Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Article Note: On Undergraduates and Internet Abuse

Citation for the article:

Castiglione, James. "Internet Abuse and Possible Addiction Among Undergraduates: A Developing Concern for Library and University Administrators." Library Review 57.5 (2008): 358-371.

Read via Emerald.

I have to admit that title may sound a bit provocative, but the article does look at an issue that has potential to become a serious problem. The article looks at the literature of librarianship and of addiction to see if there is a problem with Internet addiction amongst undergraduate students. The answer is not an easy one.

The literature review begins with some basic statistics about Internet use for young people. The definition for young people does cover high school and college levels. The bottom line is that there is some relevant literature, but there is still a lot more to learn. What concerned me was that I often observe in the librarian blogosphere a very high level of cheering for Internet use and online social toys and tools that at times can be seen as inappropriate uses, especially in an academic setting. And this cheering is often done under the rubric of increasing circulation, bringing more people into the library, or just making the library look hip. I don't think some of those cheerleaders stop and think about possible consequences, and I have seen that questioning like I am doing now can lead to the "you just don't get it" syndrome. I think there is a lot of potential for good uses of the Internet and social software in a library setting, and some recreational use is fine. I am not saying some recreation is a bad thing. But when it becomes a significant distraction that can interfere with the academic performance of students, we have to ask questions, and we have to act to help prevent failures and dropouts.

As usual, let's look at some highlights and notes I made:

"According to Kubey (2001), studewnts who are 'internet dependent' and show evidence of 'academic impairment' tend to spend an inappropriate amount of time engaging in a full range of internet activities. It is precisely the time-consuming use of OPRGs. internet-chat, and other internet-enabled entertainment resources that are of growing concern to many university administrators, educators, librarians, and health care professionals" (359).

The article in the literature review does briefly look at how the educational establishment, higher education, has helped to make the students more internet dependent by making a myriad of resources available online. However, the challenge comes when the various distractions are also available in that same online environment via the internet. For purposes of the article, ORPG means online role-playing games. From the looks of it, the term seems just another way of saying MMORPGs. By the way, I have to note that the article does not include the Kubey citation in its bibliography. Clearly a small sloppy moment for the journal editors since the article cites that reference a few times without even a hint of a title. I think it is referring to the following:

Kubey, R.W., "Internet Use and Collegiate Academic Performance Decrements: Early Findings." The Journal of Communication (June 2001): 366-382.

That Kubey article does sound interesting, so I may be taking a look at it in the near future. I did print myself a copy. Moving along. Part of the problem with assessing this issue is that there is not much in terms of current, substantial, empirical evidence. A lot of the hypothesis and speculation draws on old research based on things like television and the concern that too much tv would take away from the educational experience. There is some extrapolation involved from that research to today. However, there is reason for concern, at least according to anecdotal evidence. Castiglione does observe that "anecdotal accounts of addictive and distractive potential of internet-accessible content and services are not new" (361).

The author also notes that the APA does not currently recognize internet addiction as a mental disorder. You may have to wait until the next revision of the DSM in 2012 to see if it makes it into the book. Now, there is concern that certain students can be specially vulnerable: the ones who use emotion-based coping strategies when it comes to stress related to academic problems and/or failure. We are talking the kind of kid here who uses distractions like alcohol, drugs, or the internet to distance himself from the problem. "It is the latter student, who in an attempt to distance themselves from the psychological stress associated with academic failure, may succumb to the temporary psychological distractions of alcohol, substance abuse and possibly, the inappropriate use of internet-accessible content" (363).

Kubey apparently also mentions a case where some university administrators at William Woods University, "noticing that major cultural events on campus were poorly attended, began offering students financial incentives to stay off of their computers and attend the scheduled cultural events" (qtd. in 364). I really have to go read that article now, and I have to look into this because I don't think I could go to my director and say, "hey, can we pay students to attend some of our library events?" I don't think that form of outreach would fly, so I am really curious how they justified it, assuming this is true. Having said that, one of my challenges is increasing attendance at our library events in a campus that has a fairly poor culture of students staying on the campus. We are still a primarily commuter campus, and even though we have residences, students are mostly locals who can and do go home on weekends. Getting student attendance at events is a challenge, but on the positive, I can say that I have gotten some numbers up, albeit with a lot of effort. But that could be a separate post.

Then we have the finding that "43 per cent of students appear to have failed [i.e. dropped out of school due to academic dismissal] due to 'excessive patterns of late-evening logins to the university computer system' (Young, 2004, p.408)" Add this also:

"While this finding alone is distressing enough, Schwartz (2003) uncovered growing concern on the part of the university faculty, who describe increasing student use of the internet during class lectures to be rude, distracting, and incompatible with sound pedagogy. For example, Schwartz (2003) interviewed Ian Ayers, a professor at Yale University Law School, who suggested that students who are distracted by the internet during class are not fully involved with the lecture. Thus, according to Ayers, these students lose the opportunity to gain the 'critical thinking skills' that emerge from a deep analysis of the information presented in class" (364-365).

Just don't tell that to the 2.0 cheerleaders. Very often when a point like this is made, the cheerleaders will have one of these answers:

  • Student today learn differently. They are better able to multitask, so it should not be a problem.
  • The professor needs to be using other teaching methods besides a lecture, so the students will find the class more appealing.
  • For all one knows, the students may (or not) be taking notes on their computers and looking up supplementary material for the class as they listen. Of course, they can also be checking their Facebook, their Twitter, and/or their MySpace.
The question of whether the students are actually learning or not is never addressed in those stock answers. And while I am in agreement with concepts like multiple intelligences and teachers using various techniques in a classroom, at the end of the day, students still have to be held accountable if they do not pay attention. At the end of the day, if they choose to goof off too much on the internet (or drink or party too much), they get kicked out of the school.

Now let's look at libraries:

  • Librarians are in a rapid-change environment. Castiglione commends them for being able to adapt and integrate new technologies in libraries. However, our professionals "have not had the time to empirically study the potential impact these changes are having on the individual library stakeholder's propensity to learn and be creative" (365).
  • Assuming we do get some good empirical evidence: "Based on the result of appropriately designed and executed empirical studies, librarians may consider adjusting bibliographic and other types of instruction services they offer in an effort to provide the skills not only to navigate the library, but to avoid and minimize the internet distractions that may have a growing negative impact on academic outcomes" (366). Librarians do have a role in helping students succeed, so I could see this work happening in library instruction and as part of teaching information literacy. "Through traditional bibliographic instruction (Regalado, 2003) librarians continue to play an important professional role in the successful transition of new freshman students to college and university life" (qtd. in 366).
And one more piece:

"Unfortunately, a review of the library literature provides no guidance whatsoever on the development of communication initiatives designed to modify high and inappropriate levels of recreational internet use" (367).

I have to say it depends on what library literature you are looking at. In terms of the many librarian blogs, there is a lot on recreational use of the internet in the library. As I mentioned earlier, much of it is more to encourage use, which can facilitate or enable some of the inappropriate behavior. Of course, that is something that the profession (at least some elements) does not like to talk about. It's cool to use MySpace, Facebook, online games and so on in the library, not so cool to discuss the consequences of overdoing it or when inappropriate behaviors intervene with other library users who do wish to make appropriate use of the library and resources. This may well be one area where the profession at large has dropped the ball so to speak. It is an area that, for one, requires investigation, and two, requires action and better role models of positive behaviors. Again, we are not talking about incidental uses or casual recreation. When said behaviors go into the inappropriate, the disruptive, and just so distracting as to interfere with academics, it is a problem. And while we do not want to be alarmist or hysterical (or heaven forbid come across as luddites), the questions do have to be asked. Why? Well, how about for this reason:

The fact that reports are now emerging suggesting that some students are disrupting the classroom learning environment and are experiencing distractions in the library--based on the inappropriate use of internet-accessible content unrelated to sound pedagogical objectives--appears to be a developing phenomenon that requires rigorous empirical study" (368).


waltc said...

Angel: "the literature" in cases like this almost always means "the formal, approved, indexed in appropriate places literature." The gray literature (which includes all blogs, Cites & Insights, and more) simply does not exist in most of these cases, no matter how widely read or influential it might be. (A third-tier journal averaging 50 actual readers counts for much more than a blog with 5,000 or an ezine issue reaching 40,000. That's life in library scholarship, as I've learned repeatedly. There are exceptions, but they're rare.)

waltc said...

Oh, and by the way, "selina" is spamming your blog. That's a classic spamment, there only to increase the pagerank and findability of the URL at its end.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Hey Walt :)

Yea, I will certainly agree that the literature is the formal one. A pity the grey does not exist since often that is where you find the current thinking, or at least you see it a lot faster.

And as for Selina, I had not gotten around to cleaning up. You caught it before I got to it ;) But we have scrubbed. One thing I miss in Blogger here is a good spam control. I use Wordpress (the web free version; figured I would try a different product) for my library's blog, and their spam control is pretty good.

As always, best and keep on blogging.

P.S. Thanks for the cite in the recent edition of C& I. I am still reading through the rest of it. Never miss it when it comes out.

Anonymous said...

I myself am very interested in how IM during home-work, would in my opinion, distract students and teach superficial academic skills, while many parents I meet appear to think that their offspring are multitasking super-humans. Anybody have a reference on a study on this?
Petur Petersen, University of Iceland