Web Wednesday: Survey reveals trends in undergraduate use of information technology

Web Wednesday: Survey reveals trends in undergraduate use of information technology

From Information Resources and Technologies

Students’ preferences, satisfaction and use of information technology in higher education are important and growing areas of research. The student survey conducted by the Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR) seeks to contribute to this growing body of knowledge by gathering information from a national sample of freshmen and seniors to gain a better understanding of:

  • Student ownership, use and skill with information technology
  • Preference for technology in courses
  • Perception of how technology contributes to the academic experience

For the past two years, St. Thomas has participated in the ECAR study. Our contribution to the national sample is important not only because it benefits a national study, but also because it entitles us to some useful information comparing our technology-related behavior to that of students at other institutions.   St. Thomas is currently in the planning stage for participating in the 2007 ECAR study.

Below we highlight some of the key findings from the 2006 study, along with some of the results from the St. Thomas students who participated.

E-mail use is ubiquitous. Nearly all of the ECAR respondents reported they use e-mail and only 11.8 percent indicated they maintain only one e-mail account. When students were asked, "If your institution could communicate with you in any form what would your first preference be?" 85.8 percent of respondents preferred e-mail as their first choice. Nearly 91 percent of St. Thomas respondents preferred e-mail as their first choice for communicating with the institution. Instant messaging and text messaging were preferred by a small percentage of students as the primary means for official St. Thomas communication.

Students still prefer a moderate amount of technology in their courses. In the 2005 ECAR study, most students indicated they prefer a "moderate" amount of technology in their courses. This trend continues in the 2006 study with 56.2 percent preferring a moderate use of technology. Of the St. Thomas student respondents, 64.5 percent preferred a moderate use of technology, while 17.4 percent preferred an extensive use. Only 13.6 percent preferred a limited amount of technology in courses.

Although the students in the ECAR study report they are largely neutral with respect to whether they are more engaged in courses that require technology, students agree (more than they disagree) that they are more engaged in courses that require technology than courses that do not. Students also appear satisfied with how well faculty use technology: nearly half of the St. Thomas respondents agreed that faculty use technology well; and 8.8 percent strongly agreed.

Students and learning management systems (Blackboard): Blackboard continues to be widely used, and students' experiences with using Blackboard are positive! Of the 274 St. Thomas freshmen and seniors who participated in the study, 78.5 percent indicated they had taken a course that used Blackboard. Nearly a quarter access Blackboard on a weekly basis, while 29 percent log onto Blackboard several times a week, and nearly 17 percent access Blackboard daily.

The percentage of UST freshmen and seniors who are positive about using a learning management system increased from the 2005 study: 75 percent of St. Thomas participants described their overall experience with a learning management system as either positive or very positive. In the 2006 study, over 80 percent of UST freshmen and seniors described their experience using Blackboard as positive or very positive.

The features of Blackboard that students find most useful are:

  • Access to the course syllabus
  • Keeping track of grades on assignments and tests
  • Links online readings and other course materials

Interestingly, students report that the features of a learning management system that support student-to-student interactions such as online discussion for posting comments, questions, and responses and sharing materials are less useful to them. One reason may be the plethora of social networking technologies.

Nearly half of St. Thomas students who participated in the study use online networking technologies such as thefacebook.com on a daily basis. Instant messaging (IM) is also a daily activity among both freshmen and seniors: 62 percent of freshmen and 37 percent of seniors use IM on a daily basis.

Statistics alone are interesting, but the next step is to draw conclusions that will further the mission of teaching and learning at St. Thomas .   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 well.

Interested in learning more? Results from St. Thomas participants can be found here. Key findings from the 2006 ECAR study are available from the Educause Web site.