Trends in student use of technology

Trends in student use of technology – Part II

From Information Resources and Technologies

In the Wednesday, Nov. 28, Bulletin article, we highlighted some of the key findings and observations from the 2007 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, including the benefits of technology on learning, how faculty skill with technology impacts student perceptions, and Blackboard usage.

This article focuses on the technologies students prefer to use to communicate with their institution, students’ Internet access, and how students say they spend their time online. The complete report is available from the EDUCAUSE Web site.

E-mail and communicating with the university
With 84 percent of undergraduate students using instant messenger (IM) on a daily basis, it’s easy to assume that students prefer IM over e-mail for communicating with the institution; however, data from the ECAR report suggest otherwise. A surprisingly large number of students (85 percent) indicated they prefer to use e-mail as their first choice for communicating with the university. Nearly 92 percent of St. Thomas participants selected e-mail as their first choice. Text messages, instant messages, and portals all rated as a first choice for a substantially smaller percentage of students.

When institutions communicate with students, most students (83 percent) indicated they prefer to use their university e-mail account for communication. At St. Thomas, 96 percent of student participants indicated they prefer to use their UST e-mail account for university communication, rather than another e-mail account.

Although e-mail appears to be falling out of favor with teens in light of newer “Web 2.0” technologies1, e-mail use among college students continues to be widely and frequently used. In both the 2006 and 2007 ECAR studies, nearly 82 percent of the student respondents indicated that they create, send or read e-mail on a daily basis. For younger students, instant messaging (IM) is an important part of daily activities. Nearly 60 percent of students aged 18-19 IM on a daily basis, compared with just 17 percent of students aged 30 and older.

Internet Access – Wired or Wireless?
Most students in the study (91.5 percent) report that they have high-speed Internet access, either from a commercial provider or through their college or university. Just over 8 percent use dial-up for Internet access. Not surprisingly, the majority of students residing on campus primarily use the Internet services provided by their university.

Overall, the use of wired broadband access is slowly being replaced by wireless. In 2007, just over 68 percent of students used broadband, down from 75 percent in 2005. During the same time frame, the percentage of students connecting via wireless increased from 11 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2007.

Younger students tend to use wireless more often; nearly a quarter of students aged 18-24 cited wireless as their most frequently used Internet access. Just over 11 percent percent of students aged 30 and older use wireless as their primary method of connecting to the Internet.

Student Computer and Internet Activities
On average, students report spending 18 hours a week online engaged in activities related to work, school or leisure. St. Thomas students reported spending slightly less time online: 33 percent spend between six and 10 hours online, and just over 24 percent spend between 11 and 15 hours online weekly. Overall, students’ use of learning management systems (e.g., Blackboard), online social networks, and downloading music and videos are on the rise.

Percentage of
students who…

UST students

All participants

frequency of use
(all) participants)

Write documents
for coursework  99 99 Daily Use online social network (Facebook) 82 82 Daily Use LMS (Blackboard)  89 83 Several times/week Use library resources
on Web site  99 95 Several times/week Download music/videos  81 78 Weekly Play computer games
(online or offline)  67 78 Weekly Access/use Wikis  41 42 Weekly Create presentations (PowerPoint, Keynote)   98 92 Monthly Create spreadsheets/charts (Excel)  95 88 Monthly Blog  24 28 Monthly Note: Table adapted from the 2007 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology.

Technology in Academics
Authors of the study conducted a longitudinal analysis of three years of survey data regarding students̵
7; use of learning management systems (e.g., Blackboard). The analysis shows an increase of 13.2 percent increase from 2005 to 2007. Given the widespread use of learning managements systems (LMS) in higher education, it is not surprising that 82 percent of students have used an LMS at some point in their courses. Most students use a learning management system at least several times a week, and just under a quarter of St. Thomas students say they log onto Blackboard on a daily basis.

A good number of respondents use a core set of technologies in their courses: e-mail, learning management systems and course Web sites, and spreadsheet and presentation software. Fewer than 10 percent reported using more specialized applications and tools in their courses such as e-portfolios, blogs, webcasts, and podcasts. Instant messaging (IM) was used in courses by just over 13 percent of respondents, and is more likely to be used by freshmen than by seniors. As the authors of the study point out, freshmen may be more likely to use IM and social networking applications in courses because they may be “… less adamant about keeping the boundary between school and personal life [separate] for these technologies.”

Online Social Networking
Data from the study show an increase in the percentage of respondents who use social networking tools such as Facebook, from 72.3 percent in 2006 to 80.3 percent in 2007. Nearly 70 percent of all participants and 46 percent of UST students report using social networking tools on a daily basis. Less than 20 percent of St. Thomas students report never having participated in online social networks.

The use of social network technology also varies somewhat by age: younger students tend to spend more time in online using applications such as Facebook than do older students. While just over 4 percent of students over age 30 report that they access social networking applications on a daily basis, nearly 70 percent of 18-19 year olds say they are using online social networking technologies daily.

Although a large number of students use online social networking tools, most students do not use these technologies as a formal part of their courses. Instead, it appears that students consider technologies such as Facebook and Instant Messaging to be part of their private, rather than academic, lives.

The 2008 ECAR study will focus more specifically on how and why students use online social networking technologies and how students view the potential of these technologies for learning. Clearly, online interactions comprise a growing proportion of students’ social lives; we look forward to discovering if the same holds true for students' academic lives as we prepare to participate in the upcoming 2008 ECAR study.

1. Lenhart, A., Madden, M., & Hitlin, P. (2005). Teens and Technology: Youth are Leading the Transition to a Fully Wired and Mobile Nation. Retrieved January 22, 2008, from