A survey of computer use and communication in the homes of 1st, 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students
Start date: 6 April 2003
Aims: A survey was conducted to investigate the extent that computers are used in home environments by undergraduate students. The primary aim of the survey was to identify how computers were being used for educational purposes within the home. A secondary aim of the survey was to collect information on the social use of computers by students (in home and university contexts) to enable an evaluation of the impact of the computer on communication and social networks.
Background:This paper develops one of the findings identified in a previous study which investigated the use of online seminars by students in Higher Education (Taylor, 2002). In this previous research students were able to participate in seminars electronically 'any time, any place, any where'. Student feedback indicated that many students participated using a home computer, rather than use a computer within the University environment. The survey reported here was subsequently designed to explore this unexpected finding. A literature review was conducted to identify surveys published during the last five years recording trends of computer and Internet usage and attitudes towards the media from student populations. While useful in general terms, very few of these surveys collected data regarding the use of computers to support education within the home environment. Students studying full-time at 'physical' Universities (i.e. excluding distance learning institutions) are increasingly spending more of their time studying at home, gaining access to University teaching and learning materials via the internet. Also, such students are increasingly using their own computers at home to complete coursework rather than using University laboratory computers or open access resources. As designers of teaching and learning materials, tutors usually make assumptions about the contexts of student learning or like to have some control over the contexts of student learning. However, evidence (e.g. Taylor, 2002) suggests that the context of learning may be increasingly diverse. Policy makers, researchers and practitioners in Higher Education need accurate information regarding the current and predicted usage of computers in off-campus contexts. Similarly, they need qualitative information as to how students are studying within the home environment to design effective materials and to put in place appropriate support mechanisms.
The Survey: The survey collected quantitative data to identify the extent and type of computer usage within the home and University environments. Background data was also collected to enable participants' responses to computer-usage items to be compared for gender, age, and year at University. Previous research has identified individual differences (e.g. age and gender) to be a significant factor in students' use and attitudes toward networked learning in Higher Education. Also, by comparing the data collected from 1st, 2nd and 3rd year students it was hoped that a picture could be built of how computer use changed over the three years of an undergraduate degree, to give some predictive value to the results. Finally, qualitative data was collected to better understand students' educational use of computers and to identify their needs from HE establishments.
Discussion: The results have important implications to tutors with regard to their planning of teaching and learning and the support that they provide to students. The discussion section of this paper explores the ways in which context is relevant to common theories of teaching and learning in Higher Education. The results also have important implications at a strategic level, with regard to resourcing and staffing issues.