Rosemary Deaney, Kenneth Ruthven and Sara Hennessy

Research Papers in Education, 2003,  18 (2), 141-165


Abstract: This study explores pupils’ views of the use of information and communication technology (ICT) within subject teaching and learning.  Members of three year cohorts (Years 8, 10 and 12) in six English secondary schools took part in focus group interviews during the first half of 2000. The views elicited in the course of the 27 interviews are summarised in terms of six themes. Pupils saw computer-based tools and resources as helping not just to effect tasks and improve presentation, but also to refine work and trial options. They associated the use of such tools and resources with changes in working ambience and classroom relations, as well as with raised interest and increased motivation on their part. Finally, while pupils welcomed opportunities for independent working mediated by ICT in which they could engage more directly with appropriately challenging tasks, they were concerned that this reshaping of learning might be displacing valuable teaching.

Keywords: Information technology; Computer uses in education; Learner characteristics; Student attitudes; Secondary education; England; Research report.



Over the past two decades, Information Technology (IT) has broadened to become Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and has become better established within schools (Abbott, 2001). Many claims have been made about its potential contribution to pupils’ learning (Pachler, 1999) and official rhetoric has presented it as set to ‘transform education’ (Blair, 1997). Much current policy and practice reflects a technocratic determinism in which technology is seen unproblematically as providing relatively immediate tools for teachers and students, and its use as calling primarily for development of technical skills. However, others see successful educational applications of the computer as involving a complex interplay of context, people, activities, machines and available software within specific settings (Noss & Pachler, 1999, Leach & Moon, 2000). While quality and level of ICT resource continue to improve in many schools, provision of equipment alone is likely to be of limited value unless more is understood about the interactions and processes engendered by using technology in different settings, and how pedagogical strategies to enhance students’ learning might be developed effectively through them.

Students constitute a significant group within this social system, and their perspectives play an important part in framing the activity that takes place in school settings. Indeed, it has been argued that young people should be seen as active participants in shaping social and educational processes rather than viewed as passive recipients of them (Pollard & Tann, 1993). Research has demonstrated that, from an early age, young people are capable of insightful and constructive analysis of their experience of learning in school and are able to comment on teaching approaches and contexts that are helpful in their learning (Brown & McIntyre, 1993; Harris et al., 1995; McCallum et al., 2000; Rudduck & Flutter, 2000). A key component in acquiring such understanding may be attention to the ‘pupil voice’ (Keys & Fernandes, 1993; Blatchford, 1996; Rudduck et al., 1996). Rudduck and Flutter (op cit) maintain that ‘we need to tune in to what pupils can tell us about their experiences and what they think will make a difference to their commitment to learning and, in turn, to their progress’ (p. 75). Recent research on pupils’ perspectives in the UK has been linked either to the development of school-based strategies based on consultation with pupils on effective classroom practice, or to aspects of curricular evaluation (see Lord and Harland (2000) for a review) but few studies have focused specifically on secondary pupils’ views on their current classroom use of ICT in teaching and learning. Where students’ perspectives have provided the focus for such inquiry in other educational settings (for example the Canadian technology-enhanced Secondary Science instruction (TESSI) project), pupils’ enhanced participation in learning activities and their development of successful learning strategies were attributed to the combined influences of – and interactions between – the technologies employed and the pedagogical and social milieu of the classroom (Pedretti et al., 1998).

The popular image of young people – the ‘screenagers’ referred to by Rushkoff, (1997) – growing up in an increasingly technology-dependent society, connected by sophisticated telecommunication networks in a culture mediated by television and computer, is that of natural computer users from a ‘digital generation’. Recent studies (Holloway & Valentine, 1999; Becta, 2001; Facer et al., 2001; Wellington, 2001) have begun to examine the nature and extent of young people’s use of ICT outside school and the influence that it may have upon their learning with ICT in school. Whilst results indicate that some children (often those who use computers extensively at home) are capable of integrating their use of ICT in balanced and sophisticated ways (Furlong et al., 2000), the indications are that this further accentuates inequities between such young people and their peers who lack similar access to these technologies. Findings also show that whilst boundaries between home knowledge and school knowledge are being eroded, learners’ experience of ICT takes on a different character depending upon the context of its use. Furlong et al (op cit) found that at home, young people tend to control their own time, how they use technology and the content of what they do. In school, however, the locus of control lies elsewhere; emphasis is on learning activities managed by the teacher, metered by timetable constraints, designed to meet curriculum criteria and attainment targets and incorporate the mandatory use of ICTs.


In this study, we examine the perspectives of pupils in six English secondary schools on the contribution of ICT to teaching and learning. These schools were in research partnership with the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, and they had identified the use of ICT to support subject teaching and learning as a common priority for development. The opening (formative) phase of the resulting programme of research and development sought to identify and analyse what teachers and pupils saw as successful practice in using ICT to support teaching and learning, with a view to informing a second (developmental) phase in which promising approaches would be developed and investigated in greater depth. In this particular study, we draw on interviews conducted with pupils during the first half of 2000, as part of the opening phase of the project, to explore their experience of ICT in teaching and learning.


Participating schools

All these maintained secondary schools were located within 80 kilometres of Cambridge. Basic information about each is given in Table 1. Pseudonyms have been adapted from official designations, and the corresponding abbreviated codes have been adopted to indicate sources for quoted material. Although some of the schools had – or aspired to – specialist status as indicated in their pseudonyms, none operated a selective admissions policy.

Table 1: Profiles of the participating schools

School [Code]

Age range of students

Gender of students Number of students enrolled Proportion of students entitled to free school meals Proportion of students achieving GCSE exam benchmark
Community College [CC] 11-16 Mixed  961 15% 54%
Girls School [GS] 11-18 Female 1050 13% 67%
Media College [MC] 13-18 Mixed 1500  5% 69%
Sports College [SC] 11-16 Mixed 1023  2% 74%
Technology College [TC] 11-16 Mixed 1237  5% 68%
Village College [VC] 11-18 Mixed 1305  5% 51%

Further relevant data have been extracted from official performance tables (dated 2000) and inspection reports on individual schools (dated between 1996 and 1999). The proportion of students entitled to free school meals is a standard indicator of social disadvantage: two schools – Community College and Girls School – lay close to the national median for schools (14%) on this index; and the remainder showed markedly lower levels of disadvantage. The proportion of students gaining the benchmark of 5 or more higher-level GCSE examination passes at age 16 is a standard indicator of academic success: two schools – Community College and Village College – stood a little above the national median for schools (45%) on this index; and the other five showed markedly higher levels of academic success. Against national norms, then, the schools in this opportunity sample were relatively socially advantaged and academically successful. There was considerable variation in ICT provision amongst the six schools. Media College and Technology College were the most highly resourced –providing, for example, dedicated departmental ICT rooms for Mathematics and Science. In all of the schools, however, ICT use within most subject teaching and learning was greatly dependent upon opportunistic access to computer rooms that were already heavily scheduled for specialist ICT courses or vocational options. Consequently, although some planned and effective use of ICT was evident within the teaching and learning of core and foundation subjects, recent inspection reports indicated that such development was uneven within all six schools.

Investigative strategy

Because the research partnership aims at promoting cultural change within participating schools, and this particular project at supporting pedagogical development, it was important to adopt investigative approaches likely to create institutional conditions conducive to working towards such changes. Consequently, the first phase of the research employed group interviews of teachers – in their subject departments – and of pupils – by year group.

The ‘focus group’ method (Kitzinger & Barbour, 1999) is increasingly current in social science and educational research. When used appropriately, it is versatile and cost-effective compared with individual interviews, and most importantly, a powerful means of provoking informative interaction between participants. Focus groups allow the researcher to explore different perspectives within a social network and how these are articulated, challenged and developed through interaction and in relation to group norms.

Three separate year cohorts were selected to participate in the pupil study. As group interviews were scheduled during lesson time, those cohorts involved with national testing and external examinations – Years 9, 11 and 13 – were avoided in order to minimise disruption to their studies. Equally, Year 7 was excluded because of the recency of entry to secondary education of its members. In each school, then, two groups of pupils were interviewed within each available year cohort from Years 8, 10 and 12. Teachers were asked to select at random two pupils from each tutor group within the target year by choosing the boy and girl whose surnames were nearest the midpoint position in the alphabetic class list. The resulting 27 focus groups – formed by combining nominees from two or more tutor groups – varied in size between 4 and 8 pupils.

Group interviews were convened by members of the research team. Questions were devised to elicit examples of where ICT had helped – or could in future help – to make learning more successful, to draw on experiences of ICT use – both in and out of the classroom – and to explore how learning is – or might be – changed by ICT. Out of the twenty-eight focus group interviews that took place, one was lost due to technical failure; analysis therefore relates to data from twenty-seven groups. All group interviews were audio-taped, transcribed and edited into short units of talk, separated where speaker or subject switched. The edited transcripts were imported into a computer database (QSR NUD*IST) and selectively coded in a recursive process of constant comparison (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) through which salient themes running across the data corpus were identified and organised.


Forms of ICT use reported

At the start of each interview session, pupils were invited to supply examples of ICT use within their lessons. Broadly, pupils reported encountering two types of ICT resource. First was a range of what could be described as ICT tools: notably wordprocessing and publishing packages for purposes of writing and illustrating documents, calculators and spreadsheets for purposes of analysing and graphing data, CD-ROM encyclopedias and the Internet for puposes of seeking and abstracting information, all used across a range of subjects; as well as more specialised tools for processes such as function graphing in Mathematics, data-logging in Science, computer-aided design in Technology, electronic circuit simulation in Science and Technology, and composition in Music. Second was a range of what could be termed courseware and revision resources; vocabulary packages in Languages; puzzles, games and drills – such as SMILE – in Mathematics; and revision packages and websites – notably BiteSize – across a range of subjects.

An analysis was carried out of the first three subjects mentioned in each interview (Table 2). The resulting evidence should not be taken as indicative of the relative extent of ICT use in subject areas, but simply as showing the contexts that came to mind most readily for pupils. This evidence indicated that Mathematics was most frequently cited, followed by IT (as a separate subject) – both cited in more than half the interviews – followed followed by English and Science – both cited in more than a third of interviews. However, the tabulated evidence also demonstrates that the transcripts incorporated examples from across the secondary curriculum.

Table 2: Frequency of citation of subject areas in interviews

Subject area Number of interviews in which amongst first three subjects cited Proportion of interviews in         which so cited
Mathematics 16 59%
Information Technology (as separate subject) 15 56%
English 10 37%
Science 9 33%
Technology 7 26%
Humanities (Geography, History and Religious Studies)  6 22%
Art and Graphics  5 19%
Modern Languages (French and German)  5 19%
Other (including Business, PSE) 8 30%


The main analysis of the transcripts focused on what pupils had to say about the contribution – actual or potential – of ICT to teaching and learning. The ideas running across the groups can be summarised conveniently in terms of six major organising themes which will be discussed in turn:

§  Tasks effected

§  Refinement assisted

§  Ambience altered

§  Motivation changed

§  Learning reshaped

§  Teaching displaced

Tasks effected

This theme concerns the contribution of ICT use to effecting tasks encountered within academic work. Pupils in all year groups and schools reported how use of ICT tools enabled them to carry out such tasks with ease, quickly and reliably, and to a high standard.

At a basic level, a comment on data logging in Science pointed to the ease, speed and accuracy of the process:

Well, it made it quite easy to do and quick. You could read the graphs easily and you get accurate results. Like if we used stopwatches they wouldn’t be very accurate, but there’s no error when you use light gates. [TC/10]

At a more sophisticated level, a comment on function graphing in Mathematics indicated how saving time could permit a more expansive and sophisticated approach to tasks:

It saves time drawing out every single graph, because that takes a lot of time, and you can look at more examples, you can look at examples over each other so you can see the difference between them. [SC/10]

All year groups alluded to the way in which ICT could facilitate quality of written presentation:

If you want your writing to be neat then you’re going to take time on each letter, make sure everything is perfect. You don’t need to do that on a computer, you just type and spell check and it does it for you. [VC/12]

However, it was Year 8 pupils who most often spoke of ICT helping them to produce neater and tidier work which was more ‘professional’ in appearance, sometimes directly associating this with gaining ‘more marks’:

It’s handy because you can get everything done on the computer and it looks all professional… And it also helps because it improves your marks if you’ve done it on the computer / I’ve found that. Because if you do it on the computer you get more marks than if you write it out by hand.  [TC/8]

Pupils in most schools emphasised the practical functionality of templates and wizards:

You have, like, questions and then you answer them. It has multiple choice sort of thing. And then it gives you the newspaper that you want. And then you just type in what you want… Otherwise we would have to lay all the newspaper stuff out and what we wanted, and that would take ages / Or we could hand write it but that would look messy. / And it wouldn’t look as neat and professional. [CC/8]

However, some commented on the importance of remaining in expressive control of their work:

For me I find that whatever I’m doing I like that feeling of being able to shape it how I want it to be. [CC/10]

Equally, there were comments on how computer-generated work – however  accomplished – lacked the personalised qualities of hand-crafted material:

I prefer actually producing it myself with my handwriting. I think it looks nicer than just black, typed, boring, because everyone’s is the same. [VC/8]

ICT applications remain largely dependent upon keyboard input.  Older pupils reported the benefits of having good keyboard skills:

If you know your way around a keyboard it’s pretty quick. It’s much faster then writing. [VC/12]

However, some younger students felt hampered by lack of such proficiency:

I prefer doing it on the computer, but I just write quicker than when I type [GS/8]

Pupils suggested a need for more sustained training in this area. Indeed members of two groups reported that they were so slow they sometimes resorted to parental help:

I think we should have had typing lessons more as well. / Yes, we had that in Year 7 for about half a year. / The very few times I do use it, it takes me four hours to write a page. I just get my Mum to do it… But some people I know… they can really type fast. You watch them and you think “I wish I could do that”. [GS/10]

Similarly, pupils felt that additional training would enable them to take better advantage of the technology:

We need to know how to work [Excel] first.  They say, in Maths “Do these graphs” – we could do it like that if we know how to use it prior to the lesson.  [VC/10]

The majority of pupils interviewed had computers at home – and used them for game-playing, homework and the Internet (although the latter was often restricted by cost).  Some felt that IT skills gained in this context supported their use of technology in school:

And some of us have computers at home so we learn things there and bring them to school [GS/8]

You learn a lot at home.  You dare do more stuff at home.  [TC/10]

…because not everybody is at the same level.  Some people don’t like playing with computers, they don’t know what to do, they haven’t got a clue, they’re used to just writing in their book.  Where others are, like, really good at it and have taken to it.  [VC/10]

In seeking information, the Internet was seen as particularly valuable in accessing current or specialist material:

If it’s really up to date the Internet’s got it on there, or if it’s something like a specialist subject, which they’re aren’t many books about, or books here about. [TC/10]

Searching the Internet was frequently compared with book-based research. Access to information on the Internet was represented by some pupils as more direct:

Well, rather than [with books] having to go through loads and loads of pages of really difficult stuff and finding a couple of good bits and then pulling them out, it [the Internet] just gives you what you want and then you can read it, change it. [TC/10]

Equally, books were represented by other pupils as a more contained and structured source of information:

I prefer looking in books and things because it’s quicker and you don’t get lost. You can just go to the index, whereas if you search for something [on the Internet] you come up with lots of things that aren’t quite related, they just had that particular word. [SC/10]

Both these comments are revealing about the search strategies available to the pupils making them.

In summary, pupils valued ICT tools as enabling them to carry out academic tasks easily, rapidly and reliably, yielding results of high quality. Nevertheless, they experienced situations where they were hampered in exploiting this potential because of lack of proficiency in using the tools. This might be seen as a predictable consequence of their largely occasional and irregular opportunities to make use of ICT in many subject areas, inhibiting their development of the constituent elements of digital literacy (Gilster, 1997; Selwyn, 1997; Brindley, 2000).  Although pupils generally welcomed the way in which ICT tools effected tasks, some were concerned to retain control over their work. Equally, although the high quality achievable when using ICT tools was generally appreciated, this also accentuated what some pupils saw as the more personalised character of hand-crafted material.

Refinement assisted

This theme concerns the contribution of ICT use to refining creations in the course of academic work. It goes beyond the idea of simply effecting tasks to focus on the scope that ICT provides for trialling options and revising attempts, enabling ideas to be essayed and improved.

Across all years and schools pupils remarked on how writing with ICT made various types of modification much easier. One aspect was simply correcting and erasing mistakes:

I prefer using computers because maybe you’ve made a mistake when you’re writing it by hand and then you’d have to go back and maybe Tippex it, change it, and then it looks messy, whereas on the computer you can just delete it if you want to undo something. [GS/10]

Equally, many pupils saw the feedback provided by spelling and grammar checkers as helpful:

I think it’s good as well the way it underlines in green if you do a grammar problem or in red if you spell something wrong. That helps. [VC/10]

Some, indeed, atttributed considerable capacities to such tools:

Because when you make a mistake in a sentence, the computer will correct you and tell you how to write a sentence properly. [VC/8]

Others were more alert to limitations, and active in managing them:

I always think the spell-check’s a bit stupid. You have to double-check it. [GS/12]

Another aspect of writing with ICT to which pupils drew attention was the relative ease with which texts could be reorganised:

I’d rather type an essay than write it because, if you write it, if you want to make a change, if you want to move a block of text somewhere else and you’re writing it, you can’t do it. [CC/10]

Equally, the ready revisability of texts affected attitudes to re-drafting:

It’s easier to re-draft. Because if you write it out by hand and the teacher says redraft it you’re a bit reluctant to, whereas if it’s on the computer you just open the file and change it. [TC/10]

More fundamentally, some pupils suggested that the flexibility available when writing with a computer assisted the creative process of composition:

I find it easier just going in and typing, especially if we’re doing like a creative piece like a story because / You’re making it up as you go along / No, because I think about my ideas and then I can put them down and then I read through it and the bits where I think it sounds a bit weird than I can delete all that out and if I suddenly come up with more ideas I can just add it, whereas if you’re doing it on a piece of paper you have to keep doing those little stars and writing it underneath. [GS/8]

Moving away from writing, pupils offered a variety of examples where using other types of  ICT tool allowed them to experiment in order to try out and evaluate different results:

I’ve got a friend who does Art and she can scan her work onto the computer and she can, sort of, test what would happen if she did a different effect to it.  She can decide whether she likes it or not, or what she likes best. Different colours and tones you can check out by doing that first, rather than going straight into it and coming out with something that took ages that could not be what you wanted.  [GS/12]

Equally, use of ICT to generate examples and explore patterns could assist analysis:

If you have something that you can use to draw a graph you can then experiment with it. If you’re drawing a graph of y equals sine x you could change it to a graph of y equals sine 2x. / It’s much easier. / You’d see what it looked like immediately, instead of having to draw the whole thing again. / You could compare relationships. [CC/10]

In summary, pupils appreciated the way in which working with ICT facilitated various forms of correction and revision, experimentation and exploration, supporting the refinement of artefacts and ideas.  Such ideas were prominent in relation to writing with computers, extending beyond the polishing of texts to their reworking. This resonates with research studies which have suggested that word processing – compared to   handwriting – may engender a different writing process where pupils tend to continuously modify their drafts in response to their own thoughts and as a result of conversations with others (Norris et al., 1999).

Ambience altered

This theme concerns the association between ICT use and altered working ambience and classroom relations. Pupils in all groups commented on differences between ordinary lessons and those using computers and other technologies.

Typically lessons using computers took place in specific resource areas or computer suites. Approving reference was made to such changes of location:

If you come into the resources or IT suites then it’s different scenery and you get more involved because you’re not sitting in the classroom just getting on with it. It’s different. [VC/10]

Such lessons were often seen as more ‘exciting’ and ‘fun’ than others:

It’s more exciting, because you’re there with a computer rather than pen and paper… It’s more fun to use because you don’t have to sit there and write. [MC/10]

Differences between ordinary lessons and those using computers were characterised in terms of changed patterns of activity:

Because it’s a change, isn’t it? All we do in lessons is copy out of textbooks, answer questions or copy off the board, just into a book and that’s all we do. So if I go onto a computer it would just be different. [MC/10]

An important aspect of this was a reduction in the amount of writing required:

It was basically what we were doing on paper, but on a calculator. It made you concentrate because it was different; it helped me a lot because I was using a different thing to what I was used to, instead of just writing it down.  [VC/8]

However, pupils recognised that as novelty faded, computer use itself might become routine:

I suppose that if you did do it all the time it would be just normal. If you didn’t type on the computer all the time it would be something that’s special, something that’s different.[VC/10]

Pupils welcomed what they saw as a tendency of teachers to adopt a more relaxed manner in lessons involving ICT :

Because we’re in the computer room and not sitting at our desks and acting bored I think they wander around and if we’re playing the SMILE game in Maths sometimes they’ll play a game with you and they’re more friendly than in the classroom. [GS/8]

The typical layout of computer rooms was seen as contributing to this reduction in formality

Whereas in a normal classroom environment you face the teacher, if the pupils face away from the teacher, or the person they’re meant to be looking at, then I think that causes a less formal environment. [CC/10]

However, greater informality on the part of teachers was seen as having the potential to trigger misconduct:

I think pupils get the idea that if their teacher’s more relaxed they’ll take that as an incentive to do what they want. [CC/10]

Indeed, pupils in every school complained that lessons involving computers tended to engender a degree of misbehaviour:

Most of the time when we are using computers… people don’t always do their work and take it seriously. If we used it a lot more often, people would get into the habit of it and treat it like you do when you come in and sit down in a classroom. [TC/10]

Group size and resource provision meant that working in pairs on the computer was common across all participating schools. Here, the sharing of machines appeared to be more often a routine matter of practical expediency than a strategy designed to promote and support genuine collaborative engagement, and this is reflected in pupils’ comments. Sometimes this was seen positively, in terms of mutual support:

Sometimes it’s better working in pairs because you help to explain to each other. Say if you don’t understand something and your partner does, they explain it to you and vice-versa. [TC/10]

In Science in particular, co-operative working was an accepted part of normal laboratory practice:

Plus the person is there to help you, so if you need something you can say, “oh, quickly, go and get me this”, or, “hand me that” and you’re much more organised. [GS/12]

More often, though, pupils complained about pair working. Younger groups in all schools spoke of resulting distraction and unequal task distribution:

I think I probably talk more when I’m on the computers because there’s usually one between two or something, so one of you works and the other one relaxes or talks or whatever. You’re spending less time doing work. / I hate that because you never know what to do. When the other person is on the computer, I just sit there and don’t know what to do. [VC/8]

In summary, pupils perceived lessons where technology was in use as having distinctive features. Where interaction with a computer replaced customary routines – notably notably involving listening to the teacher and writing by hand – classwork was seen as more exciting and fun. Nevertheless, pupils recognised that as its novelty faded, such computer use might itself come to seem routine. Relations with teachers were seen as more relaxed although this could trigger misconduct. While working in pairs at a computer was common, this was largely a matter of expediency. Consistent with previous research, pupils saw such pairs as a means of sharing limited computer expertise (Doornekamp, 1993), but not in terms of more fully collaborative working, something readily explicable in terms of the typical tasks in hand and the wider social organisation of classroom activity (Underwood, 1998).

Motivation changed

This theme concerns the association between ICT use and changed motivation. Across schools, pupils linked the altered classroom ambience associated with ICT use to raised interest and increased motivation – as already illustrated in the preceding thematic section – and pointed to ways in which the scope for effecting tasks and refining creations with ICT use – as examined in the two opening thematic sections – alleviated potentially demotivating factors.

Educational software packages designed – or perceived as games were popular with younger pupils, whereas use of ICT tools could be seen as less attractive:

When Miss says we’re going to go on the SMILE programs everyone’s like oh yes, that’s really good. But if they say we’ve got to do stuff in Excel we don’t really want to do that. So they should make it more fun with games. [GS/8]

A key motivating quality of ICT-mediated work was interactivity:

Sometimes it can get a bit boring just sitting there listening to the teacher, looking at the board. It would be good if you could actually have an interactive program on the computer where you can click on parts of the body where it actually talks to you and you can actually see what it does, rather than just seeing a picture on the board. [VC/10]

Correspondingly, pupils noted the motivational power of interactive simulations involving intriguing practical challenges:

On Encarta there’s this thing and you have to make it move around the Earth and you have to try and get the orbit right at the right speed, so you’re learning while you’re trying to smash it into the Earth as well. So you’re learning about orbits and stuff, but you’re still doing something fun. It makes it seem less boring than just copying it out of a book. [TC/10]

Pupils from all schools spoke of the potential of computer tools to help bypass difficulties and weaknesses experienced in writing – and drawing – by hand. For example, they saw the capacity to produce legible script as beneficial, particularly as regards treatment of their work by teachers:

Especially for people who have got messy handwriting… it’s easier on the computer… The teacher sometimes marks it wrong because the teacher can’t understand the word… and sometimes you can’t read your own writing. [GS/8]

Similarly, pupils hinted at how the ease and precision with which graphs and technical drawings could be produced on the computer made such tasks less of a ‘struggle’:

I think that with graphs and things it’s much easier on the computer because some people struggle doing it by hand and it’s much simpler doing it on a computer. [GS/10]

Equally, they pointed to the discouragement associated with inaccuracies and mistakes when working by hand:

They’re more accurate than if you just draw on a piece of paper, because if you’re drawing you can make mistakes and that would just put you off. [SC/10]

Pupils also suggested that the greater capacity to identify and correct errors diminished the scope for criticism of their work by teachers:

I think when I do something by hand there’s more room for criticism because it’s like, oh, you’ve smudged a line, you’ve gone over a bit. Because in Technology the drawings… A little line out of place and you get a grade lower. So when you use computers everything is checked for you so there’s less room for criticism, so I prefer using computers for that reason. [GS/12]

In these ways, the capacities of ICT to effect tasks and assist refinement were seen as diminishing the scope for experiences discouraging to pupils. However, pupils also suggested that ICT tools can limit the user’s sense of capability and accomplishment in carrying out tasks. Many identified this as a negative feature:

When you, say, do a formula in Maths on the computer, after you’ve done it you might have got the right answer but you don’t feel good about it, whereas if you’ve done it by hand there’s a certain amount of achievement that you feel because you’ve managed to do it yourself without just relying on the computer to do it. You also get a lot more confidence from doing it because you think I can do this for myself without relying on the computer to do it. [TC/10]

Likewise, some students enjoyed what they experienced as the independence and autonomy of internet research:

It’s nice to find the information for yourself and look it up. You look more at it and you get more information out of it [GS/10]

For others, however, lack of appropriate research skills meant that the sheer volume of information available could be daunting:

It gives you loads of addresses and then you don’t know what to pick out so you just end up not bothering. [GS/12]

Equally,  the information sources located could make excessive demands on pupils’ reading skills:

Words I don’t understand. They’re really, really long and you don’t know what they mean and so you can’t write them down in your own words because you can’t understand them. [CC/8]

Here, then, experiences of ICT use ill matched to pupils’ capabilities were correspondingly associated with demotivation.

Some comments suggested that interest and motivation associated with use of ICT were translated into harder work and better recall:

It encourages you to do more work. It’s less distracting. I’m more encouraged to work harder on it and it sticks in your mind. [MC/10]

Others pointed to a changed quality of engagement:

You kind of concentrate more on the computer because you want to get it right and get it neat, but by hand you just want to get it done because it just gets boring. [GS/8]

In summary, pupils associated ICT use with raised interest and increased motivation on their part. Such views echo the findings of many researchers (for example, Watson et al., 1993; Cox et al., 1997). Interactive courseware was popular amongst pupils – particularly games and simulations seen as combining practical challenges with learning opportunities. Some comments suggested that such interest and motivation led not just to harder work on the part of pupils but to a changed quality of engagement. Pupils also saw ICT tools as helping to overcome difficulties they experienced in producing work to a good standard – notably where this involved scribing by hand – so also reducing scope for criticism by teachers. Equally however, without the capacities required, ineffective use of ICT tools could be highly demotivating to pupils. For some pupils, too, use of ICT tools could diminish the sense of capability and accomplishment they gained from carrying out tasks without assistance.

Learning reshaped

This theme concerns the contribution of ICT use to reshaping learning. Pupils commented about a spectrum of types of courseware, and noted the way in which other ICT resources had potential to be used not ‘as just a tool’ but ‘as something to learn with’.

Pupils in every school were enthusiastic about revision software and websites, seen as addressing learning objectives simply and directly:

They’re simplistic. They didn’t come out with all this jargon and everything. They just said the simple question, what you needed to do, and then you go on to the tests and you can do it. I mean, I improved from Year 9 to Year 11 so much. [VC/12]

Equally, pupils appreciated the way in which such resources provided immediate feedback identifying specific areas of weakness:

It tells you the results straight away, so you know what to revise and why. [GS/10]

Likewise, a virtue of courseware was seen as being that:

It’s better than books because you can see what’s happening on the screen and if you don’t understand something you can keep playing it over and over again, but you wouldn’t want to keep reading the same thing over and over again because it’s boring.  [MC/12]

On the computer it’s, like, repeating after them and then later on they help you go over it and they keep on going over it until you definitely know what it is and how to spell it and everything. [VC/8]

Such resources were also seen as providing an opportunity for independent working, which some pupils considered helpful in permitting individual pacing and personal regulation:

You can do it independently, so you can work at different speeds… It is probably easier to learn… You have it there in front of you, if you like. If you go through it and you just get confused a bit, you can go back to that bit, rather than just the teachers telling you what it is. You’ve got to ask them again and they can get a bit, sort of, annoyed with that. So, you can just check it for yourself. It’s a bit more like teaching yourself because they say you learn more from teaching than you do from being told. [SC/10]

Earlier thematic sections have recorded how pupils saw ICT use as contributing to effecting tasks and modifying productions. However, some comments – on redrafting and experimentation in particular – have hinted at a further potential for helping pupils to ‘think about [their] ideas’ or ‘compare relationships’. Pupils reported that forms of experimentation, in which they were able to trial changes to a situation and observe their effects, enhanced their grasp of ‘what was going on’:

It was electron acceleration or something. Rather than show a picture from a book he was able to show us a simulation of what was going on and so I think that helped quite a lot. / We had to type in different values for a magnetic field and electron charges and you could see what had happened and what you did. That definitely helped. [MC/12]

Pupils suggested that use of ICT could allow them to engage more directly with challenging tasks, without some of the potentially frustrating or discouraging ‘overheads’ of other kinds of practical activity:

On the computers it’s like a practical lesson. There are two jugs and you have to tip them and see what can push the energy up and things like that. It’s like a practical but if you did it in a practical it would be too messy and it’s easier on the computer because you don’t get all wet. It does help you because I find the practical easier than writing because you learn more by looking at all the different ways it can be done and if you go wrong on the computer it says ‘sorry, try again’ and you try again, but if you did it in a real practical you’d get a bit frustrated but on the computer it’s a challenge for you because you think once you’ve started you keep going to get it right and because you’re timed it makes you think quicker. [GS/8]

Likewise, pupils pointed to the way in which, by taking over subordinate tasks, use of ICT could free their attention to focus on overarching issues:

Well, if you’re heating water to make it boil the temperature will rise, and then when it’s actually boiling it will go flat, it will stay the same for a while, then it will start rising again after it’s boiled. So on the graph you can see that actually happening and you can remember that…You could actually see it happening, as it boiled the temperature stayed the same and then it got hotter / It was quite useful because instead of keeping a check on the time and worrying about how long it’s been, you can actually concentrate on what it’s doing as opposed to how long it’s taken. [SC/10]

This idea of ICT helping to ‘see [things] actually happening’ was also an important one for pupils. They pointed to the value of immediate, dynamic representations in forming powerful images of a changing situation under study:

Well, I suppose with the graph you’re watching it as it forms in front of you… Say you were to do it by hand. You do the graph up after you’ve actually taken down the results. Until you make up the graph you’ve just got loads of seemingly meaningless figures. As you’re doing it on computer you’re actually watching the figures plot into a pattern in front of your eyes, so you’re actually understanding it sooner than you would just by looking at a load of figures on a sheet of paper. [TC/10]

Nevertheless, other comments indicated that pupils were sensitive to ways in which potential benefits of ICT tools in supporting learning could be missed. For example, while the status of the Internet as a powerful source of information was widely acknowledged, some pupils were more tentative about how effectively they assimilated the information it provided:

Basically you’re just printing it out, sticking it straight down on paper and you’re not actually taking it in. It’s already all there, all the stuff you need, you can just find all of it out and put it down on paper without actually learning it as much. [TC/10]

Similarly, pupils noted how wordprocessor checking facilities could be used mechanically and uncritically:

The spell-check I find I tend to just whiz through it, change, change, change, so I don’t actually see how my spelling is actually wrong or how it’s been corrected; I don’t pay any attention to it. [GS/12]

And while pupils reported that certain operations were eased by using technology, some were sceptical about whether this assisted their learning of the topic at hand:

It’s much easier to do it on computer, but maybe you don’t actually learn so much about the relationships of that particular graph, you know, about the comparisons, and I think it’s important to learn. [CC/10]

Behind such concerns lay a contrast – made explicit in one comment – between using technology effectively ‘as just a tool’ or more thoughtfully ‘as something to learn with’:

It depends whether you’re using it as something to learn with or using it as just a tool. Because if you’re just typing things out on Word that doesn’t do much, but if you’re using things like the spreadsheets where you actually have to work out the calculations needed… then that can work because it’s something to help you learn, like the calculations and things. But normally if you’re just typing work up that you’ve written down or that you just need to neaten up then I don’t think it really helps teach you. [TC/10]

In summary, pupils were concerned to ‘get a grip on what was puzzling them’ (Rudduck et al., 1994); they were aware of, and attached importance to, the security of their own understanding. Pupils were correspondingly appreciative of courseware which addressed learning objectives simply and directly, which provided immediate feedback identifying specific areas of weakness, and which gave opportunity for independent working, individual pacing and personal regulation. Similarly, pupils saw ICT as providing a medium through which they could engage more directly with challenging tasks, devolving the demands of subordinate tasks so as to free their attention for overarching issues. They found that forms of experimentation, in which they were able to trial changes and observe their effects, enhanced their understanding of situations. They also valued the contribution that immediate, dynamic representations played in forming powerful images of situations. Both of these features of ICT helped make observable to them what otherwise would be invisible (Snir et al., 1995, Saljo, 1997).  Pupils were also sensitive to ways in which the potential benefits of ICT in supporting learning could be missed, particularly if used wholly mechanically and purely instrumentally.

Teaching displaced

This theme associated ICT use with a degree of distancing and displacement of teachers and teaching and arose first in responses to a question about whether teachers taught differently when they used ICT in the classroom.

Pupils suggested that the collective interactions that normally characterised classroom experience were largely absent from lessons using computers:

When you’re in a class, teaching a subject, the whole group is involved. When you’re in IT I find it’s always individual, she’ll come round individually and teach individually. [GS/10]

Whilst accepting this more autonomous way of working, pupils in all year groups said that they still wanted teachers to be readily available to give help where needed:

You know, it’s important that they’re there if you do have a problem or something goes wrong on the computer and you don’t know how to sort it out. [VC/12]

However, they were often frustrated at the amount of time they could spend waiting for help:

So they’re really busy going around teaching other people, helping other people, maybe something’s gone wrong with the computer so, you know, you’re going to have to wait a long time for them to come round and tell you to do something. [GS/10]

To help combat these delays, teachers often enlisted pupils’ expertise:

Because I have got a computer at home and I understand most of the work and I end up having to help all the rest of them when I have finished. [GS/8]

Beneath these patterns, pupils detected some unease with computers on the part of teachers:

They seem to be nervous around them because maybe they’re not too sure how to use them. [GS/8]

Limitations in technical skill were contrasted with teachers’ subject expertise:

The teachers sometimes have to ask you what to do. Say, if there’s a problem with a computer they have to ask someone who knows quite a bit about computers what to do. Whereas in the lesson they wouldn’t have to do that, there wouldn’t be that problem. [SC/10]

Such uncertainty, in turn, was seen to affect the quality of explanations:

Sometimes the teachers aren’t quite sure what they’re doing on the computers so it’s more difficult for them to explain, which just confuses you further [TC/10]

Pupils in all year groups across schools felt strongly that their teachers should be technically confident:

I’d like it if all teachers had to be like an IT teacher. They could still just be an English teacher but they’d know a lot more about the computers. [VC/8]

Pupils often associated lessons involving ICT with a degree of withdrawal on the part of teachers:

They write instructions on the board or they just say ‘Today you’ve got to make a poster about whatever’, and then they just leave you to do it. [CC/8]

They regretted loss of opportunities for coaching and discussion about their work:

So he gave us our task and then we just did it and then he just left us. So if we’d been in the classroom doing that he’d have been giving us tips and telling us things and, you know, we’d have discussions. [MC/10]

Such withdrawal was attributed not only to lack of teacher confidence with technology, but to other factors:

The computer tells you what to do, so he thinks. Well, you know, unless someone waves their hand because they’re completely stuck, then he goes and helps, but he sits there and gets his marking done.  I think its easier for them because they still have to concentrate on the class, but not as much, you know, they’re still teaching you, but.  [TC/8]

Similar issues arose when pupils anticipated the future of schooling. They imagined pupils staying at home, connected to a virtual world where lessons arrived electronically and were completed independently. There was little enthusiasm for working in this manner:

Well, it could get to the point where no one has to come to school, all they have to do is sit in front of a computer and type in and the computer teaches them. But it’s not personal, and the thing about computers is that it stops you interacting with people and building up relationships with them, so therefore you’re missing out on that whole communication part of life. [TC/10]

The importance of being with other people, learning with and from them, was emphasised by many pupils:

I think its important to learn with other people. I sort of think that’s what school is, learning from other people, not at home by yourself. You’re developing your own self whilst doing so. / In school you do learn from the teachers but you also learn from other pupils, and what their methods of doing things are. [CC/10]

Comments across schools and year groups emphasised the importance of school as a forum for social interaction and support and for the development of social skills:

I think you need a class where you can learn off each other as well and help and support each other. There’s other skills you can build on like socialising and stuff in school. I think you need that as well. [MC/12]

Pupils also emphasised the importance of personal assistance from a teacher:

I think it might actually make it harder to learn, because, okay, the more able students would be able to do it by themselves, but some people need personal help from the teachers and it’s nice to have them helping you if you just don’t understand something. [SC/10]

Equally, opportunities for more informal consultation were considered important:

It’s not the same as having a teacher in front of you because you can’t talk to them after the lesson, ask the teacher additional questions or speak to them about things that you don’t really understand or things like that. [TC/8]

Many pupils pointed to the role of teachers in regulating and structuring academic work:

I don’t think it would work because there’d be too much freedom. A lot of people wouldn’t bother if they didn’t have someone chasing them up or a teacher there. They could get away with doing the least amount of work.  If it was like that, you’d have to want to learn. [MC/12]

Here again, the ‘personal presence’ of a teacher was seen as crucial:

You don’t have the personal presence there. It would totally change the way that you’d react. I think a living, breathing teacher commands more respect than a hologram. [SC/10]

In short, teachers were seen as relating to pupils in distinctively human terms:

[Teachers] when they were our age… they’ve got the memories of it, you know, and we can actually sit there and listen and feel what they’re talking about, their experiences. [GS/10]

In summary, pupils were apprehensive about what they saw – actually and potentially – as a diminishing contribution of teachers to their activity. Currently, the more individualised patterns of activity in lessons conducted in ICT classrooms meant that pupils had relatively little interaction with the teacher, and that support was often not as readily available as they wished. Pupils saw such trends as being exacerbated where teachers lacked technical confidence and treated computer-based activities as being self-explanatory. Potentially, pupils imagined teachers becoming still further removed, in a future where pupils would work independently at home. This led pupils to assert the importance of social facilitation in learning, particularly the role of teachers in regulating, structuring and supporting academic work, and the distinctively human qualities and personalising capacities that they brought to such tasks. Likewise, previous English research on pupils’ views has pointed to the key role of the teacher in animating pupil engagement and learning. There, pupils saw successful lessons as those well prepared and led by a teacher signalling to pupils an enjoyment of teaching the subject and of teaching it to them. (Rudduck, 1996).


Looking across the three year groups in the six schools represented in our study, we gained a broad picture of the kinds of contribution that pupils saw the use of ICT as making to teaching and learning, and also of some of their reservations about such use.

The first theme, tasks effected, illustrated how pupils viewed ICT tools as enabling them to carry out tasks easily, rapidly and reliably and to present neat and attractive products.     The second, refinement assisted, emphasised the ways in which these tools facilitated the progressive editing and revision of written work and exploratory development of ideas and designs. The third theme, ambience altered, revealed that many pupils regarded computer use in school as typically distinct from regular classroom activity in terms of novelty, location, layout and interactions between themselves and their teachers.  Elements from these three themes were also closely intertwined with the fourth theme, motivation changed.  Whilst pupils associated using ICT with difference, fun, enjoyment, challenge and the removal of constraints associated with manual tasks, they also pointed to attenuated personal satisfaction when automated processes removed the opportunity for their active involvement with the task in hand.  Similar reservations were identified within the first theme where pupils felt that uniformity of output detracted from individual creative expression. Motivation was also reduced where inadequate technical skills inhibited pupils’ participation in computer-based activities – particularly when these involved considerable keyboard input.

The fifth theme, learning reshaped, highlighted ways in which pupils distinguished between using ICT as an expedient production tool and ‘something to learn with’.  In the latter case, dynamic visual representations and interactive models and simulations enabled clearer focus on, and understanding of, the topics in question; courseware that offered self-paced opportunities for reiteration or practice provided effective means of identifying and repairing knowledge gaps. Yet, resonant with earlier themes, pupils were concerned that, for some operations (especially in Maths and Science), powerful processing tools could inhibit as well as strengthen understanding. The final theme, teaching displaced underlined pupils’ apprehensions about the impact of ICT on both the level and quality of teacher-pupil interactions and emphasised the significance of the teacher’s role in orchestrating the academic, technical and social aspects of classroom experience.

Much of what the pupils had to say is consistent with findings of other studies undertaken in secondary schools (such as those cited earlier in this paper) – and mirrors views expressed by other groups with a concern for this issue. However, little research has engaged directly with pupils in a way that enables them to express – individually and collectively – their perceptions of the impact of ICT on subject teaching and learning. Focus group interviews allowed us to gather a substantial body of such data.  The views emerging within – and across – these groups serve to indicate issues of common agreement and concern; and it is these that we have presented here.  What they reveal may offer important insights for the schools themselves, for other schools like them, and inform professional thinking more generally.

Pupils’ enthusiasm for using ICT at school was tempered by three major considerations: firstly, that wider skills are needed in order to make effective use of the tools available; secondly, that the power of technology must be strategically focussed if it is to enhance subject teaching and learning; and thirdly, that as familiar patterns of classroom interaction are shifted by the introduction of technology, teachers remain central to the provision of structure and support.

A great diversity of technical skill levels existed amongst pupils.  Whilst some picked up technical knowledge in an ‘ad hoc’ fashion by ‘tinkering’ at home, others lacked such interest or opportunity; but pupils across all groups felt it was important to extend their current skills – not only to facilitate present computer use but to prepare for future working life. Many wished that regular ICT lessons could be provided – and  given equal status with other core subjects such as English and Maths; some recognised the need to acquire wider information-handling skills – especially relating to Internet research;  others thought that better working knowledge of software and equipment (eg graphic calculators and spreadsheets) would enable them to apply technology more effectively in their studies.

We were struck that, whilst pupils acknowledged ways in which technology could facilitate production of their work – effecting tasks and enabling refinements, they rarely perceived these as directly benefiting learning: ‘it doesn’t help you learn’.  They expressed similar reservations about using technology where they saw it providing a fast track that by-passed opportunities for mental processing and challenge (eg in Maths).  Pupils in all schools noted the anomaly of situations where use of technology was promoted in lessons but prohibited in examinations.  However, their concerns about relying on technology at the expense of gaining procedural knowledge were not linked primarily with successful performance in future assessments, but emphasised the more immediate personal rewards of successful engagement with the processes of learning.

It is the pursuit and achievement of these motivational rewards that can energise pupil development and progress – and it is here, we suggest, that technology may offer  the greatest potential to empower advancement.  The teachers’ role is therefore crucial in carefully devising strategies which harness the properties of technology to match and support learning goals and objectives eg releasing learners from constraints of manual operations – in order to focus on specific aspects of the topic under consideration; enabling development of ideas by trialling and model building; providing vivid, dynamic – and interactive – simulations and illustrations to aid critical analysis and understanding of objects or phenomena; enabling learners to pace and consolidate their learning eg by purposeful use of designated courseware and revision sites; introducing electronic sources of information and helping learners to select and use material appropriately.

A recent report by Ofsted (2002) concludes that it is ‘the effective application of ICT across subjects that needs to improve most’.  It also urges schools to ‘develop a curriculum that builds on pupils’ ICT experiences outside school that contribute to their ICT competence’.  Cooper & McIntyre (1996) observed that learning opportunities are heightened when teaching strategies are transactional – when pupil and teacher concerns and interests are integrated, subject knowledge is integrated with other knowledge and made accessible by a variety of means. Technology has added considerably to possible strategies for learning out of school – and supporting learning in school (OECD, 2001) and pupils’ increasing use of home computers for games, research, homework and communication – within friendship circles and beyond – may indeed offer promising avenues for the development of motivating and authentic learning activities.

However, pupils in our study were concerned about the extent to which, in future, teaching might become devolved from classroom settings by the adoption of more remote, digitally-based modes of delivery.  They signified how work on technology-based tasks often resulted in reduced interactions with their teachers (eg more individualised patterns of activity) and how ‘norms’ of classroom society were altered when pupils with good technical skills became expert advisers – to teacher and peers alike. The diversity of technical experience pupils now bring to the classroom poses considerable challenge for teachers in designing and supporting technology-enhanced activities, particularly where teachers themselves lack confidence in using ICT. Enlisting technically-skilled pupils as peer tutors may provide a useful solution. However, pupils in our study clearly valued personal assistance from their teachers when needed – and  importantly, felt that teachers should be competent and confident in both technical and subject knowledge if technology was to be used effectively in lessons.

Technology has the potential to both enhance and disturb the social interactions upon which the processes of learning primarily depend (Noss and Pachler, 1999); accounts provided by pupils in our study are illustrative of the opportunities and tensions that ICT presents – and further serve to highlight the teacher’s essential role in adaptively managing its use. Many of the subject teachers whom we interviewed during the first phase of our study were well-disposed towards using ICT in their teaching – and were exploring, albeit cautiously, ways of utilising various forms of technology within their lessons (Hennessy et al, submitted). Analysis of data from group interviews in Mathematics departments has provided a tentative model of successful use of ICT to support teaching and learning (Ruthven & Hennessy, 2002).  The process of accommodating ICT into classroom practice may lead teachers towards assuming different – and sometimes unaccustomed – ways of working; interim periods of adjustment may be uncomfortable for teachers and pupils alike – and this, perhaps, in measure, accounts for both the pattern of  ‘cautious adoption’ (Kerr, 1991) evidenced by the teachers, and the commensurate ‘cautious welcome’ displayed by pupils in our study.

Few practitioners and policy makers would disagree that technology offers a range of powerful tools, which proficient users can employ to achieve an impressive array of outcomes; but attention to the pupil voice may help us to determine how – and where – judicious pedagogical exploitation of such tools can be most advantageous to the learner.


During the second phase of our project, 19 teacher-researchers in five of the six research partnership schools – supported by the University research team – undertook research projects that focussed on developing a variety of technology-integrated pedagogical strategies to support subject learning with ICT across the curriculum. Summaries of these studies and teachers’ own reports of their research are available on the TiPS [Technology-integrated Pedagogical Strategies] (2001) website; an overarching analysis of the case studies will be reported elsewhere.


Thanks to Sue Brindley, Chrystalla Petridou, Louise Goodwin and Alison Miller for their various contributions to carrying out this study; and to the Wallenberg Research Centre for Educational Improvement for supporting the project.



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TOWARDS ENHANCEMENT OF RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION THROUGH EFFECTIVE ICT BASED PROGRAMME FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT Isiorhovoja Uyovwieyovwe Osbert and Osajie, J.N Department of Christian Religious Studies College of Education, Agbor Email: [email protected] ABSTRACT The content and message of Religious

Education is unchangeable but the methodology has to be changed. The paper seeks to examine the possibility of enhancing instruction through ICT based programme that will integrate the subject-based approach that may have resulted in reoccurring difficulty in the teaching/learning process over the years. It explores the possibility of improving mastery skills and greater level of achievement through the use of multimedia in instruction. It discovers among other things that most teachers and students are not literate and so do not integrate ICT in the classroom teaching-learning process. It concludes by recommending that both teachers and students should avail themselves of the available opportunity to realise the desired objectives, instructional goals, attitude change and positive interest in the subject in order to attain sustainable human capital development in Africa. Keywords: Religious instruction, effective, ICT, sustainable development. INTRODUCTION The acronym ICT means Information and Communication Technology. Blurton (1999) notes that it is a diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, to create, disseminate, store and manage information. Hence, it can be referred to as a combination of hardwares; software, media and delivery system which are not based on a single part of technology but include computers, the internet, broadcasting technologies (radio and television) as well as telephony (Tinio 2002). Spivak (2007) however took a further step to define ICT to include the various phases on the internet that include five phases namely PC’s (1980-1990) followed by Web 1.0 (1990-2000), Web 2.0 (2000-2010), Web 3.0 (2010-2020) and Web 4.0 (2020-2030). Web 1.0 connected the computers; the generation connected the people as social network. It is on this basis that ICT capability is fundamental to participation and engagement in modern society that will boost the overall pupils and teachers need for development through its application in the teaching and learning process. ICT APPLICATION IN RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION The use of ICT in Religious instruction seems to be nascent. Aikonen (2011) notes that the usage of ICT and nets in Religious education instruction came late in the 1990s with very little interest shown by churches, students and religious education instructors. Zinn (1964) notes that computers used as teaching machines date from 1958; early development took place at IBM’s Watson Research Centre and the University of Illinois. Thus, for over a period of thirty years, it was not employed in the teaching of religious education. Aikonen (2010) thus posits that since ICT has entered the classroom over the decades, pedagogical Journal of Education and Leadership Development ©2011 Cenresin Publications www.cenresinpub.org Volume 3, March 2011 86 development should be encouraged through routine training of teachers in the use of ICT in Religious instruction. However, greater level of integration can be achieved through the involvement of teachers in developing curriculum contents and application of the appropriate media to enhance instruction. Otherwise, it will result in fatal weakness and increased difficulty in the subject as earlier experienced. Reade (2011) similarly, notes that the misuse of the ICT can be disastrous pointing at mindless copying and pasting, surfing for information, often contained with unsuitable websites, teachers’ use of PowerPoint, creating a climate of passive learning, watching and listening without pupils’ effort and contributions to create interactive classroom discussions. On this note, the integration of the programme is a welcome development that can sky-rocket the level of personal skills and development of the individual on his/her career path. THE RELEVANCE OF ICT TO ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT The relevance of ICT to Academic Achievement cannot be overemphasized. Isiorhovoja (2004) notes that it is a crucial venture in which all information managers, teachers and instructors must take seriously. The ease of storage, retrieval and frequency of possible reuse makes the teaching-learning process to become flexible. The slow learners therefore can replay a lesson over and again without any human instructor until he/she gains mastery. Anyafulu (2011) thus posits strongly that students need to be educated beyond classrooms. This affirms Isiorhovoja (2004) claims of the possibility of using over and again any particular instruction. In her remark, Anyafulu notes that the time is now to educate our kids beyond the four walls of the classroom for better development of our child education in the country. In further support of her claims, she admits that: Educational system in Nigeria is getting better than what it used to be before, but the problem is that there is no much emphasis on the total development of a child… as much as possible to expose them to lots of things like music instruments, dance and other extra curricula activities including computer and information technology. Other relevance of ICT to academic achievement according to Reade (2011) includes: a. Speed and automation enabling tasks to be carried out more quickly. b. Capacity to provide access to local, national and global resources not usually available in the classroom, including images, sounds or clips with classic clips versatility enabling flexibility routes through their materials. c. Interactively and communicability which enable pupils to interact with sources or people in a way not possible with books or video alone. d. Provisionality, enabling pupils to be creative in how they explore, express and or present their work through websites designed. e. The ease of access to recorded contents in CD ROMS and other commercial ICT sources for networks and whiteboards, providing comparable resources and activities. Towards Enhancement of Religious Instruction through Effective ICT Based Programme for Sustainable Development Isiorhovoja Uyovwieyovwe Osbert and Osajie, J.N 87 f. It breaks the monopoly of the any particular curriculum based approach. Students and free to adapt and adopt the ‘best fit’ approach to learning with the greatest ease. g. Students learning and interaction with the content via internet has brought a paradigm shift into the academic system as some teachers and students get relevant answer from their personal researches. CHALLENGES OF ENHANCED INSTRUCTION TO THE TEACHERS AND LEARNERS The first major challenge facing teachers in the school is that of ever adapting to changes as the ICT presents so many opportunities which are daily explored by most students. Thus, teachers are forced to adapt to changes. Spender (2003) opines that many students know more than their teachers as a result of the new technologies. It is however believed that students are on a cusp of a revolution in learning that requires teachers to adapt to their cyber world. Elliott (2004) and Lawson (2004) from their earlier researches affirmed that some teachers in the profession have been de-skilled as a result of the ICT based programme that has been introduced to the learning process. It is however disheartening to note that students performed on the average better on some ICT dimensions in a 2005 Computer Skills Assessment (CSA) trial test in spite of the fact that this was in areas that their teachers indicate that they needed professional development in order to enhance their teaching skills. Thus, complex information and communication technologies can pose difficult situation for both teachers/students. Effective planning is required, hence the need for inservice training to update their knowledge. Similarly, the classrooms unique nature poses some environmental challenges for teachers to implement ICT. More important than the technology is the underpinning pedagogy, which serves to dictate the pace for the teachers. The Nigeria scene is not different, as most teachers do not regularly use ICT in their instruction; some do not have while the few who actually have may have done that as a show-off and as teaching aid. In an earlier study carried out in 2009 by the researcher, he discovered that over 80% of teachers in religious studies who are 50 years and above do not really see the need to personally work to integrate ICT into pedagogy in the classroom, of the 20% who are much younger, the integration of ICT during instruction is a mundane thing. Consequently, excuses are given such as: lack of time, the environment is not conducive, often interruption of power supply and the non availability of ICT assistant during set up for instruction as we do not have an equipped classrooms (Isiorhovoja, 2009). However, considering the challenges of development from a global perspective, viz-a-viz vision 20:2020 actualization; we cannot but agree with John Chambers that education and the internet are the two great equalizers in life through which the education sector can grow. Mr. Gerald Ilukwe while delivering a speech on, “Nigeria’s Educational System in the Internet Age” describes a situation in which Nigerian graduates cannot favourably use ICT after four years of University Education. The situation became worrisome, as some citizens from other African countries who are not even graduates are at home with ICT. He however reiterated Journal of Education and Leadership Development Volume 3, March 2011 88 Our tertiary education – the monotechnic, Polytechnic, College of Education and the University should explore the knowledge of information communication technology made available in this twenty-first century if the vision 20:2020 of being among the 20 best economies must be realised. From the foregoing, Nigeria which is the giant of the African continent, if we must attain sustainable development through education, we cannot but think of the best option in which we can integrate ICT at all level of study. According to the National Policy on Education (NPE) (2004), it is well enshrined as part of the goals of Primary Education that: In recognition of the prominent role of Information and communication Technology in advancing knowledge and skills necessary for effective functioning in the modern world, there is urgent need to integrate ICT into education in Nigeria. Government shall therefore provide … realization of the goal at the Primary school level. Coincidentally, similar goal is stated for the secondary level of education as well as for Special Education respectively. The question arising from the laudable goals is, to what extent have we achieved this? The expected libraries, infrastructure and human capital are in place. The National Policy on Education (NPE 2004) in context speaks more of the early environment – the primary and secondary schools as the right place to acquaint the child with (ICT). This may not be totally out of place. Levine and Havighurst (1992) noted that research on the cognitive development of children summarized by Bloom (1964), Hunt (1979), Schorr (1989) and Schaefer (1991) points to the family as the major key player to influence the child as the preschool years are crucial for mental development of the child. Yet very few children are exposed to ICT even at the levels spelt out in the National Policy on Education. The training of teachers in some of tertiary institutions also contributes to the low level of instruction in the subject in our schools causing poor academic performance. Hence Martin and Norman (1973) argue that today’s education is inadequate preparation for tomorrow’s computerized society. The computer provides both the requirement and the means for continuous learning into old age. Education therefore should not end when one leaves the school or takes his/her last degree but will go on throughout life in order to enable the individual to keep in tune with his constantly changing environment. The use of computersassisted instructor in the teaching-learning process is proving its applicability at various levels of education, ranging from very small children to graduate students and professional men. The key to its success as in other uses of computers lies in the ability to interact with the language in which the programs are written. While outlining the causes of non implementation of ICT in the classroom, Fogarty (2006) argues that the failure are not farfetched. He notes that intractable working conditions; external demands on the teacher time; the conservative nature of traditional classroom culture; teacher’s resistance to change; need Towards Enhancement of Religious Instruction through Effective ICT Based Programme for Sustainable Development Isiorhovoja Uyovwieyovwe Osbert and Osajie, J.N 89 for teachers to unlearn traditional approaches; lack of time and availability of computers; technical problems with unreliable technology; lack of learning resources; lack of teacher basic ICT skills; varying competency levels of students; the foreign background of ICT to our culture; access to literate teacher assistance; intractable working conditions and external demands made on a teacher’s time. ICT ROLE

IN IMPROVING RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION Despite the enormous challenges posed by ICT to the teachers and students, it has the potential of raising standard in religious instructions. The following are some ways to achieve this goal using ICT as a tool. a. To support teachers to improve lesson design, to transform teaching and learning process as well as to engage and motivate pupils more effectively. Example include the projection of the topographical map of Palestine for pupils to visualise during instruction b. Provide opportunities for pupils to learn in alternative and challenging ways, using a wide range of sources of information and techniques to support critical thinking. This includes online lessons/exercises for pupils to interact with before the next class. c. Support both collaborative and individual work. A pupil in Greek Language class for example, can replay the audio cassette or video cassette to assist inn gaining mastery of the language as well as the right pronunciation as a foreign language. d. Allow pupils to access the sources of information relevant to a particular enquiring by searching websites on the internet. The ability of the pupils to go for further information will not only boost their knowledge, but will further enable them to gain additional knowledge from the web. e. Allow pupils to identify and select the most useful information and sources when learning about and when learning from religious. A critical example here is the map of the Fertile Crescent in the web. Most of the maps do not include Africa; the Nile in Egypt. They do not believe that Africa is part of the cradle of the cradle of civilisation. Pupils can carefully make choice in downloading the right map for their use. f. Enable pupils to improve their decision-making skills through the use of computer generated models. There are sites on the web where language are taught. The fact the some have over time undergone some changes do not remove from the net completely to original alphabets as we have in Koine Greek; the language of the New Testament the is no longer spoken today. g. Enable pupils to review, refine, redraft and modify work in progress as well as to helps pupils to refine and present their ideas more effectively and in different ways. The ease of sending work today cannot to be outshined. Pupils can readily change work format to suite and to present same with greater ease most unlike the era of just typewriters where that same work cannot be edited. Journal of Education and Leadership Development Volume 3, March 2011 90 h. to present tutorials and worksheet that will enable students carry out enough practice before any examination is taken. Some universities where students are assigned to visiting lecturers, sometimes, projects are submitted online to their supervisors. All these are possible through the use of ICTs in the teaching learning process. CONCLUSION The task of achieving sustainable development through education in Africa is enormous hence concerted effort is required to make it a reality. The challenges of enhancing religious instruction through ICT based programme cannot be left for the government alone rather the home, school, teachers and environment are key players. Curriculum planning and implementation process should ensure that teachers are adequately equipped in their training for the task ahead. Thus collaborative effort is needed to kick start, run and maintain the tempo to attain the globalized objective of human capital development in the black continent of Africa.

RECOMMENDATIONS Based on the study, there is the need: 1. To train teachers on the use of ICT in the classroom to enhance pupils understanding in basic themes in religion 2. The curriculum for training and retraining of teachers should be reviewed to adequately furnish students with the basic skills of handling all instructional materials that are needed for effective teaching and learning 3. ICT training should be inculcated in the curriculum at all levels as a general study that will be compulsory throughout the period of study. 4. Pilot programme should be organised to equip all teachers that will be posted to all school as pioneers. 5. Teachers should be encouraged to show professionalism in the classroom and other aspect of learning that can help students to achieve greater level of academic performance. 6. ICT centres should be provided at all levels of education and should be equipped with functional systems and manpower.

REFERENCES Aikonen, R (2011). “ICT and Religious Education: The case of Finland’s Comprehensive School”, http:teo.au.dk/filiadmin/file. Retrieved 25th July 2011 Anyafulu (2011). “Students Need to be Educated beyond Classrooms” Vanguard, July 28, p.30 Blurton, C. (1999). “New Directions in ICT use in English” . Retrieved 29th July 2011 Towards Enhancement of Religious Instruction through Effective ICT Based Programme for Sustainable Development Isiorhovoja Uyovwieyovwe Osbert and Osajie, J.N 91 Elliott, A. (2004). “When the Learners Know more than the Teachers” Information Age, 6(7), pp.321-324 Fogarty, T (2006). “Teachers Responding to Disruptive Pedagogy Integrating ICT across the Curriculum in NSW” Armidale: University of New England, unpublished dissertation. Ilukwe, G (2010) “Vision 21:2020 will be Elusive until we Educate our People on ICT” Vanguard, August 18, P. Isiorhovoja, O. B. (2004) Storage and Retrieval of Audio-Visual Materials; A Case Study of Petroleum Training Institute, Warri Abraka: Delta State University, unpublished long Essay, P Isiorhovoja, U.O. (2009) Towards Improved Instructions in Religious Education in the Secondary Schools, Unpublished paper, p.8 Introduction to ICT across the Curriculum, retrieved on 23rd July, 2011 from Jminte.wikispaces.com/file/view/ict+acre…pdf Levine, D. U and Harighurst, R. J. (1991) Society and Education, London: Allyn and Bacon, pp. 345-236 Lawson, A. (2004). Tech-age Kids turns Tables on Teachers, The Sun-Heral” Retrieved on 16th July, 2011 Martin, J. and Norman A.R.D. (1973) The Computerized Society, England: Penguin Books, pp.128-130 National Policy on Education (2004) Federal Republic of Nigeria Lags: NERDC, P. 17 Reade, C (2011) “ICT and Religious Education” Religious Perspectives in a New Age, 54(7), pp.3, 12 Spender, D (2003) “Education Left Wanting in Digital Age: The Sydney Morning Herald, 3(7), p.241 Spivak, N. (2007). The Third Generation Web is Coming, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, p. 4 Tino,V (2002) ICT in Education, New York: Modern Library, p.34 Zinn, K. L. (1965) “computer – Assisted Learning and Teaching” Dictionary of Computing,

Impact of the Internet on Final Year Students’ Research: A Case Study of Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria
Promise Ifeoma Ilo 
Technical Services Librarian

Goodluck I Ifijeh 
Serials Librarian

Centre For Learning Resources
Covenant University
Ota, Nigeria

IntroductionIn this age of information and communication technology (ICT), the use of the Internet has become the norm. Developing countries like Nigeria are not exempted from this trend. The craving for the Internet stems from its central role in ICT with access to free online journals, magazines, and other information resources anytime and from anywhere for academic and research purposes (Kode and Kode, 2003).

Nigerian university undergraduates are required to carry out research projects in their final year in the university. Project writing is a major pre-requisite for the award of degrees in tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Every student considers project writing important to his or her academic success. Research project writing involves a student or group of students carrying out a study on a topic of interest. When the project is completed, it is evaluated by the quality of the work submitted within the stipulated time (Fatoki,2004). It is used to indicate the student’s ability to select, research, and draw logical conclusions from findings. The quality of the research project is to a large extent dependent on the quality, quantity, and recency of resources consulted and cited (Mbofung, 2003). The use of the Internet (if maximized) plays a major role in helping undergraduate researchers’ access large number of materials from different parts of the globe.

In view of the above, this study evaluates the use of the Internet for research by undergraduate final year students of Covenant University.

A Brief History of Covenant University

Covenant University is a private Christian Institution situated in Canaanland, Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria. It was founded on October 21, 2002 by World Mission Agency, an arm of the Living Faith Church Worldwide.

The University has three colleges: Business and Social sciences, Human Development, and Science and Technology. As a cutting edge ICT-driven university, there is 24 –hour Internet connectivity on campus. The university library, also known as the Centre for Learning Resources (CLR), has a media centre with forty computers connected to the Internet and escapist reading space provided with wireless Internet connectivity for use by undergraduate research students.

Objectives of the Study

  • To determine the extent of accessibility and utilization of the Internet by final year students of Covenant University
  • To identify the most frequently-used search engine by final year students
  • To ascertain the impact of the Internet on the research work of final year students of Covenant University

Literature Review

According to Ani (2005), the Internet is a network of linked computers which are located at different points all over the world that provides easy communication between persons and organizations no matter where they are located. The Internet is used mostly in obtaining information. Nwafor and Ezejiofor (2004) quoting Sadler (1995) observe that the Internet is not a single network of computers but a network of nets, a large network that connects many smaller networks to one another. The major functional advantage of the Internet stems from its willingness to share information with others so that everyone might benefit. Shitta (2002) posits that the Internet is a communication super highway that links, hooks and focuses the entire world into a global village, where people of all races can easily get in touch, see, or speak to one another and exchange information from one point of the globe to another. It is the largest network in the world that allows computer users to communicate and access electronic databases with ease. Daramola (2004) maintains that an observable trend in the Internet is that more and more resources are moving to it and in some cases being made available only in the Internet.

Audu (2006) quoting Ojedekun (2001) reveal that the Internet has many benefits in the academic cycle as it provides a round the clock access to global sources of information. It also gives researchers the ability to discuss and share experience with colleagues. Oketunji (2001) identified areas in which Internet could be used to include education, agriculture, office automation, security, entertainment, politics, construction, banking, commerce, health, etc.

The Internet also has a role to play in the library, which is the hub of research activities in a university. Lancaster and Sandore (1997) outlined the roles of the Internet in the library thus:

an electronic resource that is now having the most significant impact on library services, operations and on the professional activities of librarians. This strength of impact is due to its multi-faceted nature since it simultaneously fulfils three important roles in library services, first, it is a resource that can be consulted and used like any other reference tool. Second, it is more dynamic and far – reaching than any other resource used in a library setting. Finally it provides a medium of communication that has extended the potential of librarians’ interaction beyond the physical library to users, colleagues and other professional activities and relationships with library users.

The Internet is very useful in obtaining information for research. Adegboji and Toyo (2006) in their study on the impact of the Internet on research, reported that the Internet contributed significantly to the ease of research through downloading materials. It is commonly believed that researchers and students in Nigerian higher education institutions are battling the problem of inadequate and out-of-date materials. The only way to pursue knowledge is through research and the Internet is having a profound impact on the research process and dissemination of information (Kamja, 2008)

Luban (2000) carried out a research on the experiences of graduate students teaching undergraduates where they were to rate the Internet’s effects on their students’ academic work. He observed that the Internet had positive influence on the number of sources found and quality of the students’ written work. He further noted that the drawback observed in the study is the indiscriminate use of the Internet. Students are lured by easy access and often do not question the value or quality of material. The Internet is a ‘chaotic’ library because it displays no discernible order, classification or categorization. It therefore poses a challenge on the students’ ability to distinguish between information from refereed scholarly journals available digitally and the digital equivalent of vanity press publications.

The use of the Internet is gradually becoming popular in Nigeria. Statistics show that Nigeria with an estimated population of 138,283,240 people has 10,000,000 Internet users, representing 7.2 percent of the population (Internet World Status, 2009)


A descriptive survey design was adopted in this study. The study population comprised 1,467 final year students for the 2008/2009 session of Covenant University. A systematic random sampling method was used. A total of 150 final year students were randomly selected from the three colleges in the university, namely: College of Science and Technology (50), College of Human Development (50) and College of Business and Social Sciences (50). The entire 150 samples responded, giving a response rate of 100 percent. This is because the questionnaires used were administered in the students’ Lecture rooms where they were filled and returned immediately. A total of 48 (32 percent) respondents are males while 102 (68 percent) are females. There are more female respondents because of the large population of female students in the colleges of Human Development and Business and Social Sciences.




Data Analysis and Discussion

Table 1: Use of the Internet

Use of Internet Frequency Percentage ( percent)
Yes 150 100
No 0

The question analyzed on table 1 was intended to find out how many students used the Internet for their projects. The table shows that all the respondents, 150 (100 percent) used the Internet.

Table II: Preferred Location of Internet Use

Preferred Location for Internet use Frequency Percentage ( percent)
Library Media Centre 79 52.7
Cybercafés on Campus 12 8
Campus Wireless Hotspots 21 14
Cybercafés outside campus 38 25.3
TOTAL 150 100

Though students have access to the Internet at different locations, the table shows that the largest number of final year students, 79 (52.7 percent) prefer to use the cybercafé in the media center of the university library. 38 respondents, represented by (25.3 percent) preferred to use the cybercafés outside the campus. While a total number of 21 students (14 percent) opine that their satisfaction comes from the campus wireless hot spots, the least number of respondents, 12 represented by (8 percent) simply find it comfortable using the campus cyber cafes.

Table III: Impact of the Internet on Students’ Project

Response Frequency Percentage ( percent)
Yes 141 94
No 9 6
TOTAL 150 100

On whether the Internet has any impact on their projects, the table shows the following response:

A m ajority of the students – 141 (94 percent) said the Internet had impact on their project work while 9 (6 percent) said the Internet did not have any impact on their work.

Table IV: Areas of most Impact

Areas of Impact Frequency Percentage ( percent)
Improvement in quality of work 45 31.9
Economy of time 27 19.1
Speed in the writing of project 38 27.0
Recency of materials 31 22.0
TOTAL 141 100

The purpose of the question was to elicit the actual effect the use of the Internet had on students project work. This question was specifically answered by 141 students who agreed that the Internet has some impacts on their work. The highest number of respondents – 45 (31.9 percent) choose improvement in the quality of work as their option. This is understandable because the Internet exposes researchers to different works written by scholars all over the world. Reading and harnessing the ideas of different scholars from different parts of the globe cannot but improve output. On the effect of the Internet concerning the speed of writing of research work, 38 (27 percent) answered in the positive. Any researcher that has Internet search skills always stands the chance of accomplishing his task with speed. This is because the Internet provides great opportunities to resources needed in writing. As seen in the table, 27 respondents (19.1 percent) opined that the Internet helped them to economize time. The issue of time in relation to the Internet is two-edged. If one does not have the skills and lacks knowledge of the relevant search terms for specific work, one can waste hours without being able to get the relevant information. Users with the required skills for searching are able to navigate through the Internet and explore relevant information without necessarily investing on time. 31 respondents (22 percent) agreed that the Internet helped them to get recent materials for their work. Every researcher desires to know current trends in their areas of research. The Internet thus performs a big role in this regard. This confirms the observation of Ikpaahindi (2006) who maintains that the quest of the academia to explore different fields of study through research is satisfied by the vast sea of resources found in the Internet.

Table V: Resources with highest impact

Resources Frequency Percentage ( percent)
Online journals 52 36.9
Online books 34 24.1
Lecture notes 14 9.9
Projects 16 11.3
Online newspapers/magazines 21 14.9
Non-journals articles 4 2.9
TOTAL 141 100

Online journals made the highest impact on final year students’ research work as opined by 52 (36.9 percent) respondents. These journals carry information on latest developments in different fields of research. A total of 34 (24.1 percent) respondents asserted that online books were more impactful on their work. 21(14.9 percent) respondents were more excited using online newspapers/magazines; Online projects affected work of 16 (11.3 percent) respondents while 4 (2.9 percent).respondents indicated that non – journal articles made the highest impact on their work. 14 (9.9 percent) respondents said online lecture notes gave them the required satisfaction.

Table VI: Search Engines Used

Search Engine Frequency Percentage ( percent)
Google 60 40
Yahoo 42 28
Mamma 8 5.3
Alta Vista 7 4.7
Dog Pile 6 4
Jstor 6 4
MSN 21 14
TOTAL 150 100

The table shows that most of the students used Google as their search engine as represented by 60 respondents (40 percent). The next search engine highly used by students is yahoo as represented by 42 respondents (28 percent) and MSN which was used by 21 respondents (14 percent). Other search engines were used minimally as indicated in the table.

Recommendations and Conclusion

The bedrock for national development is education and the importance of the Internet in our present day education cannot be overemphasized. Not only does the Internet have impact on the research work of final students of Covenant University, it does the same for other researchers both in other universities and other spheres of life. Yet, Igun (2006) observes that the Internet in developing countries like Nigeria is still in its infancy. Cybercafé managements should see the need to invest more funds, not only for opening such, but also for proper maintenance. A m ajority of our student populace who are computer literate have lap-top computers. If cybercafés are provided with wireless access points around their environs, it will become possible for users to browse within the environments and thus enhance access to information needed especially for research.

There is urgent need for development of ICT skills in our students and all Internet users at all levels. It behooves any user of computer and allied facilities to acquire skills needed to operate the computer so as to be able to navigate round to explore the avalanche of literature accessible through the Internet. Ours is no longer an age of information availability but that of accessibility. There is need for continuous training on ICT use and also training on the ability to formulate search terms for different research topics so as to control the quality and quantities of literature scattered on the Internet.


Adegboji, O.B., & Toyo, O.D (2006). The impact of the Internet on research: The experience of Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria. Library Philosophy and Practice 8 (2): 1-8

Ani, O.E. (2005). Evolution of virtual libraries in Nigeria: A myth or reality? Journal of Information Science 31 (1): 66 – 69

Audu, C. (2006). Internet availability and use by postgraduate students of University of Nigeria, Nsukka.Global Review of Library & Information Science 2: 34-43

Daramola, I.S. (2004). Knowledge and skills possessed by technical collage gra

Influence of Social Media on Teenagers

05/26/2015 03:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

  • Suren RamasubbuCo-founder & CEO, Mobicip.com

The influence of social media on adolescents and teenagers is of particular importance, not only because this particular group of children is developmentally vulnerable but also because they are among the heaviest users of social networking. According to a report by Common Sense Media, 75 percent of teenagers in America currently have profiles on social networking sites, of which 68 percent use Facebook as their main social networking tool.

While social networking undoubtedly plays a vital role in broadening social connections and learning technical skills, its risks cannot be overlooked. The lack or difficulty in self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure makes adolescents vulnerable to such evils as Facebook depression, sexting, and cyberbullying, which are realistic threats. Other problems such as social network-induced obesity, Internet addiction and sleep deprivation are issues that continue to be under intense scrutiny for the contradictory results that have been obtained in various studies.

The American Psychological Association defines bullying as aggressive behavior by an individual that causes discomfort to another. Cyberbullying ranges from direct threatening and unpleasant emails to anonymous activities such as trolling. 32 percent of online teens admit to having experienced a range of menacing online advances from others. While direct unpleasant emails or messages are the most straightforward form of cyberbullying, they are probably the least prevalent in that only 13 percent of surveyed youngsters admitted to receiving threatening or aggressive messages. Even forwarding a private note to a group without permission from the sender is often perceived as cyberbullying; Pew researchfound that 15 percent of teens were disturbed and uncomfortable about having had their private message forwarded or posted in a public forum. Pew also found that nearly 39 percent of teens on social network have been cyberbullied in some way, compared with 22 percent of online teens who do not use social networks. Trolling, the act of deliberately inflicting hatred, bigotry, racism, misogyny, or just simple bickering between people, often anonymously, is also pervasive in social network. If you thought Trolls lived under bridge, 28 percent of America lives there, it seems.

A very important cause for cyberbullying is the anonymity possible on the Internet. According to Stopbullying.gov, two kinds of people are likely to be cyberbullies — the popular ones and those on the fringes of society; the former resort to such activities to stay popular or to feel powerful, while the latter troll to fit into a society or to get back at a society that excludes them. The National Council on Crime Prevention found from a survey that about three out of four victims of cyberbullying eventually trace the identity of the cyberbully, and so the anonymity may not be as safe a net as the bully believes. The cyberbully is often a friend (if they can be called that without insulting the word or sentiment), or someone they know from school or outside. Only 23 percent of the victims reported to have been bullied by someone they don’t know.

Cyberbullying appears easy to the bully because they do not see their victims’ reactions in person, and thus the impact of the consequences is small. In reality, however, the consequences can be life altering to the extent that the victims could go as far as taking their lives or become psychologically distressed enough to require medical intervention. The ironically individualistic nature of social networking activities makes it difficult to recognize a victim of cyberbullying, but tell-tale signs include avoiding or being anxious around the computer or cell phone and sudden change in behavior patterns.

Sexting, the action of sending sexually revealing pictures of themselves or sexually explicit messages to another individual or group, is another common activity among the teen community in social media. A nationwide survey by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found a shocking 20 percent of teens participating in sexting. While teenage boys resort to sending sexually explicit or suggestive messages, teenage girls are more likely to send inappropriate photos of themselves, mostly to their boyfriends. However, the permanence and pervasiveness of the internet makes it a fertile ground for spreading such information to the extent of getting viral — 17 percent of sexters admittedly sharethe messages they receive with others, and 55 percent of those share them with more than one person. Beyond the personal trauma and humiliation sexting may cause, there are judicial ramifications as well; some states consider such activities as misdemeanors while many group sexting under felony.

Facebook depression,” defined as emotional disturbance that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, is now a very real malady. Recent studies have shown that comparisons are the main cause of Facebook depression; the study showed that down-comparison (comparing with inferiors) was just as likely to cause depression as up-comparison (comparing with people better than oneself). However, there are contradictory reports as well.Another study showed that Facebook makes us happier and increased social trust and engagement among users. Given that our brains are wired to connect, it seems logical to expect that social networks, by enabling sharing, could cause a self-reinforcing sense of psychological satisfaction. These studies show that the effect of social network on well-being hinges on how social networks are used — whether to connect or to compare.

Other risks of extensive social networking among youth are loss of privacy, sharing too much information, and disconnect from reality. The digital footprint is a permanent trail that users of social media, indeed of the Internet itself, leave the moment they sign into any service. The digital footprint, by its permanence, can have serious repercussions in future, in both professional and personal areas of life. It is important to know that every activity online — posts on social media accounts, comments left on various sites, tweets, retweets and +1s through yearscan contribute to the digital footprint. Another serious risk is the amount of information shared on social network sites. LexisNexis and Lawers.com surveyed 1,000 Americans and found that half of them divulged too much personal data online. What is more worrying is the fact that 44 percent of them believed that the information they posted on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace were being used against them.

Adolescence is the time to spread wings and take the tentative first flight out into the world, and parents and caregivers must be part of the process. In the domain of social networking, this entails parents becoming educated about the advantages and disadvantages of social networking and themselves joining social network sites, not to hover, but to be aware of the activities of their teenage wards. It is essential that parents are aware of and monitor privacy settings and online profiles of their wards. Open discussions about social network protocols and etiquettes would go a long way in establishing global digital citizenship and healthy behavior.

Writing credit: Co-authored by Lakshmi, a Mobicip blogger who is just as passionately opinionated about the juxtaposition of technology, parenting, and education.

The 10 Best and Worst Ways Social Media Impacts Education

By Jeff Dunn on July 11, 2011


Social networking communities are here to stay. Facebook has over 500 million users, while Twitter has over 200 million. That’s not even counting blogs or YouTube video blogs. There’s no doubt that students are actively engaged in online communities, but what kind of effects are these sites having and how can parents counteract the bad and bolster the positive?

The Negative

  1. Many students rely on the accessibility of information on social media specifically and the web in general to provide answers. That means a reduced focus on learning and retaining information.
  2. Students who attempt to multi-task, checking social media sites while studying, show reduced academic performance ). Their ability to concentrate on the task at hand is significantly reduced by the distractions that are brought about by YouTube, stumbleupon, Facebook or Twitter.
  3. The more time students spend on social sites, the less time they spend socializing in person. Because of the lack of body signals and other nonverbal cues, like tone and inflection, social networking sites are not an adequate replacement for face-to-face communication. Students who spend a great deal of time on social networking are less able to effectively communicate in person.
  4. The popularity of social media, and the speed at which information is published, has created a lax attitude towards proper spelling and grammar. The reduces a student’s ability to effectively write without relying on a computer’s spell check feature. (source)
  5. The degree to which private information is available online and the anonymity the internet seems to provide has made students forget the need to filter the information they post. Many colleges and potential employers investigate an applicant’s social networking profiles before granting acceptance or interviews. Most students don’t constantly evaluate the content they’re publishing online, which can bring about negative consequences months or years down the road.

The Positive

  1. Social networking has increased the rate and quality of collaboration for students. They are better able to communicate meeting times or share information quickly, which can increase productivity and help them learn how to work well in groups.
  2. Social networking teaches students skills they’ll need to survive in the business world. Being able to create and maintain connections to many people in many industries is an integral part of developing a career or building a business.
  3. By spending so much time working with new technologies, students develop more familiarity with computers and other electronic devices. With the increased focus on technology in education and business, this will help students build skills that will aid them throughout their lives.
  4. The ease with which a student can customize their profile makes them more aware of basic aspects of design and layout that are not often taught in schools. Building resumes and personal websites, which are increasingly used as online portfolios, benefit greatly from the skills obtained by customizing the layout and designs of social networking profiles.
  5. The ease and speed with which users can upload pictures, videos or stories has resulted in a greater amount of sharing of creative works. Being able to get instant feedback from friends and family on their creative outlets helps students refine and develop their artistic abilities and can provide much needed confidence or help them decide what career path they may want to pursue.

What Next?

How can parents mitigate the negative aspects of social media while improving upon the positive results? Moderating their access to social media is one excellent method. Most of the negative aspects can be overcome by reducing the amount of time spent on social network sites. Provide ample time for face-to-face social interaction, like having some family leisure time in which you discuss their studies in a relaxed atmosphere or inviting friends and family over for cookouts.

Paying attention to their academic progress and addressing any issues will go a long way towards keeping the negative aspects of social media from influencing their studies. So, too, will providing fun, face-to-face social interaction with loved ones.

Joseph Baker’s business experience in management and technology spans more than 15 years. A leader of development and management teams, he also implemented budget reductions professionally and as an independent contractor. Joseph led strategic planning and systems of implementation for nine organizations, public and private, and worked extensively with small businesses. He is an advocate for educational reform and a proponent of social media integration.

He holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management. Would you like to write for Edudemic?

This paper reports on college students’ everyday life information–seeking behavior and is based on findings from 8,353 survey respondents on 25 U.S. college campuses. A large majority of respondents had looked for news and, to a slightly lesser extent, decision–making information about purchases and health and wellness within the previous six months. Almost all the respondents used search engines, though students planning to purchase something were more likely to use search engines, and those looking for spiritual information were least likely to use search engines. Despite the widespread use of search engines, the process of filtering relevant from non–relevant search results was reportedly the most difficult part of everyday life research. As a whole, these students used a hybrid information–seeking strategy for meeting their everyday life information needs, turning to search engines almost as much as they did to friends and family. A preliminary theory is introduced that describes the relationship between students’ evaluation practices and their risk–associated searches.


Literature review
Research questions
Methodological issues


Besides “Googling it,” how do today’s college students look for information to solve problems in their daily lives?

As part of an ongoing research study, we investigated how college students conduct everyday life research — what types of information needs they have, and what information sources and practices they use to satisfy these needs.

Developmental psychologists have long identified the early 20s as a crucial time for learning and applying problem solving skills (Arlin, 1975; Commons, et al., 1989) [1]. Ideally, the college experience rapidly advances students’ cognitive development. Students are often asked about differences in viewpoint, what aspects of a topic may remain unexplored, and how a piece of knowledge or an issue may serve as a call for individual action later in life.

At the same time, students must perform information–seeking tasks for school, work, and their personal, daily lives, often for the first time. As a result, information–seeking activities may be equally or more complex for students than those undertaken by full–fledged adults who have already adjusted to life at large (Rieh and Hilligoss, 2008).

These factors make college students a unique cohort to study, especially today when an unprecedented number of students were born digital [2]. A parade of new digital technologies has been a constant feature in most of their lives. For this generation, information–seeking strategies are being formed, practiced, and learned. These methods are put to the test in the vast information landscape of their college years.

Overall, little is known about the everyday information worlds of today’s college students. What kinds of information do students frequently need in their daily lives? Which online and off–line sources do they use for solving information problems? What makes everyday life research difficult for them?

This paper presents findings from a survey of 8,353 students on 25 U.S. campuses in the spring semester of 2010. We collected data about how students conceptualized and operationalized research for personal use in their daily lives.

The primary contribution of this research is an inside view of the early adult’s everyday life research process. Specifically, we focus on students’ blended usage of computer– and human–mediated communication channels for solving information problems and evaluating sources in everyday life.

Literature review

Scholars in library and information science have long been concerned about college students and their information problem solving strategies. The concept of information literacy has been formalized as an essential element of a library’s mission, especially in college settings (Maughan, 2001).

In 1989, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) defined information literacy as a “set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” [3]. ACRL updated its standards in 2000 in response to three characteristics of the digital age: (1) a plethora of new information technologies and online information sources, (2) a professional concern about the “escalating complexity” of the information retrieval environment, and, (3) the critical need to teach undergraduates skills for lifelong learning [4].

Numerous books and dozens of studies have been devoted to information literacy instruction and assessment (Eisenberg and Berkowitz, 1990; Gavin, 2008; Gross and Latham, 2009; Oakleaf, 2011, 2008; Radcliff, et al., 2007; Warner, 2008). Qualitative and quantitative models for assessing the information problem–solving process have also been developed (Head and Eisenberg, 2009, 2008; Kuhlthau, 2004).

Despite these efforts, at last count, only 13 percent of a sample of test–takers made up of high school seniors and college students could be considered information literate [5].

Library and information science researchers have contended many college students have little or no knowledge of the on–going scholarly research process (Leckie, 1996). Most students are frustrated by the ambiguity of intellectual discovery (Kuhlthau, 2004).

Moreover, undergraduates struggle with finding different kinds of contexts (i.e., big picture, language, situational, and information gathering) when conducting course–related research, and to a lesser extent, everyday life research (Head and Eisenberg, 2009; 2008).

Regardless of the abundant online and off–line sources available to them, most students rely on a small collection of “tried and true” sources — course readings, search engines, and Wikipedia for course–related research (Head and Eisenberg, 2010; 2009).

Everyday life research

While one critical gap in the library and information science research has been its predominant confinement to information literacy in the context of formal learning environments, there is a thin strand of research about how college students conduct research for personal use in daily life.

In the mid–1990s, Reijo Savolainen, a Finnish scholar, first defined the research field ofeveryday life research. Applying Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, Savolainen developed a framework for understanding information–seeking behavior in work and at home [6]. Notably, he claimed that individuals engaged in hobbies and sought practical information shaped and solely driven by their personal values and attitudes (Savolainen, 1995).

Further studies in everyday life research introduced the concept of information grounds — purposeful and temporary places where serendipitous and informal information sharing occurs. These exchanges are a by–product of some intended activity, such as receiving treatment at health clinics (Pettigrew, 1999).

One study has investigated the information grounds of college students (Fisher, et al., 2007). Based on interviews (n=729), researchers found students frequently exchanged everyday life information in bars, coffee shops, and/or in hallways outside of classrooms.

Most college students in the study (70 percent) visited some sort of information ground daily. Nearly half the sample found the everyday life information they gathered useful, whether it was about a class or a new idea about life that had not occurred to them before. Overall, the research suggests college students frequently engage informal, serendipitous information exchanges with other like minds.

Online activity studies

As a whole there is a relatively small group of studies about everyday life research (Chatman, 2000; Dervin, 1992; Fisher, et al., 2007; Meyers, et al., 2009). A majority of the literature focuses on information sharing in conventional physically located places. The usage of alternate networked information grounds, such as Facebook, has yet to be widely studied (Savolainen, 2009).

The ongoing research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project is a bountiful “fact tank” about Internet usage. Based on telephone surveys of large U.S. samples, the Pew studies have focused on individual online activities.

Over the years, several Pew studies have focused on college students and their Internet usage. A 2002 study (n=2,501) found that 42 percent of college student sample used the Internet to communicate socially with friends and only 10 percent of college students used the Internet primarily for entertainment (Madden and Jones, 2002).

In a follow–up longitudinal study findings were compared with the 2002 Pew study and a 2005 replication study (n=7,421) (Jones, et al., 2009). Results from this study showed Internet usage for entertainment almost tripled for students between 2005 (28 percent) and 2002 (10 percent). Researchers suggested that e–mailing, searching, and browsing habits might have been replaced, within three years, by the use of Web 2.0 sites like Facebook and YouTube.

More recently, a 2010 Pew study reports how different generations use the Internet, including millennials — those born between 1977 and 1992 (Zickuhr, 2010) [7]. All in all, the study found millennials (n=676) frequently engage in a variety of information–seeking activities using the Internet. They rely on search engines to do so; a majority of them search for health, news, purchasing, and trip–planning information.

Taken together, studies such as these provide trend data about students’ online activities. In particular, the data have measured college students and their increased use of the Internet for social communication. A large body of scholarly studies has also delved into college students and their use of social network sites, specifically to acquire online social capital (boyd and Ellison, 2007; Ellison, et al., 2007; Valenzuela, et al., 2009).

The purpose of our research is to provide data about the range of students’ everyday life information needs, the online and off–line sources they consult, their evaluation practices, and the barriers and challenges they have with their processes. Findings such as these are significant for understanding what kind of lifelong learners college students, who were born digital, may eventually become.

Research questions

We investigated how college students apply their everyday life information literacy competencies — independently of course work, professors’ expectations, and grades.

The goals of this study were twofold: (1) to understand what information needs students have in their daily lives; and, (2) to explore how students solve and satisfy their needs for personal information by using online and off–line sources.

We studied how college students are conducting everyday life research in five related areas:

  1. What personal information needs occur in the daily lives of students?
  2. What sources do students consult for finding everyday life information?
  3. What predictors reveal which type of students are more or less likely to use search engines such as Google for solving information problems?
  4. What evaluation criteria do students use to judge the quality of sources they have found and whom do students ask for help with evaluating everyday life information sources?
  5. What is difficult about conducting everyday life research?


Our research was conducted as part of Project Information Literacy (PIL). PIL is a national study in the University of Washington’s Information School [8]. The ongoing research is a large–scale study of college students and their research habits. In this study, we have used the college student experience to study everyday life research behavior.

We collected data for this paper in two phases: (1) student focus groups in 2008, and (2) a large–scale survey with follow–up interviews in 2010.

Phase one: Student focus groups

The PIL team conducted 11 student focus groups on seven campuses in the U.S. between October and December 2008 [9]. On average, each session was 90 minutes long. A total of 86 students participated in the sessions.

We used the focus groups to find the consensus about participants’ research habits, approaches, and experiences. The qualitative data helped define response categories in our 2010 survey. A segment of the sessions focused on everyday life research. We discussed information needs, behaviors, and sources that college students used.

Participants ranged from 20 to 30 years of age. They were full–time sophomores, juniors, and seniors from four–year public and private colleges and universities, and full–time community college students, who had completed at least one semester at the institution [10]. Seventy percent of the students who participated in the focus groups were female [11].

The focus group sample consisted primarily of students in the humanities or social sciences[12]. This group of students, we assumed, was likely to be acquainted with “desk research” (i.e., secondary data that has been collected by someone else). The mean GPA for the total student sample across all seven schools was 3.44, or just above a B+.

Phase two: Large–scale student survey

We also collected data through a large–scale survey we administered to 112,844 students on 25 U.S. campuses from 6 April 2010 through 18 May 2010 [13].

Our sample size was 8,353 responses. The overall response rate was 7.4 percent.

The 22–item survey was administered online and ran for two weeks on each campus. One e–mail reminder was sent to non–respondents after the first week of the survey launch.

During our ongoing research, we have studied both course–related and everyday life research processes. We define everyday life information research as the information seeking conducted for personal reasons and not directly related to fulfillment of a course assignment. This includes information for solving problems arising in the course of daily life and to satisfy general inquisitiveness about a topic.

The data appearing in this paper is based on three survey topics about students’ everyday life information–seeking behavior. We asked respondents about their needs, approaches, evaluation methods, and difficulties.

Survey sample

We collected data from a large voluntary sample of sophomores, juniors, and seniors during the spring of 2010. Table 1 presents an overview of the demographic make–up of sample.

Table 1: Description of the survey sample.
Demographics N Frequency
Total 8,353 100%
Female 5,415 65%
Male 2,823 34%
Declined to state 57 1%
No response 58
Sophomore 2,255 27%
Junior 2,724 33%
Senior 3,374 40%
18 to 20 years old 3,046 37%
21 to 22 years old 3,684 44%
23 to 25 years old 675 8%
Over 25 years old 881 11%
Declined to state 28
No response 39
Arts and humanities 1,747 21%
Business administration 913 11%
Engineering 883 11%
Sciences 2,316 28%
Social sciences 2,366 28%
Double majors 73 1%
Undecided 48
No response 7
Private college or university (four–year) 1,236 15%
Public college or university (four–year) 7,040 84%
Community college (two–year) 77 1%

More students who were 21 or 22 years old (44 percent) took the survey than students of any other age group. In other words, the largest percentage of students in our sample were born in 1989 — the same year Timothy Berners–Lee, a researcher at CERN, wrote his initial proposal describing the World Wide Web.

More of the students in the sample were studying social sciences (28 percent), and the sciences (28 percent). Other respondents were studying arts and humanities (21 percent), business administration (11 percent), and engineering (11 percent).

The most frequently reported GPA was in the category of 3.4 to 3.7. As a point of reference, we calculated this grade point average as being between a B+ and an A- [14].

Follow–up interviews

Lastly, we conducted follow–up interviews with students in our sample who had volunteered their time (n=25).

The sample was segmented along four lines: (1) respondents with high (4.0) vs. low GPA (2.4), (2) disciplinary area of study, (3) frequent vs. infrequent use of librarians, and (4) specific difficulties with research.

Each interview was conducted by telephone and lasted from 15 to 30 minutes. The interviews were recorded and interviewees were asked for their permission to record. An audio file of eight hours and 10 minutes was the end result.

We used a script with seven open–ended questions as a guideline for the conversational interviews with participants. To ensure consistency, the same person conducted all of the interviews.

Methodological issues

There are several challenges associated with using a survey methodology in any social science research study.

It is one thing to limit conclusions to the sample of respondents who actually participate in the study and quite another when an attempt is made to generalize from those responses to some larger population.

The sampling strategy for descriptive studies relies upon the degree to which the sample is representative of a larger population. The most common approach to this problem is by means of a sampling design where there is a known probability of inclusion for every respondent sampled from a larger population.

In our research, the sample for our 2008 focus groups and 2010 survey were both composed of self–selected volunteers from a larger population. Such samples may be biased in unknown ways. There is no basis for making inferences to the population from the sample responses.

Another frequent issue is response rate. A limitation of our study is the seven percent response rate to the student survey. Clearly, a seven percent response rate is too low to be generalizable to the entire college student population.

Instead, analytical studies such as ours test the robustness of relationships appearing in the data. Thus, while it might be difficult to argue about the absolute level of utilization of a specific information–seeking technique, for example, focusing on relationships allows us to test the robustness of what has been found. It can be argued that these relationships do exist in the larger population and could be seen in any sample used to describe them.

While fully acknowledging that further research is required to confirm our findings, especially in terms of generalizing to the full college population, we assert that the relationships among variables are consistent across samples and reflect relationships that do exist in the larger population.

Clearly, response rate matters, but it matters more in descriptive than in analytical studies. This issue has been raised and the importance of a high response rate has been questioned in the last five or six years. The American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) (and others) has published provocative studies claiming the relationship between response rates and survey quality has become less clear [15].


Unsurprisingly, we found different information needs arose in the daily lives of college students.

Could a recent tick bite cause Lyme disease? What news is being reported in the hometown newspaper? What does a diagnosis of breast cancer mean for the patient? What is the starting salary for civil engineers? What are the values of a certain religious group? [16]

In our focus groups, participants identified three kinds of information needs. Participants discussed searching for information to (1) satisfy curiosity, (2) find a fact quickly, and (3) solve a specific information problem (Head and Eisenberg, 2008) [17].

Almost all of the participants described searches to satisfy their curiosity (e.g., the year in which the Boer War ended) and information for fact–finding (e.g., movie times at a local theater) as being quick one–offs.

Students also discussed searches for solving some information problems they considered somewhat riskier and more complicated. These searches sometimes lasted for days, especially since there was no deadline assigned by an instructor or a grade given as with course–related research (e.g., what a diagnosis of cancer in a relative meant).

As one participant explained, “Everyday research can be circuitous and time–consuming and it does not involve the same type of research skills as course–related research does. Often a lot is at stake with everyday research — the only way to find out if you are right is to go out into the world and see if your answer works for you.”

We heard similar comments about the connection between the importance of the problem and search time and effort from survey respondents in the follow–up interviews. One respondent said, “Money is a big basis for how I research things in my life. The more expensive something is, the more time I’m going to research and determine whether I really want it.”

Another survey respondent described a search for information requiring computer–mediated along with human–mediated sources.

In the case of curing food, if you do it improperly you can get sick and die. I went online and looked through a couple of blogs but the comments sounded really corny, so I blew those off and found a cookbook with basic information online.You need to be careful about what your sources are. I looked online but I also went to the County Extension Office and asked for credible sources, too. If you’re just writing a paper for class, it reflects on your knowledge, skills, abilities and ethics. If you’re curing a ham, the knowledge, skills, ability and discernment you use actually affect your health and your life. Big difference.

Taken together, nearly all of the participants agreed they were “more caught up” and “more engaged” in everyday life research than with course–related research. This was especially true when searches were meant to solve information problems with higher–stakes or real–life consequences.

Information for making decisions

Students we studied had a strong need to know what is going on in the world beyond the campus. More students in our survey sample (79 percent) had searched for news in the previous six months than for anything else (see Figure 1).

Yet, as a whole, the majority of students’ information needs were directly related to personal decision–making in their daily lives. Nearly three–quarters of the sample reported looking for information about a product and/or a service (74 percent) and/or health and wellness topics (74 percent). Another two–thirds of the sample had searched for information about jobs or a career (67 percent) and about travel and trip planning (61 percent).

Looking for information for making decisions trumped finding someone with similar interests, (i.e., social communication). Slightly more than half of the respondents (51 percent) reported searching for information for making social contacts. These findings suggest respondents drew a distinction between needing information for solving everyday life problems vs. communicating with others.

Further, less than half the sample reported that their recent search for information was related to their domestic life (46 percent). About a third of the respondents (36 percent) had searched for an answer to a work–related question and/or information about advocacy or causes (32 percent). Still, fewer students in the sample (24 percent) searched for spiritual information about a group and/or beliefs or to find an expert, such as a physician, therapist, or attorney (20 percent).

Overall, the results reveal students’ in our sample had an underlying hierarchy to their information needs. While most respondents sought information for staying current, another two–thirds of the sample looked for information about making decisions directly related to their individual lives (e.g., purchasing something, health/wellness, finding a job, and trip planning).

At the same time, few respondents appear to have searched for information that might lead to community involvement or civic engagement (i.e., advocacy or spiritual/religious information). These findings suggest students’ more frequent information needs may be more motivated by personal needs than community engagement.

Figure 1: Students’ everyday life information needs.
This figure shows information needs arising for respondents within the previous six months. Respondents were asked to “click all that apply.”

Finding information

Almost all the respondents relied on the same few information sources for finding everyday life information. A large majority of respondents used the Web for everyday life information needs. Nearly all of the respondents (95 percent) used Web search engines for gathering everyday life information (see Figure 2).

Similarly, focus group participants also mentioned using search engines. Unsurprisingly, most participants mentioned Google by name.

The combined familiarity of using Google and accessibility drove its use. As one focus group participant put it: “Google is always my first step, even though I know it may not be the best first step, but it is my most accessible one.”

In our student follow–up interviews, we also found that search engines serve up consensus, which some value. As one interviewee said, “typing something into Google and finding the same information from different sites verifies information for me — most people agree; they are thinking the same thing about a given subject — it works.”

Another frequently used source was Wikipedia. Almost nine out of 10 in the survey sample (87 percent) reported using it for everyday life research.

When talking with students, we found an inevitable relationship between Google and Wikipedia. In other words, they students recognized that a Google search often returned a Wikipedia entry on the first page of results.

As one participant in the focus groups explained: “I don’t really start with Wikipedia; I Google something and then a Wikipedia entry usually comes up early on, so I guess I use both in kind of a two–step process.”

A survey respondent we interviewed reported going to Wikipedia because “for the most part I trust Wikipedia because it is something that is double–checked by its users pretty frequently.”

Yet, we also found students surveyed did not solely rely on the Web when asked how often they consulted a list of 13 computer–mediated and human–mediated sources. A large majority of respondents also reported turning to friends/family, and classmates (see Figure 2).

Over four–fifths of the respondents (87 percent) turned to friends/family and classmates (81 percent) for everyday life information. To a far lesser extent, the sample turned to instructors (53 percent), and librarians (14 percent).

Convenience was a trigger for prioritizing the use of certain sources — both computer– and human–mediated. As one focus group participant explained, “I know it sounds kind of bad, but I’ll only ask a person for everyday life information if they are closer than my computer.”

In a follow–up interview, a survey respondent said, “my parents are generally the first people I ask because they are overall pretty intelligent and I can always get a hold of them.”

A large percentage of respondents also relied on their own documentary collections (75 percent) to meet information needs in daily life. These were materials already had in hand (e.g., notes, books, magazines, printouts of online materials).

A majority of the sample used other Web sites to find information. Almost two–thirds of the sample (63 percent) reported turning to government Web sites. Half the sample (50 percent) used blogs for everyday life information.

At the same time, seven out of 10 respondents (70 percent) used social network sites, such as Facebook, for everyday life information. The finding suggests respondents used social networks for solving information problems as well as for social communication.

We were struck by respondents’ reported use of online research databases (e.g., JSTOR, EBSCO, or ProQuest) for everyday life research. The sources are usually considered the domain of course–related research and are available through the campus library.

Yet, well over a third of the respondents also reported using research databases (40 percent) for finding everyday life information. Other campus materials used for personal searching by students in the sample included online and print encyclopedias, such as Britannica (37 percent) and the campus library’s shelves (28 percent).

Overall, findings confirm the conventional wisdom — the Web, and especially search engines, are the go–to sources for finding information everyday life. At the same time, respondents report, also relied heavily on friends, family, and classmates almost as much as they relied on the Web for everyday life information.

These findings suggest respondents are driven by familiarity and habit. The use of convenient nearby sources drives usage. Yet, to a lesser extent, respondents consulted materials in the campus library, including scholarly research databases. This finding suggests students may have also a need for authoritative fact–finding sources found through the library when conducting everyday life research.

Figure 2: Sources students use for everyday life information.
Results are ranked from the most to the least frequent sources students used for everyday life research within the previous six months. Responses of “almost always,” “often,” and “sometimes” have been conflated into a new category of “use.”

Ubiquitous search engine usage?

That nearly all of the respondents used search engines to find everyday life information is unsurprising. What needs to be examined, however, are the circumstances in which search engines were more likely to be used — and not used.

We used logistic regression analysis to investigate which members in our college student sample were likely to use search engines to meet which kinds of information needs.

We examined the relationship of specific student characteristics (i.e., age, major, information resource usage, and information needs) to the likelihood respondents would use search engines for everyday life research (see Table 2).

The model contained 27 independent variables in three groups:

  1. Information needs (e., health/wellness, news, purchasing, job–related questions, domestic life, work/career planning, spiritual, travel, advocacy, social contacts, and experts).
  2. Information resource usage (e., Wikipedia, friends/family, classmates, personal collection, government sites, scholarly research databases, social networks, instructors, encyclopedias, blogs, library shelves, and librarians).
  3. Major area of study (e., arts and humanities, business administration, engineering, sciences, and social sciences).

The model’s dependent variable was “the use of search engines.” We determined use by students’ response to a survey questions about the use of search engines during the everyday life research process.

The full model containing all predictors of search engine usage correctly classified 98.6 percent of the cases and had a (Nagelkerke) R–squared value of 28 percent. In other words, 28 percent of all the variance in the use of search engines can be accounted for by these variables, using this model.

As shown in Table 2, although their effect was small, five independent variables were associated with search engine usage with some substantive significance (.05 percent) level. These variables appear bolded and asterisked in the first column of the Table below.

Table 2: Predicting the probability of using search engines during everyday life research.
B S.E. P Odds ratio 95% for C.I.
Odds ratio
Lower Upper
Health/wellness .260 .227 .253 1.297 .831 2.206
News .253 .226 .264 1.288 .827 2.006
*Purchasing .812 .239 .001 2.253 1.411 3.596
At–work question -.162 .254 .524 .851 .517 1.399
Domestic life .194 .257 .451 1.214 .734 2.007
Work/career .278 .227 .219 1.321 .847 2.060
*Spiritual -.641 .262 .014 .527 .315 .880
Travel .355 .248 .152 1.426 .877 2.318
Advocacy .017 .304 .954 1.018 .561 1.847
Social contacts .322 .271 .234 1.380 .812 2.347
Search for expert .733 .441 .097 2.081 .876 4.942
*Blogs .730 .164 .000 2.075 1.504 2.863
*Wikipedia .492 .086 .000 1.635 1.381 1.936
*Government sites .513 .115 .000 1.670 1.332 2.093
Scholarly databases .199 .122 .102 1.220 .961 1.548
Librarians -.305 .182 .094 .737 .516 1.053
Library shelves .017 .156 .915 1.017 .748 1.381
Instructors .089 .114 .434 1.094 .874 1.368
Encyclopedias .087 .130 .504 1.091 .845 1.408
Classmates .111 .126 .377 1.118 .873 1.430
Friends/family .080 .115 .486 1.084 .865 1.358
Social network sites .129 .099 .192 1.138 .937 1.381
Arts and humanities majors (default) .416
Business majors .539 .365 .140 1.714 .838 3.506
Engineering majors -.117 .266 .660 .889 .528 1.498
Social science majors .199 .377 .598 1.220 .582 2.557
Science majors -.111 .373 .765 .895 .430 1.860
Constant -2.465 .504 .000 .085

Overall, the strongest predictor of using search engines was someone looking for information about purchasing something, with an estimated odds ratio of 2.25 (controlling for all other factors in the model). That is, the odds of someone using a search engine are 2.25 to one compared to their election not to use a search engine.

There three other predictors of search engine usage were: (1) someone who also used blogs for everyday life research, with an estimated odds ratio of 2.08 (controlling for all other factors in the model); (2) someone who used government sites for everyday life research, with an estimated odds ratio of 1.67 (controlling for all other factors in the model); and, (3) someone who used Wikipedia for everyday life research, with an estimated odds ratio of 1.64 (controlling for all other factors in the model).

Findings suggest respondents were likely to use search engines in combination with a small set of other information sources — blogs, government sites, and Wikipedia. Given the interactive nature of blogs, this finding suggests blogs may be a frequented networked information ground for search engine users.

Respondents who were looking for spiritual information about a group or beliefs were less likely to use search engines for everyday life research, with an estimated odds ratio of .53 (controlling for all other factors in the model) [18].

In other words, about half as many respondents used search engines when searching for spiritual information as when searching for other types of information.

Overall, the predictors from our model about the use of search engines are as follows:

  1. Respondents planning to purchase something were twice as likely to use search engines than those who were not (controlling for all other factors in our model).
  2. Blog readers were twice as likely to use search engines than respondents who did not use blogs (controlling for factors in our model).
  3. Respondents who used government sites and/or Wikipedia were one and half times more likely to use search engines than respondents who did not (controlling for all other factors in our model).
  4. Those who looking for spiritual information about a group and/or beliefs were less likelyto use search engines than those who were not looking for spiritual information.

Critical to a fault

Most searches for information involve sizing up the information quality of a source once it is found. Is the source credible? Is the source up–to–date? Is the information accurate? Is the source useful for the solving the information problem at hand?

We collected data about how frequently respondents judged sources using three criteria: (1) self–taught criteria, (2) traditional standards from the print world, and (3) domain–specific standards (see Figure 3).

Overall, we found most respondents were frequent evaluators of information for personal use. More than any other criteria, respondents relied on self–taught criteria for assessing the quality of everyday information they culled from the Web. More often than not, a site’s design received the most scrutiny (56 percent) [19].

As one participant in our focus groups explained, “the design of a site does a lot for me, if the color is bright pink, or lots of ads, or looks like it was made by a 15–year–old, then I think it probably isn’t worth my time.”

Similarly, in a follow–up interview, a survey respondent said: “When I’m searching the Web, one of the biggest things that I’m going to look at is the ease of use and if there is a bunch of broken links or ads for weird products then it’s a site I generally won’t trust.”

Another deciding factor for respondents was a site’s familiarity. More than half of the students surveyed (54 percent) reported that whether they had used the site before was a frequent criteria used for assessing the quality of Web content.

Yet, familiarity was clearly different than referrals, according to students sampled. Fewer students (44 percent) relied on whether they had heard about a site before and even fewer (11 percent) considered whether a librarian referred a site to them to use.

At the same time, students relied on traditional and formal standards — timeliness and authority — from the scholarly print world and librarianship. More than half of the respondents (54 percent) considered the currency of Web content (e.g., checking the data in footer details). They also relied on the authority of posted content, too, by judging the origin of a site’s URL (49 percent) and/or an author’s credentials (49 percent).

The least applied standards were domain–specific standards. That is, criteria specific to the Internet and often used for judging reliability, authority, and credibility of Web content (e.g., linkage, origins of a URL, footer details). Specifically, we found less than half of the respondents (43 percent) checked for a site’s external links whether an author had credited sources used (32 percent), and/or whether there was a bibliography of some kind (23 percent).

Figure 3: Criteria for evaluating Web content.
Results are ranked from most frequent to least frequent evaluation techniques. Responses of “almost always” and “often” have been conflated into a new category of “frequent use.”

Ask a friend

Students in our sample not only turned to people as information sources — they also trusted them when evaluating the quality of the sources they had found (see Figure 4). Almost two–thirds of the sample (83 percent) turned to friends and/or family when they needed help evaluating sources for personal use — more than any other people in their lives [20].

Respondents also asked classmates (74 percent) and instructors (45 percent) for help. Yet, far fewer students asked licensed professionals (35 percent) or librarians (14 percent) for assistance when evaluating information in their everyday lives.

Students in the follow–up interviews explained friends, family, and in some cases, professors were both trusted and convenient sources for both recommending sources and discussing the quality of information they found.

One student from the survey said, “I will ask my friends or my parents or even some professors about a Web site they would suggest, especially if I’m making purchases. For sure, I ask them for their knowledge and experiences so I don’t have to learn the hard way by having a bad experience.”

A few students we interviewed also said they often searched and evaluated online content on their own. However, if a search was important enough to them (e.g., making a purchase) they turned to another person in their lives for assistance.

One student from the survey explained, “sometimes I ask someone else, but it really depends on what I’m buying or how important something is to me but I usually wouldn’t ask someone about the reliability of a source because I feel I am pretty good at judging for myself what’s reliable and what I probably should stay away from.”

Overall, we found evaluation rarely occurs in a vacuum for the majority of students. Students tend to take little at face value when it comes to conducting everyday life research. Moreover, the findings suggest evaluation of sources frequently occurs and it is far from being a solitary task. Most students rely on friends and family when they need assistance — people in their lives close at hand, available, and trusted.

Figure 4: Asking for help with evaluating everyday life sources.
Results are ranked from most frequent to least frequent used people students turn to for evaluation guidance and help within the previous six months. Responses of “almost always,” “often,” and “sometimes” have been conflated into a new category of “use.”

Difficulties: Sorting and sizing up

Lastly, we investigated the difficulties with the everyday life information–seeking process. We collected data about 15 categories of research challenges.

We found respondents experienced the most problems during the later stages of the search processes for personal use (see Figure 5).

As a student in the focus group sessions explained: “What’s hard is finding the ‘right’ source that is exactly what you are looking for — it’s all there, but then how do I find that one source that helps later on when I need it again?”

Moreover, students surveyed struggled most with sorting through all they had found. Filtering relevant from non–relevant results (41 percent) was more difficult than anything else, the respondents reported.

To a lesser extent, students also reported being hobbled by being unable to locate information that they knew existed (33 percent). A quarter of the sample had trouble deciding when their search for an answer/information was actually finished (23 percent).

Evaluating sources for personal use (24 percent), and particularly, determining credibility (26 percent) also hampered a third or less of the sample of students.

The task of finding an information source — an early step in the search process for personal use — was not as problematic for respondents (18 percent).

Likewise, few of the sample reported having problems finding Web content (11 percent), creating search terms (17 percent), reading materials online (19 percent), finding current sources (19 percent) or finding articles in databases (20 percent).

The findings suggest that students have the most difficulty with using information — selecting from results they have searched and then netted — rather than the initial decision of which information source to use for a search.

The widespread use of search engines may further explain why sorting through results was difficult. Even the most poorly constructed search queries are likely to return results when search engines are used. But, making sense of the results — deciding and prioritizing relevance — is more complex and challenging.

Typing in a few search terms in the input box may be fairly easy, but deciding what use may be far more difficult. If an inferior information source is selected and applied, it may have dire personal and financial consequences, depending on the information need.

Figure 5: Difficulties with everyday life research.
Results are ranked from most to least agreed statements about student difficulties with everyday life research. Responses for “strongly agreed” and “somewhat agreed” have been conflated into a new category of “agreed.”


Overall, our data present surprising findings that belie conventional wisdom about the information–seeking habits of college students outside of the academic realm.

By far, not all of the searches college students conduct in their daily lives are one–offs to satisfy a passing curiosity, settle a bar bet, or to find something to do that night.

Instead, our discussions with students revealed that many searches involve decision–making to resolve a specific problem with real–life consequences. These searches were more time–consuming, sometimes going on for days. Almost all of the participants in our focus groups agreed that everyday life research was far more engaging than course–related research.

For many students surveyed, search engines such as Google were the go–to–source for everyday life information. At the same time, it is significant that we found some exceptions to the ubiquitous search engine rule.

Notably, when students in our sample were seeking spiritual information they were least likely to use search engines — about half as many respondents used search engines when searching for spiritual information as when searching for other types of information.

The data we present, though, does not explain why students use search engines less when looking for spiritual information. One explanation for this finding — the 24 percent of the sample who looked for spiritual information — is students found religious information (e.g., printed brochures) without using search engines [21].

In this sense, the data we collected from our questionnaire is limited. Our survey did discover spiritual information was a topic least queried with search engines, but this finding raises some interesting questions that are beyond the scope of our study and worthy of future research. For instance, what other topics may not be “search engine–first” topics? Why, according to users?

At the same time, we found respondents were more than twice as likely to use search engines when looking for purchase information [22]. This data suggests students do not use search engines under the same information–seeking conditions. In short, the findings tell us not all Google searches are created equal when it comes to information seeking in everyday life.

Moreover, we found a majority of our sample frequently used Wikipedia, social networks, and government Web sites for finding everyday life information. This finding suggests students use an information–seeking strategy that is not single–source driven. In other words, students’ searches for personal use do not automatically start and end by typing a few keywords into Google — many go to site addresses they already know.

To that end, it is significant that respondents reported using friends and family in their everyday life information–seeking process. The students we studied turned to friends and family more than they did Wikipedia. More than four–fifths of the respondents asked friends and/or family when they needed help evaluating sources for personal use. This finding suggests students use a hybrid information–seeking strategy that blends online sources (e.g., Wikipedia) with off–line sources, such as people that they know.

In a larger sense, these results are striking if they are compared with data we collected from the same sample about course–related research. We found fewer students in the sample turned to someone else for help when evaluating materials for assignments (Head and Eisenberg, 2010).

These findings lead us to conclude that evaluating information for personal use is a critical and highly collaborative process, perhaps, more than most may think. All in all, few students appear to let Web content stand on its own. Many students appear to apply a multi–faceted self–taught criterion for judging Web content, sizing up the design of a site, its familiarity to them, and its timeliness. In many cases, students discuss the quality of the information they have found online with a trusted friend or family member.

A preliminary theory

Our data lays the groundwork for a preliminary theory of the Web evaluation process used during everyday life research by young adults. Our theory proposes college students use a fairly involved process when evaluating — not just finding — certain kinds of Web content.

While researchers have found people initially use interpersonal sources (i.e., friends and family) for finding information sources about recreational activities (Kayahara and Wellman, 2007) and music (Tepper, et al., 2008) and then go online for supplementary information, our preliminary theory adds another piece to this puzzle. Our preliminary theory describes the relationship between students’ evaluation practices and their risk–associated searches.

Our student interviews, in particular, suggest students may be more likely to use a blended evaluation process by employing both online with off–line sources when more is at risk (e.g., spending money). In other words, when students perceive the consequences to be greater, they are more apt to go off–line to double–check the quality of information they have found with a human–mediated source, or sources.

At the same time, we fully acknowledge these suggested outcomes are based on a small set data in our study, derived from student interviews (n=25) or focus group comments (n=86). We have no data from the survey sample (n=8,353) connecting the relationship between associated risk and the likelihood of using a computer–mediated and human–mediated evaluation process.

We therefore recommend further research to explore the relationship between evaluation practices and risk associated searches in order to substantiate our preliminary theory. Results from a large survey sample along with statistical testing may help to reveal useful results. In–depth interviews may present other methodological options adding qualitative depth and richness to the data collected.

In either case, if it holds true that students “amp up” their evaluation efforts during risk associated decision–making, the findings would add an important piece to a blended Web evaluation theory. Future research may be able to answer additional questions about how online channels may be interwoven with human–mediated ones, to what extent, in what order of use, and under what information–seeking circumstances. What is the basis of a risk–associated search for students, besides making purchases? How far do students go in their evaluation process to offset their anticipated risks?

Depending on the findings, of course, the data may show today’s students spend time, dig deep, and double–check certain kinds of information well beyond what they find before them on the screen — even when answers may not be as nearby and convenient as what they may be able to find online.

In a larger sense, these findings provide further data that debunks the myth of “digital natives.” In other words, the findings would lend support that not all students who were born digital go online for everything. Our findings suggest many of today’s students may not think, learn, and find information in profoundly different ways from prior generations [23].

Ironic twist

Lastly, we address an ironic twist in our data, which suggests a different research opportunity. Despite their widespread use of search engines, our sample struggled with processing all that the sites served up to them. Specifically, more respondents found it difficult to sort relevant from irrelevant results than anything else when trying to find information for use in their daily lives.

This finding leads us to conclude that making use of everyday life information — getting to the most useful information — may be the information literacy skill students lack the most when it comes to their everyday life information research process.

Future research in information literacy about the challenges students face beyond their academic information–seeking activities is much needed. While our data tells us students suffer from information overload, future research needs to investigate what solutions and workarounds students may employ and to what end, as far as making them better informed in daily life.

In the often–neglected area of everyday life research, such studies could help inform librarians, educators, and administrators what happens to students the day after graduation — once they enter the workplace, communities, and become full–fledged adults and lifelong learners.


This study investigated how college students conduct their everyday life research. We studied the information needs, sources, evaluation practices, and challenges arising when students looked for information to use in their daily lives.

Overall, we found:

  1. Beyond the academic realm, college students frequently searched for information about news, purchases, and health/wellness in their daily lives. Respondents used search engines most often. Yet, they also turned to friends and family nearly as much, and also asked them for help with evaluating the quality of what they had found. These findings suggest students use a hybrid information–seeking process for finding information for personal use, combining computer–mediated sources with human–mediated ones in a fairly complex evaluation process.
  2. College students’ reliance on search engines to meet any and all information needs did not always prove to be true under any circumstances in our study. Respondents were least likely to use search engines when looking for spiritual information about a group and/or beliefs. In addition, they were twice as likely to be used for finding information about a possible purchase — and for making decisions with that had some level of financial risk (g., spending money). These findings suggest search engines, despite their frequent use, are not used for any and all kinds of searches in students’ daily lives.
  3. Ironically, students struggled with processing results and finding the good, relevant stuff they need. These findings suggest when students are left to their own — apart from course work, grades, and professors’ expectations — they may lack the skills for selecting the most relevant results they need for solving information problems in their daily lives.


Findings from this paper may present opportunities for librarians, educators, information resource vendors, who want to want to be proactive in training and transferring information literacy competencies to students. Moreover, their may be opportunities for students, who want to become more adept at finding information in their daily lives.

  1. We have found throughout our ongoing research, as a whole, teaching students how to develop effective information–seeking strategies for everyday life tends to be more implicitly than explicitly taught to students on many college campuses. Curriculum that teaches students how to craft more effective searches may directly benefit students the most, by giving them the life–long learning skills they can take into the workplace and their lives after graduation.
  2. In particular, students searching for everyday life decision–making information may benefit from more hands–on training and coaching from librarians and instructors in developing effective methods for getting at the results they value most. Also, students may benefit from learning hands–on critical thinking strategies for asking the most useful questions when turning to friends and family as information sources and co–evaluators.
  3. Based on students’ use of online database resources for everyday life research, there may also be some entrepreneurial opportunities for information publishers. There may be a market in developing everyday life online information sources for college students, in addition to the part and parcel sources already developed for course–related research and campus libraries.
  4. Lastly, this study lays the preliminary groundwork for further research in four areas: (1) how to teach and coach college students in finding everyday life information for use in their lives, future workplaces, and for lifelong learning; (2) what role blogs may play as networked information grounds in college students’ daily lives; (3) what the relationship may be among search engine usage, decision–making, and associated risk; and, (4) the usefulness of a Web content evaluation theory for describing how students size up Web content during everyday life research.