Research: Students Actually Use the Internet for Education


New research released by the National School Boards Association reveals data showing we all might need to reevaluate our assumptions: It turns out kids are actually using the Internet for educational purposes. In fact, according to the study, "Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social--and Educational--Networking," the percentage of children specifically discussing schoolwork online outpaces the percentage that spend time downloading music.

For the survey, the NSBA teamed up with Grunwald Associates to poll 1,277 9- to 17-year-olds, 1,039 parents, and 250 school district leaders who "make decisions on Internet policy." It found that a full 50 percent of students who are online spend time discussing schoolwork, and 59 percent spend time talking about education-related topics, "including college or college planning; learning outside of school; news; careers or jobs; politics, ideas, religion, or morals; and schoolwork."

Educational uses of the Internet

Further, these students are spending almost as much time on the Internet visiting websites and social networking services (nine hours per week for teens) as they spend watching television (10 hours).

A full 96 percent of students surveyed responded that they use the Internet for social networking purposes, including Facebook, MySpace, Webkins, and chat. Seventy-one percent said they use these services at least on a weekly basis.

"Yet," the study asserts, "the vast majority of school districts have stringent rules against nearly all forms of social networking during the school day--even though students and parents report few problem behaviors online. Indeed, both district leaders and parents believe that social networking could play a positive role in students' lives and they recognize opportunities for using it in education--at a time when teachers now routinely assign homework that requires Internet use to complete. In light of the study findings, school districts may want to consider reexamining their policies and practices and explore ways in which they could use social networking for educational purposes."

Beyond communications and networking, students are also engaging the Internet for creative purposes, from uploading podcasts to blogging to updating personal websites to writing articles that they submit to sites at least weekly.

Student social networking activities
(Click to enlarge image.)

And the study shows that schools are, for the most part, limiting, rather than facilitating, students' use of the Internet.

The vast majority of districts prohibit online chatting and instant messaging; and most prohibit sending or receiving e-mail during school, posting on bulletin boards or blogs, or using social networking sites. Almost all use software to block certain sites and require parents or students to sign an Internet use policy. The graph below breaks down these policies by the numbers.

District prohibiitions on social networking

When schools do encourage the use of the Internet, it seems to be largely for homework. Almost all schools (96 percent) said that at least some teachers assign homework that requires use of the Internet to complete, and 35 percent said that more than half of their teachers assign homework that requires use of the Internet. Ninety-five percent of districts reported that at least some teachers use Web pages to "communicate assignments, curriculum content, and other information," according to the study.

The report concluded that while safety and security issues involved with social networking require "thoughtful policies" from schools boards; but, at the same time, "parents and communities also expect schools to take advantage of potentially powerful educational tools, including new technology. Clearly, both district leaders and parents are open to believing that social networking could be such a tool--as long as there are reasonable parameters of use in place. Moreover, social networking is increasingly used as a communications and collaboration tool of choice in businesses and higher education. As such, it would be wise for schools, whose responsibility it is to prepare students to transition to adult life with the skills they need to succeed in both arenas, to reckon with it."

Support for the study was provided by Microsoft, News Corp., and Verizon. More details, including further analysis of the numbers, as well as data on Internet security concerns, can be found in the complete report, linked below.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at [email protected].

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at [email protected].

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 29-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEDavidNagel (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).