It's certainly no surprise that the Internet has changed life at U.S. colleges and universities. But after the massive investments that have been made to support new information technologies, questions linger. How much has changed and for whom? And perhaps most importantly, are these investments significantly paying off in improved educational delivery? This question is particularly timely because of what I call the "University of Phoenix effect." Due to the enrollment growth in the online courses at the University of Phoenix, many colleges scrambled to get courses online because of the perceived threat of distance education.
Two large-scale studies were released this fall that address some of these questions. The first of these came out in mid-September from the Pew Charitable Trusts' ongoing Pew Internet & American Life Project (http://www.pewinternet.org). "The Internet Goes to College" specifically explored how traditional students from a broad spectrum of U.S. colleges and universities were using the Internet. The second--released in October--is from the Digital Library Federation and the Council on Library and Information Resources: "Dimensions and Use of the Scholarly Information Environment" (http://www.clir.org). The focus in this study was how faculty and students view their current information-usage behaviors and if and how these were being altered by the Internet.
Both studies found that students turned first to the Internet when searching for information. But they also revealed that neither faculty nor students were ready to abandon the classroom, the library, or print resources.
Not a Complete Replacement
The Pew study involved a paper-based survey that was undertaken by the University of Illinois--Chicago. It sampled a broad cross-section of traditional, on-campus undergraduate and graduate students and had a return of 2,054 usable surveys. It found that by the time these students were 16 to 18 years old they had started using computers. However, only 86 percent had gone online. This suggests that all young people have not used the Internet, contrary to popular belief. The researchers also found that college students are heavier users of the Internet than the general population, but 42 percent of respondents said they utilize the Internet primarily for communication and 10 percent primarily for entertainment. The study also concluded that more than two-thirds of the students prefer the phone rather than the Internet to communicate socially.
Three-quarters of the respondents said that they use the Internet more than the library when searching for information. The same percentage had utilized e-mail to receive clarification and additional information about an assignment. A total of 79 per cent felt that Internet use had had a positive impact on their academic experience.
But despite their good feelings about the Internet, students in this study were surprisingly not very enthusiastic about taking online courses. Six percent of the students had taken an online course for credit. (According to the researchers, that compares with 5 percent in the general population.) More than half of those students felt that they had learned less in the online course than they would have in a traditional course. Roughly the same amount felt that the online course had been "worth their time."
Print, Library Still Important
The Digital Library Federation project was outsourced to Outsell, Inc., an information-content research company. This study involved in-depth telephone interviews of 3,234 faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students from three major types of educational institutions (Ph.D.-granting institutions, etc.). Its focus was to observe the changing patterns of information use for teaching, learning, and research.
The study discovered that faculty members and students use a combination of media for research and teaching. …