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Technology and Engagement: Making Technology Work for First Generation College Students

reviewed by Hugo García & Andrew Herridge

coverTitle: Technology and Engagement: Making Technology Work for First Generation College Students
Author(s): Heather T. Rowan-Kenyon, Ana M. Martínez Alemán, & Mandy Savitz-Romer
Publisher: Rutgers University Press, Piscataway
ISBN: 0813594197, Pages: 208, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com

How students transition from high school to college has always been an important topic in higher education. As prior research suggests, first generation college students (FGCS) have a more challenging time adjusting to the collegiate environment than their continuing education peers (Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999; McCarron & Inkelas, 2006; Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, & Terenzini, 2004). In Technology and Engagement: Making Technology Work for First-Generation College Students, Heather T. Rowan-Kenyon, Associate Professor of Education at Boston College, Ana M. Martínez Alemán, Associate Dean for Faculty and a Professor of Education at Boston College, and Mandy Savitz-Romer, Senior Lecturer in Education and Faculty Director of the Prevention Science and Practice Program at Harvard University, discuss how FGCS utilize social media and technology as a means for enhancing their transition to and engagement with campus. This book is timely and stimulates the ongoing conversation regarding FGCS success and Web 2.0 technology in higher education.

Rowan-Kenyon et al. organize the book by first providing a summary of current and relevant literature regarding FGCS to inform readers about the topic and to establish a rationale for the study. They then proceed to discuss their theoretical framework and explain the experiences and challenges of FGCS. Next, they discuss their findings with regard to how FGCS have utilized Web 2.0 technology to enhance their transition to college. Finally, the authors conclude by discussing the policy implications of their study’s findings and provide recommendations to campus administrators on how technology can promote student success. With each topic they address, the authors present the relevant findings from their five-year project. Rowan-Kenyon et al. also provide a vignette to open each chapter as a means of further illustrating the experiences of FGCS.

Rowan-Kenyon et al. begin by citing Baum, Ma, and Payea (2013) to explain that completing postsecondary education comes with benefits, such as “economic stability through higher levels of employment, increased earnings, and the increased likelihood of receiving health insurance and pension benefits” (p. 3). Citing Davis (2010) and Jehangir (2010), Rowan-Kenyon et al. explain that FGCS face many difficulties and barriers when attempting to transition into and navigate postsecondary education. A few of these barriers include “inadequate academic preparation, issues related to poverty or their parents’ lack of postsecondary education, and the associated knowledge and expertise that are otherwise commonplace among continuing education parents” (p. 4). In Chapter One, Rowan-Kenyon et al. explain that many FGCS programs focus on social capital as a means of providing support. As such, the authors utilize campus capital as their conceptual framework. Rowan-Kenyon et al. refer to campus capital as:

An inclusive term that consists of the various forms of social capital that enhance students’ on-campus experiences that researchers have documented affect their persistence to graduation (Horvat, 2000; Pascarella et al., 2004; Walpole, 2003). Through relational networks, campus capital enabled us to view and examine the various ways in which FGCS access social capital through Web 2.0 technologies. (p. 27)

In the subsequent chapters (Chapters Two through Five), Rowan-Kenyon et al. break down what it means to be a FGCS and the challenges they may experience. They elaborate how technology can be considered a form of campus capital, allowing students to establish connections, find resources, and communicate socially. Through the use of social media, FGCS have the ability to connect with classmates, communicate with family back home, and discover ways to become involved and engaged on campus. Rowan-Kenyon et al. explain that FGCS utilize technology to become engaged on campus; for example, using social media to find out when a student organization will be holding a meeting. By utilizing technology, FGCS have the ability to reduce the level of anxiety or isolation they may feel during their transition to postsecondary education. The authors summarized their findings by explaining:

The accessibility of technology not only helps increase access to campus capital, but these virtual and mobile tools further facilitate the transitions to college by promoting a sense of community, ensuring engagements in campus life, and strengthening relationships with home (strong) ties. (p. 143)

Rowan-Kenyon et al. provided a series of recommendations to campus administrators meant to stimulate discussion and further research on how to incorporate Web 2.0 technology into higher education. The authors recommend (a) departmental social media accounts, (b) utilization of technology in the curriculum, and (c) the development of clear and concise institutional policies regarding technology.

Rowan-Kenyon and her colleagues have produced a book that brings attention to the ever-salient topic of FGCS’ experiences and how to improve their transition and increase engagement on campus. However, there are limitations regarding institutional context. First, this study took place at a highly selective private four-year university where fewer than 3% of students identified as Hispanic or Latinx and 5% identified as Black or African American, this out of a total of 30% of students who identified as a Person of Color. While it is important to understand the experiences of FGCS within various sectors of higher education, including at highly selective private institutions, the American Association of Community Colleges (2014) estimates that 36% of FGCS enroll in community college (Everett, 2015). Based on the various barriers that FGCS often encounter, such as academic preparedness and financial resources, FGCS often first matriculate within community colleges as a means to complete lower level courses, saving on tuition costs, earning money by participating in the workforce as full- or part-time employees, and remaining closer to family (Everett, 2015). Thus, while the study of FGCS within a highly selective and residential institution is commendable, findings may not be generalizable to open-admissions and largely commuter campuses such as two-year campuses. Second, while Rowan-Kenyon et al. mention the financial barrier of postsecondary education and the need for many FGCS to obtain jobs, the book could be enhanced by further exploring this area. Petty (2014) explained that when compared to non-FGCS, FGCS spend more time working than studying for their courses.

Rowan-Kenyon et al. present a multifaceted look at the experiences of FGCS and how technology can enhance their transition experience and campus engagement. As such, the target audience for this book is anyone wanting to better understand the experiences and needs of FGCS and the incorporation of Web 2.0 technology into higher education. Technology and Engagement: Making Technology Work for First-Generation College Students is an important book that deserves to be on everyone’s bookshelf, especially TRIO and Student Support Services professionals.


Everett, J. B. (2015). Pubic community colleges: Creating access and opportunities for first-generation college students. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 81(3), 52–58.

Hossler, D., Schmit, J., & Vesper, N. (1999). Going to college: How social, economic, and educational factors influence the decisions students make. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

McCarron, G. P., & Inkelas, K. K. (2006). The gap between educational aspirations and attainment for first-generation college students and the role of parental involvement. Journal of College Student Development, 47(5), 534–549.

Petty, T. (2014). Motivating first-generation students to academic success and college completion. College Student Journal, 48(1), 133–140.

Pascarella, E. T., Pierson, C. T., Wolniak, G. C., & Terenzini, P. T. (2004). First-generation college students: Additional evidence on college experiences and outcomes. Journal of Higher Education, 75, 249–284.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22517, Date Accessed: 10/19/2018 3:05:14 PM

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