A new study by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Communication Policy bolsters the idea that schools should incorporate the internet into their instructional practices and their communication with stakeholders. Educators familiar with the study say it also suggests the importance of teaching students how to critically evaluate the information they find online.

According to the survey, Americans who use the internet consider it at least as important as newspapers and books—and more important than television, radio, and magazines. And though internet use spans every age range, 12- to 18-year-olds lead all categories: fully 97 percent of them use the internet, compared with 83 percent of 25- to 35-year-olds and 73 percent of 36- to 55-year-olds.

“There is a message for educators here about how we need to adapt what we do to … our customers—students especially,” said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District in California. “We should be looking closely at these data and responding with instructional strategies that take advantage of the fact that almost all of our students use the internet in one capacity or another, and I don’t believe that we are.”

The study, called “UCLA Internet Report: Year Three,” is the third in a series of annual nationwide surveys profiling behaviors and attitudes about internet use and non-use, such as who is online and who is not, consumer behavior, communication patterns, and social effects.

The study—which surveyed 2,000 households between April and June 2002—found that internet users are spending more time online and that they watch less television than non-users. Overall, internet users are averaging 11 hours per week online, up by more than an hour from a year earlier.

About 61 percent of users find the internet “very” or “extremely” important as an information source. That compares with 60 percent for books and 58 percent for newspapers, within the survey’s margin for error of 3 percentage points.

By comparison, just half of internet users find television important, 40 percent think that of radio, and 29 percent of magazines.

Although respondents think the internet is more important than ever as a source of information, they’ve also become more skeptical of what they find online. Only 53 percent of users believe most or all of what they read online, down from 58 percent a year earlier.

“This, too, is a logical finding,” Liebman said. “While the web expands, the percentage of good information has probably remainded the same. The ramification for schools and parents is that students from a very early age must be taught how to use the internet and how to analyze information for reliability.”

Kathy Schrock, technology administrator for the Nauset Public Schools in Massachusetts, agreed. The report’s findings “continue to support the schools’ efforts to teach students to be critical information consumers,” she said. “Giving students the skills to recognize inaccurate, biased, or bogus information—and also the skills necessary to judge [high-] quality information—are the mainstay of information literacy in this information-rich world.”

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Internet users on average watch about 5.4 hours less of TV per week than non-users, and almost one-third of children now watch less TV than before they started using the internet—up from 23 percent in 2001.

  • Nearly 40 percent of internet users say they’ve used eMail to communicate with teachers, a higher percentage than those who have used eMail to contact a government employee or health care professional. Nearly 70 percent of internet users say they are more likely to keep in touch with someone else who has access to eMail.

    • Most children who use the internet still do so at home. About 85 percent of children who use the internet say they go online at home, compared with 73 percent who say they go online at school. But the number of children who use the internet at school is rising, up from 64 percent in 2001.

  • The internet is not perceived by most users as having an effect on school grades; nearly three-quarters of adults in 2002 said the grades of children in their household has stayed the same since they acquired the internet.

Schrock chose to view this last statistic in a different light.

“I think the compelling figure is not the fact that approximately 74 percent [of respondents] reported no change in their child’s grades, but the fact that almost 23 percent did,” she said. “To me, this demonstrates that having access to the internet and its rich resources … and having access to experts via eMail—whether they be the classroom teacher or the chemist at the university—is having an positive impact on student achievement.”

Links:

UCLA Internet Report: Year Three
http://ccp.ucla.edu