ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2018

Joseph D. Galanek, EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research
Dana C. Gierdowski, EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research
D. Christopher Brooks, EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research

Thursday, October 25, 2018


EDUCAUSE is pleased to present our 15th annual ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology. With survey responses from a broad sample of 130 US and international institutions, and from more than 64,000 students, this study continues to stand as one of the higher education IT industry's largest and longest-running explorations of students' technology experiences, behaviors, and preferences. Whatever interests or questions have brought you to this report—whether student learning, institutional operations, information technology, scholarly research, or a combination of these or other things—I hope you'll take the time to enjoy the rich insights offered within these pages. And I hope you'll walk away with fresh ideas and perhaps even some new questions to pursue.

As we would expect, a number of the things we've asked students consistently from year to year haven't seemed to change much this year. Students love their laptops and smartphones, and they view laptops especially as critical to their school work. And students remain generally pleased with their technology experiences on campus, reporting satisfaction with the technology support they've received and with their institution's LMS. Yet much of what we present in this report feels different, even fresh, representing new ground for our student technology research. For example, our examination of off-campus student learning environment preferences will hopefully offer faculty and institutional leadership new insights into when and how they might implement online and blended learning, and how to communicate its benefits to diverse student populations. This year we stake out a stronger, more nuanced stance in the ongoing debate surrounding students and the devices they bring into classrooms, highlighting issues of accessibility and the experiences and preferences of underrepresented student populations. Finally, we've also taken a fresh look at our own research practices—the questions we ask from year to year and the methods we deploy—charting out new ways to ask questions and present our findings. We've extended our questions on student device ownership to include considerations of access, for example, and we've layered this report with data-based student vignettes to help breathe more life into our findings and recommendations.

I am confident the resulting report you have in front of you will feel new again in some ways, though we've been offering this report to the higher education and technology communities for 15 years. It is my hope that you will engage deeply with this report and experience it with a sense of discovery and even a little fun, as I know I have. It is my even more profound hope that this report will help spark positive changes in your professional practice and, ultimately, in the experiences and successes of students now and in the years ahead.

I invite you to have an enlightening journey through this report.

—Mark McCormack, EDUCAUSE


For 15 years, the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) has conducted research on information technology (IT) and higher education's most important end users, undergraduate students. While the form, function, and findings of these reports have evolved over the years, the common thread that binds them is a need to understand students' perspectives on how technology impacts their academic experiences and how they are using technology to enhance their academic success. Of particular note in this year's report is our inclusion of the perspectives of students with learning and physical disabilities on how their institutions respond to their technology, accessibility, and academic needs. We are excited to be presenting, as part of our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, these findings for our 2018 report.1 Although higher education IT organizations are the primary audience for this report, we are confident that these findings can benefit administrators and staff in faculty and professional development programs; instructors from every type of institution, discipline, and level of experience; student affairs professionals; and students themselves. Our aim for this report is for these diverse institutional stakeholders to leverage these findings and recommendations to contribute to institutional IT and academic goals and, most importantly, to student success.

In this report, readers will find data and analysis related to the following topics:

  • Device access, use, and importance to academic success
  • Campus Wi-Fi experiences
  • Learning management system (LMS) use and satisfaction
  • Student learning environment preferences
  • Experiences with instructors and technology
  • Commuter students and internet access
  • Student online activities
  • Institutional awareness of student disability and accessibility
  • Student use and assessment of success tools

For the 2018 report, 64,536 students from 130 institutions in 9 countries and 36 US states participated in the research. The quantitative findings in this report were developed using the 54,285 survey responses from 114 US institutions. This report makes generalized statements about the findings based on the large number of survey respondents. Applying these findings, however, is an institutionally specific undertaking. The priorities, strategic vision, and culture of an institution will inevitably affect the meaning and use of these findings in a specific academic context. This report should therefore be seen not as the final discussion about student use of IT on campus but as the beginning.

Key Findings

  • Practically all college and university students have access to the most important technologies for their academic success. US students reported near-universal access to a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, with no systematic differences in access based on ethnicity, gender, age, and socioeconomic status. However, students reported low levels of access to newer, more expensive technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets and 3D printers.
  • While laptops, hybrids, desktops, and smartphones continue to be rated as very to extremely important to student success, the importance of these devices differs considerably by student demographics. Generally, women, students of color, students with disabilities, first-generation students, students who are independent (with or without dependents of their own), and students who come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds see their devices as significantly more important to their success than do their counterparts. White students are significantly less likely than non-white students to think desktops, tablets, and smartphones are important to their success.
  • Students' overall technology experiences continue to be correlated with their evaluation of campus Wi-Fi reliability and ease of login. Students' evaluation of campus Wi-Fi in various locations has remained largely flat in recent years, but significant gaps remain in terms of the quality of connectivity in dormitories/student housing and outdoor spaces, as well as ease of network login.
  • LMS use remains prevalent across higher education institutions, with continued high rates of use and student satisfaction. Three-quarters of all students reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with their institution's LMS, and more than three-quarters of students reported their LMS was used for most or all of their courses. This likely reflects satisfaction primarily with the functional aspects of their institution's LMS.
  • A majority of students continue to express preferences for learning environments that fall somewhere on the "blended" continuum (from mostly face-to-face to mostly online). While a plurality (38%) of students prefer fully face-to-face classroom environments, students who have taken some fully online courses are significantly more likely to prefer blended environments and less likely to prefer purely face-to-face courses.
  • Although a majority of students said their instructors use technology to enhance their pedagogy, improve communication, and carry out course tasks, there are limitations when it comes to personal device use. Instructors encourage students to use their laptops more than smartphones, but nearly a third of students are not encouraged to use their own devices as learning tools in class, suggesting that many students take courses in which faculty discourage or ban the in-class use of students' technology.
  • Nearly three-quarters of students (72%) who live off campus reported their internet connections at their home/off-campus residence are either good or excellent, and only 2% reported having no internet access at home. Students who live off campus have a stronger preference for online and blended courses than do their on-campus counterparts. This preference may reflect how online learning can benefit those who need to juggle work schedules and family responsibilities.
  • The typical student is fairly serious about doing the work of being a student, spending 1 to 4 hours per day online doing homework and conducting research. Contrary to popular belief, students do not appear to spend most of their time using social media, watching TV, or playing video games. Indeed, the typical student spends 1 to 2 hours on social media and another 1 to 2 hours streaming video; more than half of students reported that they do not play video games.
  • A plurality of students who self-identify as having a physical and/or learning disability requiring accessible or adaptive technologies for their coursework rated their institution's awareness of their needs as poor. According to students, larger and DR public institutions tend to have poorer awareness of disabled students' needs than do smaller and AA institutions. In addition to institutional limitations, students' fears of being stigmatized or penalized for disclosing their disabilities and engaging disability services to receive the aid they need may be contributing to low rates of awareness.
  • Students continue to view student success tools as at least moderately useful. Students view success tools that help with transactional tasks related to the work of being students (e.g., conducting business, tracking credits, planning degrees, conducting degree audits) as slightly more useful than those that help them academically (e.g., early-alert systems, academic resources, course recommendations, improvement of academic performance).

More 2018 Student Study Resources

Visit the 2018 research hub for a PDF of the report and additional resources including an infographic, the data almanac, and links to events. Learn how your institution can participate in the 2019 student and faculty surveys on the ETRAC website.

© 2018 Joseph D. Galanek, Dana C. Gierdowski, and D. Christopher Brooks. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.
Citation for this work
Joseph D. Galanek, Dana C. Gierdowski, and D. Christopher Brooks. ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2018. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, October 2018.


  1. See Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).