ECAR study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology

Dahlstrom, E., Walker, J.D., Dziuban, C. (2013). ECAR study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 15 October 2013].

This is the ECAR study into student preferences. It’s important to note this, both as a reflection of the content, but also as a limitation.


Students are requesting support in deploying technology in their learning, and prefer to have it from their instructors, in the contexts they will be learning from, as the need arises and not as a separate digital literacy course. This translates into teacher support. If you want innovation to drive your institutions teaching, you will have to train the teachers and let them innovate, because, time and again, research is coming back that they will be the driver, and not the institution or student

ECARS feedback from students seems interesting, and is backed up by other recent studies on ideas of digital natives, social media usage in classrooms and experiences of MOOCs.

Students seem to know they need guidance in tech use, and want that modelled by and provided by instructors. It’s been an ongoing trend in the literature that the tech support of students is necessary to achieve positive outcomes. Unstructured use of Social Media, unsupported use of VLE’s, assumptions about the digital nativity of students have all led to frustrating and counterproductive experiences.

Students also want to sue thei smartphones more, but want guidance in using them.

This translates into the idea that if we want students to use tech in the classroom, we, their actual tutors, need to show them how and why. Lots of other research is showing the same.

Students want more extensive and better use of VLEs. Again, faculty led use of technology is being asked for here. They also report more positive oputcomes when faculty engage with etextbooks.

Students want blended learning environments (Udacity’s recent report backs this up) when experimenting with MOOCs. That said, huge numbers of undergrads had no idea what a MOOC was.

A surprise for me was the finding that privacy, and it’s value, puts a limit for students on tech usage.

And students are ready to use their mobile devices, but, again, want and need support in using them.

Students value the institution website, the VLE, and the library website in that order in terms of tech provided for them. This mirrors other studies which find students using narrow ranges of technology in their learning, and valuing quite conventional technologies.

OER’s have been used by a majority of students, but only a small minority use them regularly. (20% have never used them, 10% use them often, 30% sometimes, and 30% experimented with them) Etextbooks and eportfolios come in at similar figures.

Students are liking etextbooks, but their appreciation os outweighed by access issues – where etectbooks are device or platform limited, it’s a significant issue that outweighs their other conveniences.

Students value the trio of f2f interaction with instructors, coupled with email for asynchronous convenience and conversation tracking, and the formal structure of a VLE. They don;t particularly want social media access to their instructors, and want a separation of academic and private lives.


The study is of expressed preferences, which are important to guage, gather and analyse. But though they may provide valuable insights in some areas, they can be limited or counterproductive as evidence in others. For egxample, if students are feeling unsupported, or feel that instructors are failing them, or that demands being levied on them are not equal to resources provided, these are key things to understand, alter, and reassess. Student assessments of how difficult a course was, or how much work will be, or was needed, are often on target. Student assessments of what they have learned, or how they learn, or media through which they feel they might learn better are often off.  Student satisfaction with learning experiences is complicated, nuanced, and needs to be understood at time sympathetically, and at times critically.

Academic goals and technology

In general students( ¾) students responded that tech use helped them achieve academic goals, with slightly fewer suggesting that tech use prepared or helped with future educational plans. A smaller amount (56-61%) suggested that their college tech use will have prepared them well for post college tech use. A drill down here would be interesting, geographically, racially/social stratus, and in terms of subject.

In other studies, it looks like disadvantaged students, or students (in the US) from Latino and African American backgrounds, as well as students struggling academically may either gain less, or actually suffer from tech usage, online learning, and moccification. Additionally, there may be an issue where students in technical courses are more comfortable, in some circumstances, with deploying their devices and platforms in educational environments. A gender focus would also be interesting too.

Digital Literacy Training

An interesting result for the report is that students who are interested in greater technical training in terms of edtech usage are not interested in separate digital literacy courses. They want it in class, from tutors and instructors, as the need or occasion for tech use arises. This tallies in some senses with other studies which are finding that instructor modelling is an effective technique, and that instructor usage of the tech is an encouragement to students.

What tech students use most

In terms of the assets most utilised and prized by students, the institution website comes out tops, followed the the CMS/VLE, the library website,. They are the most used, and are also the three rated as the most important for academic success.

This might have limitations. It’s based on usage, and reported preferences, so it may not be an accuarett guage of what, in truth is. But it’;s interesting nonetheless. It looks like the CMS/VLE might have gotten an unfair kicking from some sectors. It’s valued, used, and engaged with.

What that doesn’t tell us, necessarily, is what tech is most key to academic success, and what may be most key. It tells us what has the larget impact on learning experiences in terms of use and perception, but not what should or could have the largest impact, and not what actually contributes the most in terms of learning per se.

Lesser used techs

70% of students have used oers in the last year, but usage is generally nominal. Only about 1 in ten of users used em all the time.

30 used them on occasion, 10 never used them, 30 experimented with them and 10 used them all the time. OER’s here include Khan. Descriptons of how they might be used were vague. Is this an instance where more direct guidance would yield results? How and why? Eportfolios, ebooks and games are in a similar type of area. They are seeing some experimental use, are not used across the board in courses

With etext books, students valued the cost and convenience over paperware. But, issues using devices to access them outweighed the pros, the hosting of the textbook on a platform separate to the LMS, and segregation of the format from their main device. The lesson here, host it on your lms, make sure it’s in a format that’s universally accessible, make it easy to use and access on all platforms.

In addition, in contexts where faculty engaged with etextbooks, students reported more positive outcomes.

Students want some f2f aspect, they want blended learning over entirely online, and their preferences seem to match with outcomes. There is a weakness in the report. It rests on what students say they prefer, and where they say they learn the most. As metrics for actual learning, these are known to be unreliable.

The majority of undergrad respondents did now know what a MOOC was. About 75%. Only 3-4% had taken one.

Most students want the CMS used more.  Many courses are not integrated, and of the integrated courses, 50% use only the most basic aspects. Students want more than just notes posted. They want resources, slides, notes, problems.

In short, use it thoughtfully, effectively, and in a timely way. Students may want lecture capturing (and how cool would it be to index – students often value the opp to flip forward or back)

Use of smartphones is increasing, but students awareness of their potential to be distracting. Again, evidence indicates that of you want to avoid this, you need to structure it.

Feeling connected to tutors, institutions and peers

Re feeling connected as a function of technology, many students report feeling more connected to their institutions., between 53 and 58% suggested it made them feel more connected to their fellow students and about 60% said it made them feel more connected to their instructors. Older students agree more than younger about these connections. Female students feel more connected with porofessors than male. Males feel more involved with coursework than females, and females more with campus activities than males.

All that said,60 – 70% of students wanted to keep their private and their academic lives seaparate. So, a key here might be getting you and your students to use specific accounts for your soc media usage.

Most valued techs

Students value face to face, email and cms access to instructors. Instructor access isnseen as a privilege of being a student. This is far from suprising. Instructor access is known to add value, moltivation and persistence, and feedback is a key driver of leqanring and motivation.

Social media

What is surprising, for me, is that few students wanted social media access. Tallying with a desire to separate social and academic  lives. CMS offered a formal setting and structure, email offered an asynchronous and or passive avenue, as well as a documentary trasil, and face to face offers social capital and interpersonal facets. Ins hoprt, it’s a complementary trio.

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