Further education students and the internet : a case study
This research is a case study of the way students at a Further Education College are making use of computer technology, in particular their use of the Internet, both at home and at college. The research used a multi-method approach that involved the collection of data by use of questionnaire and interviews. The questionnaire was completed by two hundred students drawn from a range of courses offered at the college. The students invited to complete the questionnaire represented both full time and part time students. From the students who completed the questionnaire twenty were invited to take part in individual interviews. From the data collected the researcher has been able to establish a link between a student's cultural background and their use of computers and the Internet. The researcher has been able to gather data to support the theory that for students from some cultural backgrounds there is a likelihood that they will use Infonnation Technology for certain tasks more than students with a different cultural background. As a means of identifying groups of students who could be described as having the same cultural background the data gathered was analysed by comparing students by gender, ethnic group and religion. This research has shown that the use of computers and the Internet has become part of everyday life and as such part of our society's culture. However the research has shown that different cultural groups within our society are using the Internet in different ways and for different purposes. The data showed that male students had a more positive attitude towards computers than female students; it was also found that male students made more use of email at college than female students. The researcher has found two significant differences regarding students' use of the Internet, namely that males use the Internet more than females for entertainment and that students from a Pakistani ethnic origin use the Internet more than white students for private use. Students from Pakistani ethnic origins were also found to use email at home more than students from other ethnic backgrounds. Part of the questionnaire was used as a student self-assessment of Infonnation Technology (IT) skills and the training they had received. Analysis of this section of data showed that whilst the amount of training of students in the use of IT is independent of gender, religion and ethnicity the level of skills claimed was not. Male students claimed a higher level of IT skills than female students and the level of skill in IT claimed by Christians is significantly less than that claimed by both Muslims and those of no religion. The questionnaire results led the researcher to believe that students from different cultural backgrounds were using computers and the Internet differently. The interviews were used to probe the implications of these differences with students from particular ethnic groups. The results showed that, at the college where the study took place there were Muslim Pakistani females students who were using the Internet as their main means of social interaction, when not at college. For these students this level of social interaction would not have been available to them they did not have access to the Internet. These students were making extensive use of chat rooms on the Internet. They prearranged to talk on line to people they knew, and they did this on a regular basis. This is in contrast to female students from other cultural groups who did not use chat rooms to the same extent, and when they did it was to talk to people they did not know. The research also found that some computer use was independent of a student's cultural background. One such area related to students having difficulties or problems when using the Internet. From the students interviewed the researcher believes that for many of the students the instruction they are receiving, particularly with reference to using the Internet, is inadequate to meet their needs. In addition to the lack of IT training, some students saw the monitoring of computer use as problematic. Parental monitoring students' use of computers at home was mainly done by having the home computer located in a family room. Few of the students said that content monitoring software was being used on these machines. All students accepted this monitoring within the home environment but many were unhappy with the monitoring arrangements that the college had put in place. This research project has shown that it is not sufficient for future education researchers to investigate computer use in terms of type of use alone, as has been the case in many previous studies. This research has shown that how students choose to use computers needs to be interpreted in terms of their gender and cultural background.