Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

The Impact of a Computer Proficiency Exam on Business Students' Admission to and Performance in a Higher-Level IT Course

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

The Impact of a Computer Proficiency Exam on Business Students' Admission to and Performance in a Higher-Level IT Course

Article excerpt


The majority of U.S. business schools require freshman and sophomore students to demonstrate proficiency in information technology (IT) as part of their program of study. Students commonly take one or two IT courses during their business core. When two IT courses are required, the first often serves as a prerequisite to the second, higher-level course. While the exact content of these IT courses may vary by university, they commonly incorporate standard IT knowledge such as word processing, spreadsheet modeling, database design, web development, and IT management concepts (Johnson, Bartholomew, and Miller, 2006; Martin and Dunsworth, 2007).

Most undergraduate students enter their first year of college equipped with at least basic email, Internet browsing, and word processing skills, as well as a basic understanding of spreadsheets (McEuen, 2001; Olsen, 2000). However, students' experience with and knowledge of computers may vary widely across and within universities (McDonald and Viscelli, 2008; Olsen, 2000; Trkman and Baloh, 2003). Further skills are commonly obtained through the successful completion of IT coursework, although many students attain computer skills informally through self-education and the help of peers (Davis, 1999). Among these students, the popularity of computer proficiency exams (CPE) has grown as has their frustration and displeasure with being required to take a basic IT course whose content they believe they have already mastered (Cardell and Nickel, 2003).

As the scope of material taught at U.S. business schools has increased, so too has the pressure to reduce or eliminate introductory courses, including the freshman IT course. In fact, many of Colleges of Business no longer require basic, lower level computer skill courses (McDonald and Viscelli, 2008; Tesch, Murphy, and Crable, 2006). When universities choose to eliminate a freshman IT course, they frequently do so in favor of non-credit IT workshops or computer proficiency exams designed to assess students' computer skill and ability (Johnson et al., 2006; McDonald, 2004).

At the private, Midwestern university that is the subject of this research, it was hypothesized that the implementation of a CPE would provide numerous benefits. First, the elimination of the freshman IT course was projected to reduce both instructor and administrative costs. Second, this would provide room for another, more advanced business core course to be added to the curriculum. Third, it was hoped the adoption of a CPE would ensure greater uniformity in students' computer proficiency prior to their enrollment in the sophomore IT course. This would eliminate the need for a review of basic, freshman IT concepts at the start of the sophomore IT course and insure all students possessed the same IT foundation skill set.

This research therefore seeks to investigate: 1) the impact of the use of a CPE as a surrogate measure of students' IT proficiency (as compared to the freshman IT course) and a gateway to admission to a higher-level IT course, 2) the impact of students' overall academic ability (assessed by their cumulative GPA prior to enrollment) on higher-level IT course performance, and 3) the role gender plays in IT course performance. In addition, we will explore some potentially negative consequences, experienced by the College of Business, which may be attributed to the elimination of the freshman IT course in favor of the new CPE.

Through this study, we hope to develop a clearer picture of the potential role of the CPE as a measure of student IT competence and a predictor of future IT course performance. To test these relationships, we conducted our analysis using data collected from four years of student records involving 713 undergraduate business students. Approximately 60% of these students took the freshman IT course and the remaining 40% took the computer proficiency exam. Finally, we discuss the longer-term impact of the CPE (including CPE pass rates) and revised approach to freshman IT proficiency testing that was adopted by the College of Business as a result of its experience with the CPE. …

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