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The Internet – a distraction or useful learning tool?

internetaccessacademicsuccessAs a Sessional Lecturer now in my 27th year of teaching at LaTrobe University Bendigo, I have seen radical changes in how students learn and interact with each other and their Teachers. We have access to more information than ever before as well as different ways to connect with our individual publics on line.

When mobile phones first came out and were widely used in the 1990’s we, as Teachers were allowed to enforce that they be turned off and could even kick a student out of class for using their phone in class. Back then it was mainly misused for texting. Fast forward 20 years and students now use their phones and computers in class to access materials you make available on line. They also use these devices to take notes. You can no longer summarily dismiss a student from class for using their electronic devices even though you know not all of them are using these devices for work related to the course.

I quickly did a search on line to see if I could find a study that related addiction to social media and how, or if, that translated into scholastic performance. The most interesting article I found was called ‘Internet Dependency and Academic Performance’ written in 2015 by Randy McCamey, Brooke Wilson and Joanna Shaw. They are Professors at Texas Social Media Research Institute in the US. Below is an excerpt from this article. And while it is longer than most of my blog posts, it was too interesting to try to shorten.

The study focused on college student dependence on the Internet and how it correlates with academic performance. Past studies have shown that Internet use has had a positive effect on student academics when used in the proper context. One study by Baker and Edwards (2011) showed how online blended learning helped increase students’ proper use of social media. Edwards developed virtual office hours in her classes that consisted of an instant message set-up so students could contact her at later hours if needed, in addition to her traditional office hours.

The Internet can, however, be overused and many students have become dependent on the Internet, which in turn has led to poor academic performance (Kubey et al., 2001). Further research is needed in order to fully under- stand if increased Internet use corroborates Kubey et al.,’s findings and to determine what association, if any, the use of the Internet has on the academic performance of students. The purpose of this study, then, was to investigate the relation between Internet dependency (based upon the modified DSM IV criteria for gambling) and the academic performance of college students as measured by student grade point average (GPA).

This study considered eight different ways that time can be spent on the Internet as the researchers are interested in determining where college students spend the majority of their time on the Internet. The first of the eight areas is spending time on professional or academic websites. These websites could include online learning courses, academic research.

Shortly after the release of the DSM V (5th Ed., DSM-V, American Psychiatric Association, 2013) issuing the release of a new diagnosis of Internet Addiction, Griffiths and Szabo (2013) published their research focused on the factors of being addicted to the Internet versus addictions on the Internet. Griffiths and Szabo’s research uncovered that the top three areas of popularity where “social networking (85%), e-mail and chat (69%), and videos and movies (35%)” (p.76). The results also showed that 84% of the subjects would still go online if their top activities were not available, while 16% would not go on the Internet at all if their favourite sites were not available. The weekly time spent on the Internet averaging at 21.13 hours per week (p.76). Based upon these results it was concluded that time spent on the Internet is intentional and if the subjects’ top sites are not available then time spent online would decrease.

One of the most popular forms of Internet use is finding, maintaining or ending relationships. This form of Internet use can be defined as communicating for personal use through social networking, newsgroups, and sites such as Facebook, Twitter and other newly advancing social media websites (Berry, Gee, & Grubaugh, 2000). Social websites such as these have advanced the communication not only of personal issues throughout the world but also of news issues. Through the use of Twitter and Facebook an event can be broadcasted worldwide with just the click of a button seconds after the event has occurred. Often these messages include personal accounts of the event.

The third way to utilize time on the Internet is to use it for entertainment. Mulvihill (2011) describes entertainment on the Internet as watching videos, renting

DVDs, live streaming music, or viewing online books. Searching for or gathering information was the most used area of Internet use (Berry et al., 2000). Current happenings around the world are very easy to access now due to the ability to immediately update social media and other such “outlet” sites. From the weather to sports scores to natural disasters, all are just a click away on the Internet.

Providing information or expertise is an area of the Internet that has most recently become very popular due to the social media site of Pinterest. Pinterest allows people to post how things around the house can be used for crafts, parties or events allowing the users to share their expertise with others. Providing information is also done by answering blogs such as Yahoo Answers.

Individuals can also spend time selling or buying items on the Internet. Berry et al. (2000) described utilizing the marketplace on the Internet to include transacting business, making travel plans, or ordering products. Many individuals are able to start online businesses, work from their homes, and spend more time with their families by effectively using the Internet. Other elements that can be included in this area are online banking, stock trading, or using websites like eBay or Craigslist to buy or sell items much like the traditional “garage sale.”

Finally the last two uses of the Internet are to ask questions or simply browsing to pass the time. There are several different portals that an individual can use to ask questions on the Internet such as finding directions from one place to another, getting medical advice, finding movie times or reviews, reading products or services reviews, or accessing information on genealogical research.

Overall the Internet has many uses and many categories that can take up a person’s time. Some of these options are positive and will help improve students’ academic success such as using the Internet for professional or academic use or gathering current happenings. In order to find out how Internet affects education it is important to see which areas of the Internet are being utilized the most. This study will use the categories of Internet use outlined by Berry et al. (2000).

The Internet and Higher Education

The Internet is an extremely valuable tool that has developed over the last several decades bringing a hereto- fore unheard of quantity and quality of information to the student at the click of a button. It allows students to do fast and effective research as well as provides an outlet for individuals of all ages to gather information and communicate with other people with whom they normally would not have taken the opportunity to do so otherwise. This “social presence” has put the term social media into the worlds’ current vocabulary and has made Facebook one of most valuable companies in the world (Raice, 2011). Social or electric media is so vast and fast growing that it is often hard to define. Jacobsen and Forste (2011, p.275) describe electronic media as the use of technology for e-mail, instant messaging (IM), social-networking sites (SNSs), playing video or online games, and watching television or movies. Raice‘s article in the Wall Street Journal predicted that Facebook will be worth $100 billion in the next year and $234 billion by 2015. With this dramatic increase in worth and use, will academics fall behind or prosper?

A study conducted by Baker and Edwards (2011) dealing with social presence in online courses discussed how to create an online social environment between the students and the professors in the academic environment. Their article discusses how virtual office hours, weekly checklists and grading rubrics along with a live Twitter feed, were used in various online courses and how those aspects of technology increased students’ feeling of connectedness in the class. Baker and Edwards’ study suggests that the effectiveness and benefits of online learning increases when the teacher is able to create a community for the students online. Students often have trouble engaging effectively in an online course due to a lack of under- standing of current technology, especially non-traditional students (students who are over the age of 24 and have returned to school after an extended period of time). Baker and Edwards also report that providing online services such as a link to the Help Desk allows students to have a better understanding of the technical components of the online course. While providing a stimulating community for online students seems to be a key factor in creating a healthy online environment, it can be hard to find instructors who know how to create such an environment. While the Internet and social media provide students with great opportunities, there are several possible problems that may be derailing student performance including the over- use of the Internet.

Further research conducted by Jacobsen and Forste (2011) looked at how social media affects college students’ academics in a very interesting and effective way. Jacobsen and Forste had participants create what they called a time diary where they recorded everything they did each day and for how long as well as the tasks that they would have been doing if they were not on the computer. From this information, Jacobsen and Forste were able to determine how much time was actually being spent productively online and how much time was inhibiting students’ academics. It was concluded that for every hour a student spent using social media his or her average GPA was decreased by 0.05 to 0.07 points; offline interactions had a negative association to GPA with a decrease of 0.02 grade points per hour spent using social media. However, Jacobsen and Forste also found that if the student spent an hour on the Internet using it for academic purposes, his or her GPA had a slight positive correlation with grade point average.

Predictors of Academic Performance

Many people assume that academic performance pertains only to the grades that students make in their classes. While this is one definition, academic performance can also be more broadly defined as a multitude of criteria including the students’ overall GPA, success and participation in extra-curricular activities, and class attendance. Kubey et al. (2001) described poor academic performance as academic impairment, which consisted of lower grades and low class attendance. DeBerard, Spielmans and Julka (2004) state that GPA and SAT scores, along with psycho- logical variables such as smoking, drinking, social support and coping, were all found to be reliable predictors of academic performance (or lack thereof).

There are several predictors of future academic performance. These predictors usually consist of high school GPA, standardized test scores such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), and participation in extracurricular activities during high school. Predictors of academic performance in the college setting can be class attendance, study group involvement, past grade point average, visits with instructors, and the level of involvement in campus organizations (DeBeraed, Spielmans, & Julka, 2004).

While it may be fairly easy to predict academic performance based on these typical criteria, the issue of how the Internet, used as a tool or as a distraction, impacts academic performance is at question in this research.

The Impact of the Internet on Academic Performance

In an article on Internet use and academic performance (2001), Kubey et al. stated that, “69% of students, and 69% of teachers, said that they have personally seen students’ grades improve through use of the Inter-net” (p.1). While this is a good example of how Internet can benefit society, they discovered that excessive Internet use could be damaging to students’ academic performance. Kubey et al. used a survey that dealt with technology use among college students, the main focus being on Internet use, television use, sleep, online shopping, and web browsing. Kubey et al. (2001) defined Internet dependent as a person who spends roughly 11.18 hours per week on the Internet, while an individual who is not dependent is said to spend roughly 3.84 hours on the Internet in a week.

Based upon the results from 576 college students, Kubey et al. found that 9% reported to being psychologically de- pendent on the Internet. They also found that among students who were psychologically dependent on the Internet “20% reported that they had occasionally, frequently, or very frequently missed class because of their Internet use” (p. 374). Additionally, Kubey et al. reported that 50% of students who experienced academic failure stated that the use of Internet played a large part in the reason they failed.

Kubey et al. (2001) discussed how individuals who were Internet dependent displayed many of the same characteristics researchers associate with gambling addiction. Kubey et al. states that if the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM IV) criteria for gambling addictions was used and the word “gambling” was substituted with “Internet,” individuals displaying Internet dependency display many of the same characteristics used to diagnose the serious psychological addiction of gambling. Internet Gaming Disorder, using items similar to those proposed by Kubey et al. was added to the current DSM V manual (APA, 2013). Overall Kubey et al.,’s research provides a strong foundation for the study of Internet dependence of college students and how it may affect their academic performance.

A study by Asdaque, Khan and Rizvi (2010) found that teachers’ and students’ major motivation for using the Internet was convenience (82.91%); usefulness (80.05%); and free access to information and software (71.4%). The article focused on how students and teachers use books and the Internet when dealing with research for academics. In addition, teachers found that the use of Internet al- lowed them to better tailor their teachings to each student. However, the researchers also discovered that increased Internet usage was linked with a lowered GPA when the content search on the Internet was not for scholarly purposes (p.22-25).

A study by the American College Health Association reports that 15.1% of students stated that their academic performance was impaired by use of the Internet (Englander, Terregrossa, & Wang, 2010). Englander et al. conducted their own study consisting of an undergraduate introductory micro-economics class. Data were based off of three test scores the students produced and the number of hours per week spent on the Internet. Calculations by these researches indicated that “a negative and statistically significant relationship between a student’s hours per week of Internet use and the student’s exam performance” (2010, p.93). Englander et al. concluded that while the Internet is home to a wide variety of valuable information, it can also serves as an outlet for social communication that can distract students and keep them off task. Englander’s conclusions were that increased Internet use by students resulted in lower grades.

In summary, the purpose of this study was to determine the association between academic performance and use of the Internet by college students. Past reports have shown that males are predominately affected by Internet dependence more so than females (Kubey et al., 2001) and an increase feeling of loneliness occurs when Internet dependence takes place (p.6). It has also been shown that an increase in Internet dependence can result in lower grades and less class attendance and participation (Kubey et al., 2001). The current researchers expect to see this trend continue and hope to more accurately quantify the relationship between academic performance, as indicated by student GPA, and the use of the Internet.

If you are a Teacher, we would love to hear your thoughts about technology and teaching. Yours in teaching and marketing, Sandy Hall of Hall of Fame Marketing Bendigo.

 

 

 

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