Vol. 16 : No. 10< >
Editor’s Note: This study, The Digital Disconnect,
was commissioned by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and released
August 15, 2002. It was conducted by the American Institutes for Research
(AIR) under the direction of Douglas Levin, project director, and Sousan
Arafeh, deputy project director. The Summary of Findings is presented
here with permission from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
You are encouraged to go to the Pew Internet & American Life Project
website at http://www.pewtrusts.com/pdf/vf_pew_internet_schools.pdf
to review the report.
THE DIGITAL DISCONNECT
The Widening Gap between Internet-Savvy Students and their Schools
Douglas Levin and Sousan Arafeh
August 14, 2002
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
Using the Internet is the norm for today's youth. A July 2002 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that three in five children under the age of 18-and more than 78% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 go online. Due in large part to high profile and sometime controversial education technology public policy initiatives, it is conventional wisdom that much of this use occurs in schools. Not surprisingly, one of the most common activities that youth report undertaking online is schoolwork. Yet, little is known about student use of the Internet for schoolwork or about their attitudes towards the broader learning that can take place online. Nor has there been much exploration of the consequences of those teenage views for educators, policy makers, and parents.
To address this issue, the American Institutes for Research was commissioned by the Pew Internet & American Life Project to conduct a qualitative study of the attitudes and behaviors of Internet-using public middle and high school students drawn from across the country. The study is based primarily on information gathered from 14 gender-balanced, racially diverse focus groups of 136 students, drawn from 36 different schools. The student experiences and attitudes revealed in the study's focus groups were further supplemented by the stories of nearly 200 students who voluntarily submitted online essays about their use of the Internet for school.
Internet-savvy students rely on the Internet to help them do their schoolwork-and for good reason.Students told us they complete their schoolwork more quickly; they are less likely to get stymied by material they don't understand; their papers and projects are more likely to draw upon up-to-date sources and state-of-the-art knowledge; and, they are better at juggling their school assignments and extracurricular activities when they use the Internet. In essence, they told us that the Internet helps them navigate their way through school and spend more time learning in depth about what is most important to them personally.
Internet-savvy students describe dozens of different education-related uses of the Internet. Virtually all use the Internet to do research to help them write papers or complete class work or homework assignments. Most students also correspond with other online classmates about school projects and upcoming tests and quizzes. Most share tips about favorite Web sites and pass along information about homework shortcuts and sites that are especially rich in content that fit their assignments. They also frequent Web sites pointed out to them by teachers-some of which had even been set up specifically for a particular school or class. They communicate with online teachers or tutors. They participate in online study groups. They even take online classes and develop Web sites or online educational experiences for use by others.
The way students think about the Internet in relation to their schooling is closely tied to the daily tasks and activities that make up their young lives. In that regard, students employ five different metaphors to explain how they use the Internet for school:
Many schools and teachers have not yet recognized-much less responded to-the new ways students communicate and access information over the Internet. Students report that there is a substantial disconnect between how they use the Internet for school and how they use the Internet during the school day and under teacher direction. For the most part, students' educational use of the Internet occurs outside of the school day, outside of the school building, outside the direction of their teachers. While there are a variety of pressures, concerns, and outright challenges in providing Internet access to teachers and students at school, students perceive this disconnect to be the result of several factors:
Students say they face several roadblocks when it comes to using the Internet at schools. In many cases, these roadblocks discourage them from using the Internet as much, or as creatively, as they would like. They note that:
In light of the fact that the Internet is increasingly integrated into the home and school lives of students, and in the context of larger arguments about the use of the Internet for school, students' concerns can inform several policy debates about technology and education. This is what we heard:
Of course, student use of the Internet for school does not occur in a vacuum. Students' experiences, and those of their states, districts, schools, teachers, and parents, strongly affect how the Internet is adopted in schools. Nonetheless, large numbers of students say they are changing because of their out-of-school use of the Internet-and their reliance on it. Internet-savvy students are coming to school with different expectations, different skills, and access to different resources.
Students are frustrated and increasingly dissatisfied by the digital disconnect they are experiencing at school. They cannot conceive of doing schoolwork without Internet access and yet they are not being given many opportunities in school to take advantage of the Internet. Many believe they may have to raise their voices to force schools to change to accommodate them better. In the final analysis, schools would do well to heed the Latin writer Seneca's words, which ring as true today as when they were written nearly 2,000 years ago: "The fates guide those who go willingly; those who do not, they drag."
About the AuthorsThis report was prepared by:
Douglas Levin and Sousan Arafeh of the American Institutes for Research for the Pew Internet & American Life Project:
Lee Rainie – Director, Amanda Lenhart - Research Specialist. Headquarters of the Pew Internet & American Life Project is at:
1100 Connecticut Avenue,
NW Suite 710
Washington, DC 20036