaching a course in Digital History for the first time at Slippery Rock University.  At the beginning of the course, I had my students complete a brief survey about their access, use, and familiarity with various forms of computer technology. (This is an idea I stole from several DH pros, including Sharon Leon.)

The results of this survey were enlightening – some answers were expected, but there were also several surprises. A couple of interesting takeaways:

  1. The desktop is officially dead.  All 18 students indicated they own laptops, while only three own desktop computers. 17 owned smartphones, meaning there is one lovable Luddite holding out in my class!
  2. I was surprised how few students use Firefox, which is generally my favorite browser. I suspect the longtime lack of an iOS version of Firefox (only released in August 2016), combined with Google Chrome’s obsession with syncing bookmarks, account info, etc. across devices has contributed to making it the default browser used by many.
  3. While Facebook was by far the most popular social media platform, only half the class reported using Instagram or Twitter. We got started with Twitter on the first day (hashtag: #sruhist411) and will be using it through the semester to follow issues, debates, and cool stuff happening in the DH world.
  4. There seems to be a general lack of experience with authoring content in the digital realm (aside from social media, of course). 13 of the 18 reported they would be “not at all confident” in their ability to publish their own website with a custom domain. Only 3 reported experience with a blogging platform, and the same number indicated they had used wiki tools in the past.

If you’re interested, full results of the survey can be seen here. I’m excited to see how the class develops as we go along, and my hope is that by the end my students will not only have a much broader familiarity with technological tools available to them, but greater confidence in their ability to use these tools to move from being consumers to creators in the digital world.