Undergraduates and IT: 2006 ECAR Study

The EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) released a report of a longitudinal study on the undergraduate students and information technology. The report is based on the national survey of undergraduate students. The data collection includes literature review, web-based survey of freshmen and seniors, open-ended questionaire survey, and focus group. The study gives a very nice overview of IT use in academic environment.

Here are some of the key findings from the report.

  • Nearly 98% of undergraduates have PC; about 66.4% own laptop. However, the most owned electronic device is digital camera (72.3%).
  • The use of IT highly depends on academic major and class status.
  • “Convenience” is the primary benefit of technology in classroom.
  • Most students prefer “moderate” amount of technology in classroom.
  • 64.4% point out that technology help them to improve their learning. [Note: self-evaluation, not outcome-based]
  • 40.3% say they are more engaged in courses that use technology.

However, I would like to highlight some other detail findings in the full report that would be helpful.


  • On average, students spend 23 hours a week using technology. (About 3 hours a day)
  • More than 25% of male respondents use technology more than 30 hours a week.
  • Engineering majors spend more time on technology the most (30.3 hours a week). Interestingly enough, Education majors least spend time on technology than others (18.8 hours a week).


  • Nearly all (99.9%) use email.
  • 81.5% use IM, mostly on daily basis. Younger undergradates and those who live on-campus tend to use more than others.
  • 94% access library website.
  • 70.6% say they use social network sites, preferred by younger students and those who live on-campus. About two-third use them several time a week.
  • 28.6% have weblog, prefered by younger and Fine Art majors. The majority blogs on “monthly” basis. [I wonder how many of them use for course purposes and others.]

Note that the top two factors of using IM and social network sites are the same. On-campus younger students tends to use IM and social network sites.

Another figure that might be interesting for virtual reference folks is the preference on first choice of institutional communication. Only 3% prefer IM to be first choice for institutional communication. About 6% of those who use IM daily prefer IM to be the first choice for institutional communication. However, the term “institutional communication” is quite broad. I wonder if the questionaire is more specific to VR, the figure might be higher. However, if IM is most prefered by younger, the preference of using IM for institutional communication would be increasing.


I would like to highlight the minimal or no skill group instead of basic and advance users. The study found 9.4% has perceived minimal or no skill of online library resources which the majority could fall into freshmen obviously. However, it seems like academic major is also the important factor. Social science seems to be the most library-oriented major. My further thought go to which major has least skill.

Another interesting figure is 34.3% say they have minimal or no skill course management system. This is a large number. I think this is not just a problem of IT department. Library folks should not oversee this issue as well since the connection between CMS and library collection is very high. I would think that libraries, in addition to IT , might have to take the role of improving CMS skill. Anyway, this figure might come from the fact that not all courses use online. Note that 75% says they have been engaged in using CMS, preferred by senior in 4-year institutions.

Social Software in Courses

  • 30.9% of freshmen and 15.5% of seniors used social network site in courses (12.3% for community college).
  • 11.8% of freshmen and 18.0% of seniors says they use IM in courses.
  • 6.1% of freshme and 7.9% of seniors use blogs in class. [I would assume read and write combined.] Interesting students in community colleges use blogs slightly more than those in 4-year institution (8.2%). Again, Fine arts majors tends to use more than others.
  • Less than 4% use webcast and/or podcast during courses.

In terms of perceived benefits of the technology, students think podcast help them improve learning the most (23%). Significantly enough, CMS is perceivably least improved their learning (12.4%). However, the majority thinks CMS is the most convenient technology (55%). Here are the percieved benefits of other social technology.


  • 45.7% says it is convenient.
  • 21.6% says it improves their learning.
  • 19.2% says it helps manage course activitiy.
  • 11.1% says it helps them communicate.
  • 2.4% says it has no benefits.


  • 47.8% says it is convenient.
  • 19.1% says it improves their learning.
  • 19.4% says it helps manage course activitiy.
  • 11.2% says it helps them communicate.
  • 2.6% says it has no benefits.

Social networking software

  • 47.9% says it is convenient.
  • 17.9% says it improves their learning.
  • 20.7% says it helps manage course activitiy.
  • 11.1% says it helps them communicate.
  • 2.4% says it has no benefits.

The paper cited one of interesting studies done by Student Monitor (Carney, 2006 cited on p. 24). They cited that iPods was more “in” (73% of respondents) than beer or Facebook (both 71%).

As one may question about self-evaluation aspect of the study, the study team already points out, in executive summary, the ongoing complexity of outcome-based debate. They believe that “students are reasonably reliable evaluators of the educational contribution of IT”.

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