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Student, grade 9, on why she likes the Internet
In the March/April issue of MULTIMEDIA SCHOOLS, we presented findings from an action research study conducted to ascertain students' impressions of the Internet as a learning tool. Findings from our study suggested that many high school students do hot employ critical-thinking skills when using the Internet for purposes of research. As a result, we identified the need for collaborative approaches between librarian/media specialists and classroom teachers to promote information literacy in the secondary-school curriculum.
In this article we describe key findings from the second part of our action research; a questionnaire administered to 309(1) students grades 9 through 12. The students were asked to identify the reasons why they use the Internet, the frequency of their usage, what they like and dislike about using the technology, and how they evaluate their own Internet-use skills. We also discuss what we learned from conducting collaborative action research and identify several factors we feel are important for teachers and librarians/media specialists who may be interested in pursuing similar studies in their schools or classrooms.
Student Use of the Internet
In the questionnaire, students responded that they use the Internet for a variety of reasons. School projects, personal communication, and entertainment were the most common responses. An overwhelming majority of students (42 percent/129) responded they use the Internet for school-related purposes, especially for conducting research. This was true for all grades. Computer-mediated communication purposes (15 percent/48) such as e-mail was the next most common reason students use the Internet, followed by surfing (13 percent/ 42), and general entertainment purposes, (13 percent/41). The fact that large numbers of students in our school are using the Internet for research purposes reinforces the need for information-literacy training to help students understand the complexity of the World Wide Web and the cognitive processes involved in negotiating Web sites.
When asked what approach they most commonly use to find information on the Internet, 73 percent of the students responded that they use search engines when conducting research for school-related projects. Only 8 percent of the students use subject guides and 7 percent use online databases. As we have already noted, students tend to immediately gravitate to the Internet, surfing online while ignoring other types of information sources that may be more reliable or efficient in the search for information. This points out the need for librarians/media specialists and teachers to promote the use of online databases such as SIRS, Facts On File, etc.
What is most surprising about these responses, however, is the low figure of students (3 percent) who use pre-assigned URL addresses. One explanation for this low percentage lies in the possibility that teachers are not directing students toward Web sites that are integrated into their curricula. Instead, students are allowed to individually "surf" the Web for information. Although such an approach promotes individualized learning and discovery via the Web, it also creates the risk that students will spend considerable time surfing rather than focusing on purposeful research strategies and identifiable learning outcomes. As such, surfing may actually hinder students in maximizing the Internet's power as a link to sources of information. This finding reinforces the need for librarian/media specialists and teachers to provide students with more instruction and guidance in the information problem-solving process.
Generally, students in the sample feel satisfied with the Internet as a learning tool. Over 93 percent (284) of the student respondents claim their satisfaction level is either "excellent" or "good. …