Academic journal article Education

Computer Experience and Skills of Family and Consumer Sciences Undergraduates and Professionals

Academic journal article Education

Computer Experience and Skills of Family and Consumer Sciences Undergraduates and Professionals

Article excerpt


The authors would like to thank the Georgia state affiliate of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences for mailing the surveys to their membership and all the members who took the time to complete the survey. The authors also acknowledge the generous financial support of the United States Department of Agriculture's Challenge Grant which has supported this research.


It is easy to assume that most students have been exposed to computers and various software applications upon their arrival to college. The widespread use of computers in many homes and schools lead most educators to conclude that students come to them with adequate computer skills. Post-secondary instructors who are already stretched in terms of time and resources may feel that incorporating computers or the Internet into their classes is no longer necessary. It is important to prepare students for an ever more technological world, but what do they know and what will they need to know? And what do educators themselves know?

The definition of computer literacy has been changing over time. With the advent of scores of software applications, programming skills are becoming less and less a part of what is considered computer literacy. Definitions of computer literacy can be dependent upon the specific disciplines or careers. The Department of Education, however, has created a more general definition of computer literacy in their (June) 1996 report Getting America's students ready for the 21st century: Meeting the technology literacy challenge. Their definition states:

   Technological literacy is not just knowing how to use technology for word
   processing, spreadsheets, and Internet access. Fundamentally, it is using
   the powerful learning opportunities afforded by technology to increase
   learning in academic subjects and increase students' skills. (p.7)

This paper uses information from 1998 and 1999 surveys of current and former students in Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), which includes disciplines such as Consumer Economics; Housing; Textiles, Interiors, and Merchandising; Child and Family Development; Foods and Nutrition; Family and Consumer Sciences Secondary Education; and Consumer Journalism, to name a few, to determine the state of the academic field in terms of Internet usage and attitudes. This paper will help better inform the post-secondary literature on Internet skills of its current and former students, as well as filling the void left by the paucity of research on the various disciplines in Family and Consumer Sciences in the general literature on postsecondary education.

The Surveys

The first survey was part of a larger experimental design that was conducted between January and March 1998 (Sweaney, Meeks, & Manley, 1999). Surveys were distributed to Housing and Consumer Economics classes in a college of Family and Consumer Sciences at a large southern research university. Questions covered aspects of computer usage from computer ownership to experience on the World Wide Web.

Data are also included from a fall 1999 survey of a state-level Family and Consumer Sciences organization about Internet usage. This survey was mailed out to approximately 400 members, who range from students to retirees. One hundred eleven surveys were returned from nonstudents/professionals in the first and only mailing. Including three undergraduate Housing and Consumer Economics classes in which the survey was also distributed, 110 surveys were collected from students. On this survey, respondents were asked specific questions about their Internet activities.

Survey Results

Results from the 1998 survey of undergraduates are included in Table 1. The majority of students were majors in a Family and Consumer Science (Housing, Consumer Economics, Child and Family Development, Consumer Journalism) discipline. …

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