Students from the four DIGE focus groups reported using applications such as Word, Excel and referencing software, as well as search engines such as Google Search and Google Scholar. In fact, all 16 data sets from the focus group card-sorting exercise ranked Google Search and Google Scholar as ‘essential’ tools, while only 12 ranked SOLO and OxLIP+ as ‘essential’.
Students were un-aware of the University’s support behind their access to journal articles via Google Scholar (i.e. the ‘Find it @ Oxford’ link).
In addition to the Microsoft Office suite students use Evernote, Pages, LibreOffice (on Linux), LaTeX, Google Docs, and (on smartphones) Org-Mode.
Reference management software was also popular among survey respondents, especially among RPGs, with 22% of RPGs but fewer than 2% of UGs naming such tools among their ‘top three’ digital technologies.
‘I evaluated several research managers and found [Mendeley] to be the best option, particularly since it runs well on Linux…I honestly believe that my research work would take at least twice as much time without this tool.’
For finding information, students in the focus groups and digital diaries ranked Wikipedia as a useful tool to consult for quick definitions and information. Of the 16 card-sort data sets, 6 rated Wikipedia as ‘essential’, 5 as ‘important’, 4 as ‘useful’ and only 1 as ‘not used’. One focus group participant echoed the view of his whole group:
‘It is a very, very useful reference, and it has got facts there; it is a lot quicker.’ ‘Summarises concepts pretty nicely, and it is useful to get the overview of topics.’
This seems to reflect a wider trend in students’ behaviour: namely, they often need to find information quickly and their first port of call is online. However, students seemed aware of how to use Wikipedia sensibly and not as a definitive primary source. One student explained:
‘As long as you know the strings behind the machine and how it all works, there is no harm in using it.’
In terms of websites, survey respondents across all levels of study named at least one subject-specific website among their ‘top three’ digital technologies.
When asked in the survey whether they felt they had adequate IT skills for their courses, over 85% of students responded in the affirmative. Their certainty about their IT skills was slightly lower at the higher levels of study: falling from a ‘Yes’ response of 93% among the UGs, through 91% among the TPGs to 85% among the RPGs.
‘I’m really used to computers, I’ve been programming professionally web applications and during my undergrads I had about 2 years of Matlab classes. So far my IT skills suffice or are more than required.’
‘I loved the course the Physics department provided that taught me the programming language C. This also got me my first job.’
‘I am frequently attending OUCS lessons and at this point I think I have enough of the skills required.’
One of the themes arising is the reliance of students on Google or other search engines to find training.
‘I would most likely Google for a tutorial online. I find course-based learning to be too slow.’ ‘Mostly I’ve learned programming by using Google every time I come across a problem I don’t know.’
The user manual (user guide) provided with the device is sufficient, I think there is no need to look for something else. If I feel like I need it now, then there are so many blogs, user tips, tutorials and videos out there, on the internet. And doing this (myself) involves great fun too.
I tend to persevere at home, as [I] find it better to have a real application as a challenge, rather than abstract exercises.
The fact that more postgraduates attend face-to-face training courses than any other group could reflect the fact that the self-taught approach only takes one so far. Postgraduates are busy and want training tailored to the kinds of high-level tasks that they need to complete.
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