Authors: KwongNui Sim, Sarah Stein
Under normal circumstances, it is assumed that PhD students will make use of ICT (i.e., computer technologies) throughout their research journey for a variety of generic and specialised purposes. Yet, there is limited documented research about postgraduate use of ICT beyond their information sourcing skills and general knowledge consumption. This paper reports the first stage of a study that examines how PhD students use their computers to support their research practice, by taking into account not only their computer use skills, but also ICT use within the broader context of the research process. Computer usage monitoring software was installed on the computers of nine doctoral students at the University of Otago who self-reported as being skilled computer users. The software harvested applications used, websites visited, documents accessed and the associated times and durations these activities occurred over a period of three months. Regular discussion sessions were held with each student to review the computer activity data in the light of their discipline and their PhD stage (literature review, fieldwork, write-up etc.). An analysis of data gathered at this first stage of the study indicates that: (a) there is no difference among these students across the various PhD stages in terms of the level of engagement with computers; and (b) there is no difference in the use of computer (applications and documents) among the students despite their different discipline backgrounds. At this point in the study, there is a strong indication that for these students while ICT plays a dominant role in their daily lives, ICT use to support their PhD work is limited. While these students used computers daily, the computers simply were not as crucial to their research practice as expected.
Keywords: e-learning; higher education; e-literarcy; postgraduate students; research practice; monitoring software; ICT use; postgraduate study; actual practice; computer use