Deconstructing the Reality: To what degree are the Ph.D. students using their computer(s) to support their research practices?

KwongNui Sim, Sarah Stein


Under normal circumstances, it is assumed that Ph.D. students will make use of ICT (e.g., 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 aimed to examine how Ph.D. 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 journey. Monitoring software that harvested computer activity data over a period of three months was installed on the computers of nine doctoral students from the same university who self-reported as being skilled computer users. Regular discussion sessions were held with each student to review computer activities in the light of their own research and study contexts (Ph.D. stage and discipline background). Analysis of data gathered at this first stage of the study indicates that there is no difference among the students at any stage of their doctoral research in terms of the level of their engagement with their computers, and 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 while ICT are playing a dominant role in doctoral student’s daily lives, ICT use to support research practice is limited. While these students used computers daily, the computers seemed not to be as crucial to their research practice as was expected. It appears that current perceptions in research literature about the importance of computer devices for student research practice may need to be questioned. This first stage of a larger study therefore provides the basis for further investigation.


E-learning; higher education; e-literacy; postgraduate students; research practice; monitoring software; ICT use; postgraduate study; actual practice; computer use

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