NORMAN — University of Oklahoma freshman Emily Morris sat in a booth in Oklahoma Memorial Union on Thursday afternoon with earphones in her ears and eyes fixed to her laptop screen.
Although Morris was studying, there wasn't a textbook in sight.
Morris, 19, is one of a generation of college students that a recent study shows are increasingly hitting the books without actually cracking a book.
According to the 2012 edition of the Educause Center for Applied Research's Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, college students' use of technology for academic purposes continued to grow last year.
According to the study, the number of students who used e-books and e-textbooks nearly tripled between 2010 and 2012, growing from 24 percent of respondents to 70 percent of respondents. Google and Blackboard, an online education management system, topped the list of websites students said they couldn't live without.
Also among the study's findings was a sizable increase in students' use of e-portfolios. In 2012, 52 percent of students reported using the portfolios, which are an online collection of documents, including work the student has produced.
When she studies, Morris generally listens to music on Spotify to drown out crowd noise in the student union. She reviews handwritten notes from class and reads over materials posted online, she said.
If she comes across something she doesn't understand, she doesn't refer back to her textbook, she said. She Googles it.
Morris used an e-textbook in a history class at OU. Although the text itself was identical to the physical textbook, it was searchable, which made it easier to find the sections she needed. It also was more convenient when she went to class.
“It was nice to not have to carry around my textbook,” she said. “They can be really heavy and big.”
Barbara Villgeratter, a senior from Graz, Austria, said she thinks most of her professors make effective use of technology. Generally, the most advanced piece of technology she sees in the classroom is a PowerPoint lecture, she said. But professors often post recorded lectures online, which gives her a good way to review lectures later on.
Villgeratter said she thinks OU professors generally make more effective use of technology than do faculty members at her home institution, Karl Franzens University in Graz. OU uses an online system called Desire2Learn to manage online class materials. Karl Franzens University doesn't use anything comparable to the system, she said.
According to the Educause study, Villgeratter isn't alone. Nearly 70 percent of respondents in 2012 said their instructors made effective use of technology, up from just 47 percent in 2010.
Although most students come to college with a solid understanding of how to use social technologies like text messaging, Twitter and Instagram, they generally still need guidance on how to use the same technology for academic purposes, said Susan Stansberry, a professor of educational technology at Oklahoma State University.
Education students are required to submit a portfolio of work to the state Department of Education. Most of those students are comfortable with the idea of creating an electronic portfolio, Stansberry said.
But faculty members still need to work with the students to explain why the portfolio is important and how they can use it later. Students may be comfortable with the process, she said, but faculty members work hard to make the process meaningful.
The use of technology doesn't supplant the need to teach skills like critical thinking and problem solving, Stansberry said — it just gives professors another set of tools to teach those skills. And in most cases, she said, students already have those tools in their pockets and bookbags.
“It is extremely important to me that we model effective teaching with technology,” Stansberry said. “If they've got it in their hands, let's use it.”