Computer Usage and Perceptions of Incoming Students at a 2-Year Agricultural School1
Hostetler, Kimberly M., Deeter, Laura M., NACTA Journal
Many college professors assume incoming students are technologically savvy and have the appropriate computer skills for college. This research was conducted to determine if students perceive themselves to have appropriate computer skills upon entering college. A survey of incoming freshmen at the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (OSU ATI) was conducted in orientation classes during Autumn Quarter, 2010. Students were asked to rate their perceived level of computer competence in several areas including: email, digital photo editing, Internet research, word processing, spreadsheets and database usage. Most students felt their skills to be intermediate in the areas of email, Internet research and word processing. Skills in digital photo editing and spreadsheets were perceived as between beginner and intermediate, indicating less confidence and/or experience in these areas. Almost all of the students felt that computer skills would be helpful in college and that college would only add to their skills. Additionally, almost 90% of the students brought a computer to campus. Intriguingly, fewer than 8% of students reported that computers would not be helpful in their college careers, nor would they be helpful in their future careers.
Technology and computers have become ubiquitous in today's society. The current group of college students and those who will be entering college in the next few years are often termed 'digital natives' (Prensky, 2001). These students have grown up with computers, cell-phones, MP3 players and the Internet. The use of technology in academic settings has also increased in recent years with the advent of Web 2.0, course management software, educational cell-phone applications, and social networking sites geared toward education. Due to the pervasive nature of technology in today's academic and non-academic settings, the assumption is often that students enter college with not only basic computing skills, but often advanced computing skills.
Incoming students not only navigate all the challenges and new experiences of college, but must learn new technological skills. In today's paperless society, course scheduling, registration, applying for financial aid and similar activities are completed online. Course management software is utilized for posting grades, discussions, assignment submission and testing. Because today's "digital natives" have grown up in, and are connected to, this virtual world the assumption is students are computer savvy. This includes having the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the online world with ease and utilize it effectively to increase their academic skills, knowledge and job readiness.
Employers have long been selecting college students with appropriate computer skills. More than a decade ago, 83% of potential employers reported technology skills as important or very important when making hiring decisions (Monk et al., 1996). As expected, recent studies confirm that employers continue to feel computer skills are important for recent college graduates (Bartholomes, 2004, Gupta, 2006 and Johnson et al., 2006). Since it is assumed that students already possess adequate computer skills, many colleges do not require a basic course in this area. Fewer still test incoming students on their computer skills.
If colleges are assuming the "digital natives" have at least basic computer skills, what do the students feel their perceived level of skill to be? Johnson et al. (1999) found that this assumption that students already have the skills needed in college was prevalent in the 1990 's. However, little research has been conducted recently to verify if in fact this assumption made by faculty is also made by the students themselves. The main purpose of this paper is to determine if the assumption that incoming college students are "digital natives" holds true in the students' eyes.
The research reported in this article took place at OSU ATI which has Associate Degree programs in 29 areas of study, mostly related to agriculture or horticulture. …