September 24, 2008, 04:23 PM ET
Amherst Administrator's 'IT Index' Highlights Trends in Student Technology Use
Sometimes you can identify trends in technology simply by looking around. And if it seems like every freshman on your campus owns a laptop and has a Facebook account, you might not be hallucinating—at least not at Amherst College, where 432 out of 438 freshmen had joined the “Amherst College Class of 2012” Facebook group by the end of August.
That little fact is part of an “IT Index,” modeled after the Harper’s Index and compiled by Peter Schilling, director of information technology at Amherst. Mr. Schilling hopes the index will help people understand that technology is “in the midst of very radical change.”
A number of Mr. Schilling’s 24 index items suggest the way college students use technology is changing rather quickly. For example, of those 438 freshmen, 93 have registered iPhones or iTouches to the campus network. And perhaps more revealing: About half of all iPhones and iTouches registered at Amherst are owned by freshmen.
“Systems and technology that is essential to the incoming students and the class of 2012 wasn’t even on the radar of our seniors,” Mr. Schilling told The Chronicle. Another fun fact? The number of students in the class of 2012 who brought desktop computers to campus: 14.
Mr. Schilling’s main objective in compiling the IT Index was simply to raise awareness of how technology is being used. The list could also, however, point to some ways in which these changes could become more integrated into campus life.
For instance, even though freshman orientation is typically the first way colleges officially welcome their new students together, “these students have spent months interacting with each other online,” Mr. Schilling says of the Amherst freshmen, whose Facebook group had more than 3,000 posts by the end of August.
In fact, Mr. Schilling says he checks the social-networking site on a regular basis. “Students actually talk a lot about their needs there instead of actually coming to us,” he says. —Caitlin Moran