An empirical study of Internet usage pattern of undergraduate students in South Africa.

Author:Salubi, Oghenere Gabriel
 
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  1. INTRODUCTION

    The arrival of computers and the Internet has meant that enormous volumes of information resources that were formerly mostly limited to libraries and bookstores can be made available and accessible to a much wider community. Since the introduction of the Internet into the academic community, it has become the most popularly used electronic information resources and services in academic environments the world over by both academic staff and students alike to support their teaching, learning and research (Ani, 2010). The World Wide Web is an extraordinary resource for gaining access to information of all kinds, including historical, and each day, a greater number of sources become available online. According to Adekunmisi, Ajala and Iyoro (2013), the Internet is a public, cooperative, and self-sustaining facility accessible to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The Internet has broken down fences of communication and information access from anywhere in the world, and its capacity to transmit a vast amount of information to anybody anywhere in the world often makes it to be referred to as "Information Highway".

    Technology also improves education as it connects students and teachers with electronic resources and digital textbooks. It gives them access to new forms of information such as instructional videos and computer games. Students appreciate digital education because it engages them in the learning process and provides instant feedback on their academic performance (West, 2012). Many organisations have also assisted schools with computer aided learning facilities; for example, Facebook has implemented an innovative education program with the non-profit edX and Airtel in Rwanda. Called SocialEDU, the project gives students free access to the group's educational software plus a free phone to access the information. Pupils can take online classes and collaborate with fellow students through social media accounts (Newcomer, 2014).

    Internet use has become a common practice across generations (Anunobi, 2006), which has made it an indispensable part of our modern life in accordance with the information technologies that have been growing rapidly (Ozkisi & Topaloglu, 2015). Another reason for this rapid growth, according to Askoy (2012), is the global availability of the Internet which significantly makes it different from other information media. The introduction of the Internet into academic has witnessed an increase in Internet use among students and faculty members. Cravener (1999) noted that the increasing comfort among faculty members in the use of ICT for instructional purposes has consequently improved effectiveness of online teaching as well as reception among learners (Bavakutty & Salih, 1999). By providing dissemination of, and access to, enormous academic resources in almost all fields of human endeavour throughout the world, the Internet has become an invaluable tool for learning, teaching and research in institutions of learning (Ojedokun & Owolabi, 2003). The dearth of relevant learning and research materials in many university libraries in Africa makes the Internet the best alternative for up-to-date information to global academic resources for students.

    The Internet is considered the most effective and efficient medium of knowledge transfer and dissemination from the advanced nations to the developing nations in the digital age. Thus, infusion of the Internet into university education in Nigeria, as put forth by Nwagwu, Adekannbi and Bello (2009) has intensified access to archived information sources from various parts of the world, and it forms a first port of call for the Nigerian students to seek information for their learning and research. Parameshwar and Patil (2009) studied the use of the Internet by faculty and research scholars at Gulbarga University's library in India. The study showed that faculty members had longer experience of using the Internet than the research scholars. Hanauer, Dibble, Fortin and Col (2004) surveyed a diverse community college to assess the use of Internet by students for health-related information. The survey showed that although all the students surveyed had free Internet access through their community college, only 97% of the students reported having access to the Internet. The survey further noted that 83% of Internet users had access to the Internet at their homes, and 51% of the respondents accessed Internet at college or at the library. Just over 80% of the students reported they accessed the Internet mostly for college work.

    1.1. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

    This study was anchored on the Uses and Gratifications Theory (UGT). UGT assumes that media use serves functions by some specific content or by the medium in question (Katz, Haas, & Gurevitch, 1973). It sees the audience as active seekers of media in a goal-oriented way that provides them with the means of gratifying a variety of needs and that media users are aware of their needs. The uses and gratifications theory is a media-use model that helps in the evaluation of user motivations of media usage and access. The main focus of the theory is to explain the reasons that people choose a specific medium over alternative communication media and to clarify the motivation behind the use of a particular medium.

    UGT takes the viewpoint that audiences are active participants in the use and exchange of media and that they use the media to satisfy their needs. An interesting part of Uses and Gratifications theory is the emphasis on the human being as a (seemingly) rational and active self-aware entity (Blumler & Katz, 1974), making this theory as being the very opposite to the Hypodermic Needle Theory. Lastly, the theory urges us to look deeper into the very nature of human beings by exploring the many facets of the needs to "be connected" socially and psychologically through communication (Katz et al., 1973). UGT assumes information seekers/audience are active and not passive and consciously select content and media that satisfy information needs or desires. The audience takes an active role in interpreting and integrating media to their own lives. A student may choose to visit the library to do some research/ get an assignment done, or for escapism, or simply use the discussion room with friends. An individual may write a blog to fulfill needs for assertiveness. UGT's perspective emphasizes that motives, attitudes, and behaviors related to media consumption will vary by individual or group. Based on perceived needs, social and psychological characteristics, and media attributes, individuals use media and experience related gratifications (Papacharissi, 2009). The summary of UGT assumption is that: the audience is active, and its media use is goal oriented; people have various uses (needs) they seek to satisfy through media; audience members take initiative to link need gratification to a specific media; that media compete with other sources for need satisfaction.

    Five different constructs were identified from the theory relating to different need types. These constructs are: Cognitive need type--which relates to acquisition of information, knowledge and comprehension with media such as the Internet, the library and the television serving this need type. The Affective need type is second--and it deals with needs involving emotional, pleasant or aesthetic experiences. Movies and the Internet...

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