Internet becomes part of everyday life for college students

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2002

CHICAGO -- Andy Perez uses the library at Rice University in Houston for the quiet, not the books. He does his research online.

Edell Fiedler taps into the Internet to register for classes and check grades at Minnesota State University, Mankato, sometimes saving her the 60-mile drive to school. Rakesh Patel regularly uses e-mail to ask his professors at Chicago's DePaul University questions about assignments.

Stories like those have become increasingly common on college campuses. Now a new survey, released Sunday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, has confirmed what they suggest: the Internet has become an integral part of college life, and not just for studying.

The survey of college students across the country found that 86 percent use the Internet, compared with 59 percent of the overall U.S. population.

''For this group of college students, the Internet just works. It's like turning on the tap and getting water or turning on the TV,'' says Steve Jones, the report's lead author and chairman of the communications department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Anyone walking into a college computer lab, or classrooms that have computers, is likely to find students flipping through any number of Internet activities. They surf for information for assignments, download music files and play online games -- all the while taking time to message friends who may be across campus or across the world.

It's what David Silver, an assistant professor of communication and the director of the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies at the University of Washington, calls ''social multitasking.''

The survey found that much of students' Internet surfing is not related to schoolwork.

In fact, 42 percent of students who use the Internet say they use it most often to keep in touch with friends by instant message or e-mail, compared with 38 percent who use the Internet most often for academics. Nearly three-quarters say most of the e-mail they send is to friends.

''My old roommate had Instant Messenger open 24 hours a day,'' Perez says, referring to the America Online service that allows private, real-time conversations via computer.

Though he thinks that's a bit excessive, Perez acknowledges checking his own e-mail ''every minute'' he's logged on.

That doesn't mean students are slacking off. Jones says his research indicates that students are simply using the Internet to help them pack more activity into less time.

Nearly 80 percent of students surveyed said the Internet has added to their college academic experience, while 56 percent said e-mail alone has enhanced their relationships with professors.

The survey, which has a margin of error of 2 percentage points, was distributed randomly and answered by 2,054 students this spring.

E-mail ''gives you the ability to revise and edit your thoughts more carefully, whereas you might become nervous and slip in a public setting,'' says Ron Ayers, a Boston resident who recently graduated from Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.

At Clarkson, Ayers oversaw that school's version of the Daily Jolt, a group of student-run Web sites that include everything from campus news and weather reports to dining hall menus.

''If they didn't have the Internet, I find it highly doubtful that they would read newspapers,'' Ayers says of his college peers.



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