Student Internet Usage, Perceptions, and Training Needs: Implications for Campus Leaders

Article excerpt


As Internet usage on college campuses escalates, many questions arise for those who are entrusted with the leadership role in training campus Internet users. At many universities, campus librarians assume this role (e.g. Pascoe, Applebee & Clayton, 1996; Cannon, 1996), while at other universities these duties may be assumed by technology specialists or left to professors to handle in their courses on an as-needed basis. For whomever assumes this role, several questions need to be addressed in regard to how the Internet is being utilized and what types of training are needed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Internet use. For example, are students primarily using the Internet for e-mail, or are they making use of Internet resources on the World Wide Web (WWW) for course assignments and research? How do students evaluate the reliability of information on the WWW? Would increased training encourage students to use the Internet more frequently or assist them in using the Internet more effectively?

Few studies have examined student Internet usage and perceptions of the value of Internet information. Accordingly, several studies (Perry, Perry & Curlin, 1998; Lubans, 1998; Tillotson, Cherry, & Clinton, 1995) have called for increased evaluation of student Internet usage. While the explosion of information resources on the Internet, the development of utilities such as Gopher, and especially the development of the World Wide Web increased the level of access to Internet information resources (Rosenthal & Spiegelman, 1996), prior studies indicate the Internet was used by college students largely to send and receive e-mail (Tillotson et al., 1995; Cannon, 1996; Perry et al., 1998). The literature also includes calls for increased student training on Internet usage (Tate, 1996; Pask & Snow, 1995; Cannon, 1996; Lubans, 1996; Malone & Videon, 1997). Given the rapidly increasing amount of information on the WWW and the apparent increase in student use of the Internet, it is critical for campus leaders to continuously monitor and assess student Internet use and training needs. This paper reports results of a survey designed to determine whether students are now taking more advantage of available Internet resources than evidenced in prior studies and to determine whether Internet related training is needed at the University level.

In the next section, prior literature regarding student Internet use will be discussed. Next, a discussion of the survey and data-gathering method will be presented, followed by results of the survey. Results are compared by class rank (i.e. freshmen) to determine if student Internet usage and training needs differ depending on the student's year in school. Lastly, implications of the findings for librarians, technology specialists, and professors are discussed.


There are few published studies exploring the nature of student Internet use. Those studies addressing the types of activities students undertake via the Internet all indicate e-mail as the primary reason for students connecting to the Internet. For example, Tillotson, Cherry, and Clinton (1995) conducted an on-line survey at the University of Toronto. The majority of the 505 student respondents reported using the Internet for personal use (46 percent), with only 14 percent using the WWW for research and eight percent using it to complete other course assignments. Graduate students reported a higher usage for research compared to undergraduates. Cannon (1996) surveyed several hundred undergraduate students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and found that 52 percent used the Internet. Of those using the Internet, 73 percent used e-mail, while only 31 percent used the Internet for research. However, the more Internet experience students had, the more they used the Internet for research. Lubans (1998) surveyed freshman using an on-line questionnaire and found that, when asked how often they used the WWW compared to other reference sources, half of the students indicated they used the WWW 20 percent of the time and other resources 80 percent of the time, while 14 percent said they used the WWW 80 percent of the time and other resources 20 percent of the time. …