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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 7, no. 6 (February 18, 1999).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c February 18, 1999
College students' use of the internet / Anna C. McFadden.
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
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1 of 6 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 7 Number 6February 18, 1999ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal Editor: Gene V Glass, College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 1999, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES. Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education College Students' Use of the Internet Anna C. McFadden University of Alabama Introduction Over the last several years there has been mounting concern about children being exposed to sex-related material on the Internet. Co ncern about pornography and obscenity is widespread and this concern has spawne d a host of products to block or filter content. The notorious Time magazine article (July 3, 1995) "Cyberporn"--which Time later acknowledged had doubtful credibility (July 24, 1995)--undoubtedly inflamed this trend. The article, which asserted that much o f traffic on the Internet dealt with pornography, was based on the largely discredited r esearch of a Carnegie Mellon undergraduate student who examined 32 alt.binaries newsgroups on Usenet, not the Internet. Nonetheless, the article was fodder for t he Communications Decency Act of 1996. While the Supreme Court struck down the Act, pending bills such as the "Safe Schools Internet Act" (H.R. 3177) would require all public libraries and schools that receive federal funds for Internet access to instal l blocking software to restrict minors' access to "inappropriate" material. Other pending b ills would punish commercial online distributors for access to material they do not dir ectly control and require service providers to offer blocking software to customers. While most students who use computers in un iversity computer labs are legally adults, many are not. If laws restrict access to mi nors, there will be a host of technical problems to provide access to scholars and adult st udents. Labs are open spaces where students come and go, using computers for many purp oses but only part of the time for
2 of 6Internet access. Determining policies and creating procedures to implement and monitor policies will entail considerable resources for som ething that may not be a serious problem and something that cannot be effectively co ntrolled with filtering software. It could require students to present identification to prove they are adults in order to access certain computer resources, not to mention the proc edures that would be used to restrict access to those who are minors. There is no way to verify age on the Internet, so the responsibility would fall to the school staff. For the time being, most universities have policies that limit computer use to legitimate educ ational purposes, and students in most universities have mainly unrestricted access. There is little or no information about how the Internet is used in such settings.Purpose The purpose of this study was to determine the nature of Internet uses by students in a computer lab of a major state university. Of p articular interest was the percentage of "hits" associated with pornography and gambling sit es.Setting The study was conducted in an "open" comput er lab of a major state university. The lab contained 62 computers, 2 of which were inopera tive at the time of the study. The lab is available to any student on the campus and i s open six days a week for approximately 70 hours each week. Any student may s imply enter the lab, take a seat, and begin using the computer. All 60 computers had Internet connections, ear phones, CDROM, and were equipped with standard tools, suc h as word processing, database, spreadsheet, presentation software, graphics, stati stics software, and other applications.Method Due to the fact that the computers in the l ab are open, no computer is assigned to any particular student or group. There was no way o r any wish to identify any student who used a computer, and all computers have several different users each day. Also, students do not store personal files on the compute r but keep their files either on a literal drive on the network or copy their files to floppy or zip disks. A student may use any particular application for long periods of time, su ch as word processing or a statistical package, so Internet use is intermittent. The researchers elected to randomly select 10 percent of the computers for the study. Thus, 6 computers were selected with the aid of a table of random numbers. The researchers copied the Internet cache of the six co mputers at the same time in the late afternoon on January 25, 1999. This date was select ed, in part, because it was assumed that dates close to holidays (e.g., Christmas, Hall oween, and Valentine's Day) would lead to spurious results with "hits" unrelated to n ormal usage. It should be emphasized that the cache provides anonymous information in an open lab. No attempt was made to examine the cache of any office computer because th is would be an intrusion on privacy, and only computers in the open lab were studied. No attempt was made to determine how long each computer was used for Internet activi ty or the amount of time in any particular category of Internet activity.
3 of 6Results and Discussion The six computers had a total of 2,310 Inte rnet "hits" stored in cache for an average of 385 per computer. This seemed to be rather small perhaps because the cache limit was set at low levels for two reasons: (a) differen t users do not benefit from cache memory as a single user would, and (b) a lower cach e limit frees up space on computers that are heavily loaded with many different softwar e programs. Nonetheless, the cache records served as a useful sample of activity for p urposes of this study. It should be emphasized that the percentage of "hits" indicates the sites contacted, not the percentage of time the computer was actuall y used for any purpose. A computer may be off line for many hours for word processing or the amount of time a student accesses a "course site" may be for the purposes of getting an assignment. The data were organized into convenient categories for data analy sis, although our intent was to examine the contents specifically for sexually expl icit or gambling related sites. Nearly half of Internet use was accounted for by a categor y labeled "General Sites." Due to the number and diversity of these sites, it was decided to categorize them under this general heading. These included sites apparently related to course activities, research, or personal interest, including anatomy, science, book s, literature, airlines, government web sites, health and disease, psychology, business sta tistics, and the like. This is the largest category reported because of the way the data were collapsed for categorization. The complete categorization of "hits" appears in Table 1 below.Table 1 Number and Percentage of Internet UseType of SiteCountPercentSites (General)109447% Mail64728% Chat1336%Search1336%Sports1376% Course Sites1024% News301%Sex291% Games20%Radio30% Total231099% (Note: Due to rounding the total does not r each 100% and games and net radio use are below 1%.)
4 of 6 No gambling sites (0%) were contacted and c ontact with sexually explicit sites was low (1%). Many e-mails were sent or received (28%). Course-related activities as well as personal use might account for much of this e-ma il, although personal use is probably high. Internet Chat represented 6% of activity, som e of which may also be accounted for by course requirements. An equal percentage of acti vity involved contacting sports related sites (6%), such as ESPN, university sports pages, and the like. If this study is representative of the coll ege population, the overwhelming use of the Internet in an open computer lab conforms to univer sity acceptable use policy. There is far less use of lab computers to contact pornograph ic sites than we have been led to believe; in fact, there was almost none. There was as much interest in news (1%) from online sources, such as MSN or CNN, as there was in terest in sex. Pending legislation that could impact university labs would require a p otentially expensive and cumbersome procedure for a very minor problem. This "snapshot" of college student computer use on the Internet reveals a picture remarkablke in its ordinariness."About the Author Anna C. McFaddenAssociate ProfessorInstructional TechnologyThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosa, AlabamaPhone: 205-333-9185 Fax: 205-333-8288 Homepage: www.bamaed.ua.edu/it Dr. McFadden teaches doctoral-level courses in inst ructional technology, including local area network management and development of online m edia. She is leading a team in initiating Real Audio/Real Video development as par t of the web-assisted classes, focusing on asynchronous learning activities. Dr. M cFadden and her team, over the last twenty years together, have secured in excess of $6 million in external funding for research and development activities. She also serve s as the Editor for Internet In-Sites a monthly online newsletter for instructional technol ogists in K-12 schools around the world. She also serves on the Editorial Board for T he Internet Source a quarterly journal for teachers in international schools. As a senior partner in emTech Consulting www.emTech.net Dr. McFadden is involved in professional developm ent activities in K-12 schools in the USA and around the world.Copyright 1999 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is http://epaa.asu.edu General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-0211. (602-965-96 44). The Book Review Editor is Walter E. Shepherd: email@example.com The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb:
5 of 6 firstname.lastname@example.org .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Andrew Coulson email@example.com Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov firstname.lastname@example.org Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Richard M. Jaeger University of North Carolina--Greensboro Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas MauhsPugh Green Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for HigherEducation William McInerney Purdue University Mary McKeown-Moak MGT of America (Austin, TX) Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton email@example.com Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson Arizona State University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers Ann Leavenworth Centerfor Accelerated Learning Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven firstname.lastname@example.org Robert E. Stake University of Illinois--UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education Robert T. Stout Arizona State University David D. Williams Brigham Young University EPAA Spanish Language Editorial Board
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