The more adults use and understand technology, the higher is the value they place on it as a learning tool. At least, that’s the conclusion one might draw by comparing the sharply differing findings of two recent national polls.

In an Associated Press (AP) poll of 1,006 adults taken at the end of July, only about half of respondents said the ability to use the internet is important to learning. The other half said being able to use the internet is only “somewhat important” or “not important at all.” The poll was conducted for AP by ICR of Media, Pa., and reportedly has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

A separate survey of parents with high-speed internet access at home found something quite different. This study was commissioned by telecommunications company SBC Communications (the parent company of Pacific Bell, Southwestern Bell, Southern New England Telecommunications, and Ameritech). It found that respondents overwhelmingly considered the internet to be a valuable educational resource.

I/H/R Research Group of Tustin, Calif., interviewed 800 parents of school-age children, all of whom use SBC’s digital subscriber line (DSL) internet service. Ninety-three percent of these parents said the internet is an important resource for homework and other learning activities, according to the survey, called “Broadband Watch: Back to School.”

The starkly different results from these two polls suggest an “attitude gap” between those who use and understand technology at home and those who do not. The gap is even more pronounced between those who have no internet access at home and those described as broadband-internet users—people who have embraced the idea of technology to the extent that they’re willing to pay for faster service.

For educators who favor more technology in schools, these disparate findings suggest, the challenge is to win over those stakeholders who are less familiar with technology—and less likely to use it at home.

Age and location also appeared to affect how one views the utility of technology in education. The percentage of adults in the AP poll who felt internet skills were very important for children in school dropped steadily as the respondents’ ages increased. Residents of metropolitan areas also were far more likely than those in rural areas to say internet skills were very important for students.

The SBC poll also surveyed 300 random teachers. Ninety-six percent of teachers agreed that knowledge and use of the internet is an essential aspect of education for today’s students. More surprising was the finding that 47 percent said they would keep the internet rather than textbooks if they had to choose.

“We knew that the internet had become ingrained in education, but we were surprised by the number of teachers [who] preferred the internet over textbooks,” said Stacey Thomson, a spokeswoman for SBC Communications.

In addition, the SBC survey found that 80 percent of broadband-using parents said their kids are learning more about the internet from using it at home than at school. More than half (52 percent) of teachers agreed that internet skills are learned primarily at home rather than at school.

“While both parents and teachers see the internet as a powerful learning tool, the time and resources available for students to use it at school are limited,” said Michael Grasso, the company’s executive director of DSL internet service.

Since respondents upgraded to high-speed DSL internet access, 72 percent reported that their children use the internet more frequently for schoolwork. More than one-third of parents surveyed (39 percent) said grades have improved and their children are showing more interest in schoolwork since the family upgraded to faster internet service.

Nearly all teachers agreed that students with internet access at home enjoy an educational advantage, and 68 percent agreed that broadband internet access provides an educational advantage over dial-up connections.

“In the parents’ study, we asked what children would give up in exchange for DSL, and we were surprised that they said television, the telephone, and video games,” Thomson said. Forty percent of parents said kids would give up TV first, while 61 percent said kids would give up stereos or video game consoles before DSL internet service.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, downplayed the disparity between the results of the two surveys. He said it largely resulted from the wording of the questions and the audiences polled.

The AP poll asked respondents to indicate their level of agreement, whereas the SBC survey asked “yes or no” questions.

“If people were asked a straight-up ‘yes or no’ question—’Is the internet useful for school?’—then of course they would say ‘yeah,'” Rainie said. “The context matters a lot.”

Regarding the AP poll, he said, “Forty percent of a sample that size probably don’t have children in their lives. They’re probably guessing.”

Links:

The Associated Press
http://www.ap.com

SBC Communications Inc.
http://www.sbc.com

Pew Internet and American Life Project
http://www.pewinternet.org