In order to increase the number of American STEM degree recipients, it is important for academics to develop ways to improve students’ interest, retention, and success in fields like engineering. The purpose of this study was to understand the relationship between first-year engineering students’ (FYES) perceived (a) knowledge, (b) usefulness, as well as (c) frequency and nature of use of technology and their academic achievement (i.e., grades). This investigation focused on the specific types and uses of educational technology by FYES, while also analyzing differences by race/ethnicity and gender.
Previously, scholars have employed a broad definition of technology to describe hardware such as cell phones and computers or software for word processing and web-based applications. Such definitions have been used to understand how collegians, instructors, and professionals interact with technology. In the present study, educational technology signified specific computer and information technology such as computer hardware (e.g., desktops, laptops), computer software (e.g., Microsoft Word/Excel, MATLAB, SolidWorks), electronic devices (e.g., cellphones, tablets, E-readers), and the Internet (e.g., websites, course management systems). Rogers’ (1995) technology adoption theory was chosen for the current study as it related well to the present research questions.
A multi-step approach (i.e., descriptive statistics, independent samples t-tests, hierarchical linear regression) was used to analyze survey data from nearly 500 students. Results from the present study determined there were significant racial/ethnic differences in FYES’ perceived usefulness as well as frequency and nature of use of technology. There were also significant gender differences in FYES’ perceived knowledge and usefulness of technology. Furthermore, FYES’ background characteristics significantly predicted their final course grades in the second of two Fundamentals of Engineering courses. Findings have important implications for practice, research, and theory surrounding FYES and educational technology.