The LAUW journal club met at the end of March to discuss “College Students on the Web,” a report summary that appeared in Jakob Nielson’s Alertbox on December 15, 2010. This summary is based on a 259-page report by Nielson Norman Group which examines how university-level students use websites designed for students as well as how they use mainstream websites.
The report draws on a study of 43 students in 4 countries ranging in age from 18 to 25 years. It included a total of 18 men and 25 women from 12 educational institutions.
After acknowledging that generalizations are impossible to make from such a limited statistical sample, we happily considered how this study refutes many “myths about student internet use” in relation to our experience and observations.
We tended to agree with most of the study’s claims. For example, Nielson refutes the myth that students are technology experts, indicating that there is a big difference between being comfortable with technology (as many students are) and being an expert. His study suggests that students don’t like to waste time online and will therefore stick to what’s comfortable or the easiest. This statement echoed our experience of how students use our library’s website – especially when looking for articles!
Another claim that resonated with us was that students “don’t go for fancy visuals and they definitely gravitate toward one very plain user interface: the search engine.” We all recognized students as search-dominant users, which then led us to consider the importance of indexing and relevancy ranking on our own website.
Since we’re currently in the midst of conducting a user assessment in preparation for a website redesign, we were also able to compare some the article’s claims with our own user assessment findings. One example – although the report claims that college students “like interactivity only when it serves a purpose and serves their current tasks” one group member indicated that students have mentioned in focus groups that they really enjoy our website’s Quick Poll which doesn’t necessarily always “serve a purpose” or “serve their current tasks.”
Overall, the report’s claims resonated with many of the things our group has observed about student internet use in the academic library context. It was a fun read and fun meeting!