In spring 2003, the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) launched its first major study of college students and their use of information technology. Conducted annually since then, The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology asks undergraduates to respond to an extensive set of questions concerning their ownership of, use of, and perceived skill with various information technologies both inside and outside the classroom.

2008 marked the second year in which Tufts participated in the ECAR study by surveying freshmen and seniors on a self-selected basis. Tufts’ participation lends value to the overall research study, which includes data from more than 27,000 students at 98 institutions. It also provides Tufts faculty and administrators with valuable cross-sectional data on how our undergraduates perceive and use information technology in ways that resemble or differ from their peers at other ECAR institutions.

UIT Academic Technology has taken the lead in conducting the ECAR survey, in coordination with the Offices of the Dean of Student Services and the Dean of Undergraduate Education, and with support from Dawn Terkla, Associate Provost for Institutional Research. Academic Technology has also captured highlights of Tufts students’ responses in its annual Tufts Students Respond report.

The 2008 Tufts Students Respond report represents a distillation of The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008 with a focus on how Tufts students compare to their peers at other ECAR four-year institutions. This year’s report includes a special section on social networking, in addition to key highlights and observations from the full ECAR data set, key findings and observations from the Tufts data set, and a comprehensive series of charts graphically representing the full set of ECAR Study findings.

Notably, the 2008 data suggest that a majority of Tufts undergraduates prefer taking classes that use a moderate amount of information technology (IT). This is in keeping with their ECAR peers as shown below.


Additional observations from the 2008 report include:

  • Tufts undergraduates have access to newer technological devices and spend more time online than their peers at other ECAR institutions.
  • Tufts undergraduates appear to be heavy consumers of web-based data and services, showing higher inclinations to download web-based music and videos than their ECAR peers and heavier use of social networking sites.
  • Like their ECAR peers, Tufts students report a strong preference for liking to learn via Internet search.
  • Tufts students are more likely to rank themselves as “experts” in searching the Internet, evaluating the credibility of online sources and understanding the legal and ethical implications issues surrounding uses of digital information.
  • In the context of a course, Tufts students are less likely to report using Web 2.0 technologies such as wikis, blogs, social networking sites or instant messaging, but more likely to report using higher-end discipline-specific software, programming software or audio/video creation software than their ECAR peers.
  • A majority of Tufts respondents say that “some” or “about half” of their instructors use IT effectively, while a plurality report that “some” of “about half” of their instructors understand the IT skill level of their students.
  • Tufts seniors and freshmen are heavy users of social networking sites with 50% of seniors and 40% of freshmen reporting more than 300 “friends” in these online environments.
  • Despite making greater use of online social networks than their ECAR peers, Tufts undergraduates report being less concerned overall about privacy and security in these environments.
  • Freshmen are more likely than seniors or other ECAR peers to use a social networking site to communicate with classmates about a course. Overall, however, usage patterns of Tufts undergraduates appear to be in line with those of students at ECAR peer institutions with “staying in touch with friends,” “planning an event,” or “sharing music and videos” being the most frequently reported activities.

For more information on the ECAR Study or Tufts Students Respond reports, see the Related Info links above or visit the Academic Technology Library Site.

Hannah Reeves, Instructional Design and Technology Specialist, UIT Academic Technology

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