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Kouider Mokhtari is an ISU professor of literacy education in curriculum and instruction. Photo by Bob Elbert, ISU News Service (Print-quality photo.)
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ISU study finds college students are online regularly and reading more overall
AMES, Iowa -- College students are routinely using the Internet more than ever, but they're also spending considerably more time reading than they did 10 years ago. That's according to a new Iowa State University study examining data from a 2006-07 online survey of 539 students attending a "highly selective" but unnamed Midwestern university.
Kouider Mokhtari, an ISU professor of literacy education in curriculum and instruction; Carla Reichard, a senior research analyst at Iowa State; and Anne Gardner, a teacher at Garfield Heights (Ohio) High School, collaborated on the study. They summarized the results in an article titled "The Impact of Internet and Television Use on the Reading Habits and Practices of College Students," which will be published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, the professional journal of the International Reading Association.
In the study, 95 percent of students reported using the Internet "every day or almost every day" to do such things as use e-mail (90.4 percent), chat using instant messaging (63.8 percent), surf the Web (56.2 percent), listen to music (52.5 percent) and conduct research (47.7 percent). Students reported more enjoyment using the Internet than reading or watching television.
Students reading much more than before
But in spite of their regular Internet use, the students reported spending 7.98 hours per week on recreational reading and 15.19 on academic reading -- considerably higher than the amount spent by college students in comparative studies conducted in 1999 and 1994, according to the authors.
"There are some people who actually believe that kids are doing more reading now than they used to because of the Internet," Mokhtari said. "That has yet to be shown (in this study), but it's definitely an intriguing phenomenon that's worthy of further study and exploration."
Mokhtari says the ISU study tested the displacement hypothesis -- a theory (established by Stanford University researchers) that the more time American adults spend on the Internet is associated with reduced time spent on socializing with family and friends.
"When it comes to reading, the displacement hypothesis didn't prove to be true," Mokhtari said. "What we found was that Internet use did not interfere much with or displace time students spend on reading for recreational or academic purposes. Our findings actually support an alternate hypothesis -- the 'efficiency' hypothesis. It argues that the Internet offers a more efficient way of accessing information, and thus results in more resourceful ways of using time on other things -- including reading for fun and/or for study purposes.
"Keep in mind that this is a college student population," he added. "It's different from the general public out there in that these are students who are supposed to engage in a great deal of reading while in college."
TV third among students enjoyed activities
While watching TV was still a very popular activity among the students, they did not report enjoying it as much as using the Internet or recreational reading. They also indicated that the amount of time they spent watching TV reduced the time they spent on recreational reading and reading for academic purposes.
The students found reading for academic purposes to be the least favored of all four activities. Yet the researchers concluded that they seemed to engage in it fairly diligently, based on the reported amount of time they invested in it weekly.
The researchers also found that most of the students were multi-tasking while reading. Some indicated doing as many as three or four things (e.g., listening to music, watching TV, texting, etc.) while completing textbook reading assignments.
"This makes us wonder about the potential effect students' multitasking may have on efficiency with respect to reading comprehension," Mokhtari said.
While the time-diary survey used in this study didn't go into great detail regarding what students were doing while they were online, the researchers are planning a more comprehensive study with a larger sample of Iowa State undergraduates this spring.
"In addition to finding out the amount of time college students spend on the various activities such as reading, watching TV and using the Internet, we are planning to explore the type and volume of 'reading' students actually do when using the Internet, and the potential impact 'multi-tasking' may have on students' reading comprehension performance -- especially when reading academic or school-related materials," Mokhtari said.
The researchers are planning a future national study on the influence of Internet and other communication technology on college students' reading habits and practices.
A new Iowa State study examining data from a 2006-07 online survey of 539 students attending a "highly selective" but unnamed Midwestern university found that students are routinely using the Internet more than ever, but they're also spending considerably more time reading than they did 10 years ago.
"What we found was that Internet use did not interfere much with or displace time students spend on reading for recreational or academic purposes. Our findings actually support an alternate hypothesis -- the 'efficiency' hypothesis. It argues that the Internet offers a more efficient way of accessing information, and thus results in more resourceful ways of using time on other things -- including reading for fun and/or for study purposes."