The Role of Personal Computers in Undergraduate Education

The Role of Personal Computers in Undergraduate Education

Russell Butson (Higher Education Development Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand) and Kwong Nui Sim (Higher Education Development Centre, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/ijdldc.2013070101


This scoping study investigated the role that personal computers play in supporting undergraduate study practice. Monitoring software was installed on the personal computers of five third year students undertaking a summer school course at the University of Otago in 2012. The data showed students’ daily academic use of their personal computers was significantly lower compared with their non-academic use. There was also no obvious relationship found when comparing overall computer use with course assignment schedules. In addition, students’ perceived use of personal computers as captured through self-reports was found to be contrary to their actual use as recorded by the computer monitoring software. The low level of use for academic purposes indicates that the personal computers did not play a significant role in the daily study practices of these students and that the current perceptions that such devices are vital to student learning may be unsound.
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Five third year undergraduate students (male-3 and female-2) undertaking a summer school paper at the University of Otago and who self-reported as being competent computer users were selected for the study. Two data sources were created: a short computer-use questionnaire and computer activity logs:

  • Computer-use Questionnaire: A five question questionnaire was compiled to discover the students’ different experiences in using computer technology for their study. These included:

    • 1.

      Is access to a computer really important for your university study?

    • 2.

      Which of the following best describes you?

      • a.

        I love technology and am among the first to experiment with as well as use them before most people I know;

      • b.

        I usually use new technologies when most people I know do and sometimes I will be one of the last people I know to use them;

      • c.

        I am sceptical of new technologies and use them only when I have to;

    • 3.

      Please indicate the percentage of time you use computers to support your studies compared to non-academic use;

    • 4.

      How do you rate your ability to use computers?

      • a.

        Expert and skilful;

      • b.


      • c.

        No at all skilled;

    • 5.

      Students were asked to rate their abilities against a selection of software programs and web services (incl. academic & non-academic).

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