Internet Use and Academic Achievement: Gender Differences in Early Adolescence

Article excerpt

As a new medium of learning in the twenty-first century, the Internet has brought unprecedented opportunities to students. To capitalize upon such opportunities, schools and families eagerly facilitate Internet use, particularly in East Asia, where academic achievement remains the top priority at school. At the same time, however, the Internet has also become a major concern for parents, because some online activities may seriously distract adolescents from their homework. For parents and educators alike, therefore, it is important to determine whether and how Internet use is linked to academic achievement, a key outcome of school learning.

Previous studies have been inconclusive about the relation between Internet use and academic achievement. Among high school students, for example, the amount of time using the Internet has little to do with individuals' academic achievement. Furthermore, students' grade point averages (GPA) are not closely correlated with specific activities, such as searching for information, E-mailing, and playing games (Hunley et al., 2005). Among college students, however, searching information online about course materials helps boost intellectual development and facilitates preparation for future jobs. In contrast, heavily indulging in online recreation has been closely linked to impaired academic performance (Kubey, Lavin, & Barrows, 2001; Kuh & Hu, 2001).

Internet use varies greatly by what students do online and how they do it. Like many other domains in adolescente, the content and other patterns of Internet use also differ widely between boys and girls. Does such a gender gap account for the lack of consistent findings about how these activities are linked with academic achievement? For example, does any one specific online activity help boost academic achievement for boys and girls alike? Or is it possible that boys benefit from one activity while girls gain from another?

Following consistent findings about the gender gap in Internet use, this paper examines whether and how male and female adolescents differ in the ways various aspects of Internet use affect academic achievement. These aspects include the overall frequency of using the Internet, activities students engage in online (such as information seeking, chatting and socializing with friends, and playing games), the location where they use the Internet, and whether parents regulate such use. Data were drawn from the Taiwan Youth Project, a panel survey series that has followed 2,690 youths from grade 7 (age 13) since 2001.

BACKGROUND

Internet Use and Academic Achievement

Some studies have suggested a positive association between college students' Internet use and their learning. In Suhail and Bargee's (2006) survey study with 200 university students from Pakistan, around three quarters of respondents noted positive effects of Internet use on their learning in at least three aspects. First, Internet use improved their grades. Second, the Internet expanded their reading, writing, and information-processing skills. Third, the Internet has proved a helpful tool in their studies. In another study, Kuh and Hu (2001) used data (collected with the College Student Experiences Questionnaire) from 71 four-year colleges and universities in the United States (N = 18,344) and found that surfing the Internet for course material had positive net effects on intellectual development and vocational preparation, in addition to personal development.

Other studies have found a negative link between college students' Internet use and academic performance. For example, non-heavy Internet users had higher academic grades than heavy Internet users as a group (Chen & Peng, 2008). In another study, at a large public university in the United States (N = 572) significantly more students believed that their academic performance had been impaired when they were involved in heavy recreational Internet use, defined as usage of synchronous, computer-mediated communication (CMC), such as multi-user domains (MUDs) and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) (Kubey, Lavin, & Barrows, 2001). …