Then Vs Now: University in a Digital World

Long gone are the days of chicko rolls, hand written essays and studying sessions only involving pen, paper and textbooks heavy enough they make you work up a sweat. These days, university campuses look more like they are out of a sci-fi movie, involving Apple Mac laptops, online lectures, and virtual tutors. In fact, the 2017 university student doesn’t even need to step foot on campus to complete their studies.



It is clear that technology has been a huge catalyst in the new age university.

Overslept? Too cold to go outside? Too broke to top up your Go Card? Many students can skip class — and not miss it with lectures being recorded and uploaded online for later viewing. In fact, even textbooks, library resources and assessment submission has been translated online. Now students have access to the abundance of academia that university offers, without ever having to visit the campus.  But are all these digital advancements, in fact, undoing the quintessential factors that make the university experience unique?

When comparing her university experience to that of her daughters, senior financial officer Carol Fletcher explains, that she had three fantastic years embracing university life. She was heavily involved in student politics and was the news editor of the student newspaper.  She recognises that it all seems a lot duller for her daughter, who is studying English language and linguistics.

“There doesn’t seem to be the same level of activities going on. Most students seem to be there to get their heads down to work and go home. I get the impression that student life is no longer the rite of passage it used to be.”

Recent studies support this, with students indicating they are less engaged with their peers than students in the past have been, preferring to spend much more time on the internet or studying alone. Students also appear to be spending around the same amount of time studying overall but are spending less of that time on campus, opting to use technology to study instead.

And even for those old-school students who do attend the face-to-face classes, although physically in attendance, their mental state is often somewhere else.  With laptops open, ostensibly for taking notes, lectures can be a free-for-all of Facebook-posting, sport score-checking, messaging with friends and shopping online. So much for doodling and crossword puzzles. A large study at the University of Michigan showed that 75 percent of the students surveyed reported that using a laptop in class increased the number of non-course tasks they performed during lectures, and 35 percent admitted that they spent more than 10 minutes on social media and email.



It is obvious that technology has drastically altered the course of the Australian university experience. But have such technological advancements been for better or for worse, or simply been implemented to meet the changing demands of students? In the early 1960s, only 4% of school leavers went to university, rising to around 14% by the end of the 1970s. Nowadays, more than 40% of young people start undergraduate degrees – but it comes at a cost. Today’s students leave with debts of $40,000 and upwards to pay back over their working lives.

It is clear here that the university student of 1967 has a dramatically different life to that of the 2017 student. In fact, when writing this article I recalled a conversation with one of my mother’s friends, Sharon. “You are completing a double degree, and working AND doing an internship, that is a lot to handle!”

At first, I loved the recognition of my efforts “Yes Sharon, poor me! I’m so tired and work so hard, give me sympathy! ”. But actually, I am no different to any other modern day uni student, juggling studying with the other responsibilities that will give me the most out of my experience. The requirements of uni students today may just simply be different, to those of our parents. Today’s students are more career-orientated and under pressure to take on extracurricular activities, more responsibilities, work experience and earn an income to compete in the graduate jobs market, and pay off their ever impending HECS debt.

Although the rose-coloured lens of uni may have faded, with students spending more time on campus for the free wifi, than the social interactions; the university experience remains. Friendships that will last a lifetime, cramming sessions and coffee obsessions are here just as they were 40 years ago, ours just in the digital world. Some may have their doubts about our overdependence on technology, but hey, no one will ever know that we got our degree in our pyjamas!

1 Comment
  1. I’d never really thought about university from this aspect before so I found it a really interesting read. it’s a really engaging, informative and relatable article. I really enjoyed it, nice work!

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