Several reasons might lead technology to assist or impair human capital attainment by students. Youths may employ the Internet in educational matters such as writing papers, searches for answers to questions and communicating with classmates on homework. However, time spent in activities where "surfing the net" occurs could substitute away from time allocated to reading, studying and completing homework. This may hurt academic performance in the short term, which might also diminish the ability or incentive to continue schooling over the longer term.
Within the past decade, the Internet and WWW use have increased substantially--for example, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project Surveys, the percentage of U. S. online users has increased from 40-45% in March 2000 to nearly 80% in April 2009 (Pew Internet & American Life Project Surveys, 2009). Recent expansion of adolescent use of the Internet is the result of an ongoing shift in adolescents' daily behavior patterns. The majority of adolescents from a sample in one study compared their online behaviors to the phenomenon of placing telephone calls, which are typically mundane, the purposes for which are both social and nonsocial (Gross, 2004). Hence, adolescents' Internet use occurs without much thought or consideration--it has become, in effect, just a normal daily activity.
Why is the potential impact of Internet use on educational outcomes relevant for the discipline of economics? Human capital accumulation bears directly and heavily on earning potential (see Grossman, 1972 and Mincer, 1974) and it is widely accepted that strong and statistically significant relationships link individual health and human capital formation. Moreover, the impact of educational policies and factors that affect learning continues to generate widespread public policy concern. Thus, for economists and policy makers, gauging the relationship that technology use has on educational outcomes is worthy of study.
Computer access and use among adolescents and other ages have grown considerably over the past decade (Louge, 2006). In fact, more than 80% of U.S. adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 use the Internet, with roughly half going online daily (Lenhart et al., 2005). The significance of Internet use by children and adolescents has even spawned a new field of inquiry in developmental psychology (Greenfield and Yan, 2006). With the likelihood that Internet usage by adolescents will continue to increase over time, concerns about the impact on high school students' academic performance should be researched. Stakeholders--parents, teachers, administrators, and the students themselves--would benefit from knowing more about the digital environment within which learning occurs. Regardless of whether academic performance is positively or negatively impacted by Internet use, a better understanding and greater awareness about such issues might facilitate changes in pedagogy by educators, as well as learning on the part of students and the support they receive from their parents.
In a conceptual context, we tacitly assume that students utilize the Internet for both academic and non-academic purposes, with the most intense users (which is described in the Data section) spending the most time in non-academic pursuits (e.g. Facebook, downloading music). And our general modeling framework is one of optimization, where there are both educational benefits and costs to the Internet, and where the primary benefit of Internet use is increased human capital accumulation as evidenced by higher grades. At a basic level, Internet use denotes a certain amount of technical savvy which emanates from a student actually learning a new skill--this alone can translate into higher grades. Benefits derived from Internet use usually come about at significant costs, including deployment of the required infrastructure for providing Internet access to students (which this study does not directly address) as well as monetary and time costs devoted to the Internet that detract from educational achievement (see Angrist and Lavy, 2002). …