18598875 | Standard Deviation | Internet

CYBERPSYCHOLOGY & BEHAVIOR Volume 8, Number 5, 2005 © Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Instructional Set and Internet Use by Low-Income Adults
LINDA A. JACKSON, Ph.D., ALEXANDER VON EYE, Ph.D., FRANK BIOCCA, Ph.D., GRETCHEN BARBATSIS, Ph.D.,YONG ZHAO, Ph.D., and HIRAM FITZGERALD, Ph.D.

ABSTRACT This research examined the effects of instructional set on Internet use by low-income adults during a 16-month longitudinal study. Participants (n = 117) received instructions that focused on either the Internet’s communication tools or its information tools. Internet use was continuously and automatically recorded. Survey measures of computer and Internet experiences, affect and attitudes were obtained to examine their mediational role in the relationship between instructional set and Internet use. Results indicated that instructions focused on the Internet’s information tools led to greater Internet use than instructions focused on its communication tools or only basic instructions about how to use the Internet. Implications for reducing the digital divide are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

H

OMENETTOO is a longitudinal field study designed to examine the antecedents and consequences of home Internet use in low-income families (<www.msu.edu/user/jackso67/homenettoo>). The study began in 2000 when 90 families received home computers, Internet access and in-home technical support in exchange for allowing their Internet use to be continuously and automatically recorded, participating in home visits, and completing surveys at multiple points during the 16month trial. This report focuses on whether instructions about how to use the Internet provided at pre-trial, 1 month, and 3 months influenced subsequent Internet use. Also considered is the mediational role of early computer and Internet experiences, affect and attitudes on the relationship between instructional set and Internet use. Previous research suggests that communication and information are the primary motives for using the Internet, and that communication is generally the stronger of the two.1,2 Indeed e-mail has been referred to as the “killer application” of the Internet.1,3–8 According to researchers at

Carnegie Mellon University: “Despite the hoopla surrounding the WWW, and not to dismiss its power in many domains, it is possible that interpersonal communication is driving the average person’s use of the Internet.”1 In support of the view that communication is the primary motive behind Internet use, national surveys indicate that the overwhelming majority of people who use the Internet at home use it mainly for e-mail.9–12 Even information search is often motivated by the need to communicate with others. The most popular reason for using a search engine is to find other people.13 On the other hand, the monumental success of the World Wide Web attests to the importance of information motives in everyday use of the Internet. The Web is quickly replacing traditional sources of information (e.g., newspapers), especially among today’s youth.2,8,12 With virtually no limit to the number of Web pages in sight, the Web will likely become the primary source of information for everyone who has access to it. In the HomeNetToo project we examined whether focusing instructions about how to use the Internet on either its communication or informa-

Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

465

Basic instruction consisted of verbal instructions from the visiting undergraduate “technology facilitator. female (80%). save and delete an email.” a facilitator-guided demonstration of how to turn on and off the computer and how to logon to the Internet and use email. Instructional set Also examined in this research was whether computer and Internet experiences. At one month the participant. Procedures Three instructional set conditions were created by varying the Internet activities that participants engaged in during home visits at pre-trial. Also necessary was that participants had never before had home Internet access. Participants in the communication condition were first given basic instruction about how to use the Internet. indicating that our sample was better educated than is typical of low-income samples.17 Average age of participants was 38. Although there is abundant research on the correlates of Internet use. how long it takes (typically) between sending and receiving an e-mail. tion tools would influence Internet use in the months that followed. relocation to another city (two families). At pre-trial participants in the communication condition. where he or she selected one of three online tutorials about how to use e-mail. Participants in the project were low-income adults. Fewer still use continuously and automatically recorded measures of Internet use. medium-sized urban community in the mid-western United States.7.4 MATERIALS AND METHODS Participants Adult participants in the HomeNetToo project were 117 residents of a low-income. and earning less than $15. Online tutorial options are presented in Table 1. Approximately 140 children of the 117 adult participants discussed in this report also participated in the project but completed different surveys. The majority of participants reported having some college education or earning a college degree (62%).14–18 Lowincome adults are of particular interest not only for testing the generalizability of previous findings but also for identifying barriers to Internet use that may be unique to this group. Participants were randomly assigned to instructional set condition. A total of 90 families participated in the project.e. a group neglected in much of the research on Internet use. Demographic characteristics obtained at pre-trial indicated that participants were primarily African American (67%). and all adult family members were required to participate in them. and 3 months. the 16-month trial. navigated the project’s web site to an Online Activities drop-down menu.19–28 few studies use longitudinal designs that permit a consideration of cause-effect relationships. together with the visiting technology facilitator.3. Home visits lasted about 1. households were randomly assigned to conditions). attributable to death (one family). Only four families did not complete the 16-month trial. affect and attitudes mediate the relationship between instructional set and Internet use. Internet and e-mail. and handouts prepared by project staff about how to use the computer. Michigan. net household income). Following the tutorial the participant was guided through the process of sending an e-mail to himself or herself and project staff. and difficulties monitoring teenager’s use of the Internet (one family). During this activity the technology facilitator pointed out how new e-mail was indicated on the screen. consent to having their Internet use continuously and automatically recorded. with guidance from the visiting technology facilitator..5 h. Both types of instructions will results in greater Internet use than only basic instructions about how to use the Internet. the only restriction being that all members of the same household participate in the same condition (i. Based on previous research the following hypothesis was formulated: Instructions on Internet use that focus on its communication tools will result in greater Internet use than instructions that focus on its information tools. and agree to completing surveys and participating in home visits at multiple points during Communication condition. how to open. never married (42%). and how to view contents of the sent folder. To participate in the project a family had to have home telephone service for at least the previous 6 months.6 years old.000 USD annually (49%. Invitations were extended to all parents whose children were eligible for the federally subsidized school lunch program. including computer and Internet experiences and attitudes.8. repeated the process . 1 month. Participants were recruited at meetings held at their children’s middle school and at the Black Child and Family Institute.8. Lansing.466 JACKSON ET AL.

together with the visiting technology facilitator. and the Web.com iVillage. and information tools often involve communication.learnthenet. Basic instructions condition.com/english/section/ Mailing lists How To Use Mailing Lists: http://www.html Exploring Usenet Groups: http://www. The online tutorial options for mailing lists are indicated in Table 1.bexta. Information condition.nz/about_telecom/tutorial Newsgroups Learn The Net: Newsgroups: http://www. At 1 month the process was repeated.com/english/html How NewsGroups Work: http://www.webnovice.com/skills2k/e-mail.com/searches. number of sessions (logins per day). and emphasizes information rather than communication.html Navigating the Internet: http://www. Thus.INSTRUCTIONAL SET AND INTERNET USE 467 that occurred during the pre-trial home visit. their mode of delivery and posting is e-mail. To examine TABLE 1.imaginarylandscape. Then.com Chat http://www.org/reference/e-mail. the quintessential communication tool of the Internet. and handouts prepared by project staff about how to use the computer. Participants in this condition received only basic instructions about how to use the computer and Internet.loc.com/chat/ WWW Webnovice. Internet communication tools often serve information functions. identical to those received by participants in the communication condition.com: http://www. Internet and e-mail. We categorized Internet tools as communication or information based on their primary use and on how personal they appear to the user. the same process was repeated except that the topic of instruction was Internet chats (Table 1).learnthenet. at pre-trial.htm Explore the Internet: http://lcweb. Although mailing lists provide information.co. At 3 months.newbie. Internet use Four measures of Internet use were automatically recorded for 16 months for each participant: time online (minutes per day).htm Learn the Net E-mail: http://www. ONLINE TUTORIALS E-mail Newbie Guide to E-mail: http://www. 1 month.telecom.com/usenet . a facilitator-led tour of how to use the computer.gov/global/explore. the process was repeated again.com Talkcity. except that the topic of instruction was mailing lists rather than e-mail.ivillage. Thus.learnthenet.com/english/animate/forums.neolink.htm Search Engine Fundamentals: http://www.com Web search Search Engines & Directories: http://www. e-mail. number of domains visited (per day) and number of e-mails sent (per day).com: http://www.yahoo.learnthenet.com/searches.html Microsoft E-mail: http://www.bizland.htm Telecom Tutorials: Searching: http://www2. at pretrial.com/search. navigated the project’s web site to the Online Activities dropdown menu where he or she selected one of the online tutorials about the WWW (Table 1). Internet and e-mail. the participant. Web search and newsgroups as information tools.com/english/animate/ Electronic Mailing Lists: http://www. Although newsgroups provide a means of communicating. Participants in the information condition first received basic instructions about how to use the Internet. except that the topic of instruction was newsgroups. and 3 months.webnovice.com/helpweb/ Index of Mailing Lists: http://paml.net/ Chats Yahoo Chat: http://chat.deja.talkcity. except that the topic of instruction was search engines. mailing lists and chat were categorized as commu- nication tools. their mode of delivery and posting is impersonal. they received verbal instructions from the visiting technology facilitator.actden. At three months.

001. 1 = strongly disagree.05. Internet affect (10 items).49) = 3. p < ..85) or basic instructions conditions (M = 1. 5 = strongly agree).72.48. F(2.g.. which did not differ from each other. number of sessions. number of sessions.. p < . Computer attitudes (four items. Pre-trial measures were obtained of previous experience/skills using computers (three items. e.g.53). F(2. 5 = strongly agree). Mode = 1.. I enjoy using the Internet. 1 = strongly disagree.01. e.g. income. p < . e. Md = 2. Participants in the information condition spent more time online than did those in the communication or basic instructions conditions. education). and number of domains visited.80 to . positive affect (five items. sd = 1. 5 = strongly agree)..14. The time periods were as follows: time 1 (1–3 months). e.99. Overall.g. 5 = very successful). F(2. previous experience/skills using the Internet (three items.g.. 49) = 0. 5 = very good skills) and demographic characteristics (race. e. p < . 5 = strongly agree). negative affect (five items. I feel tense when I use the Internet..91.. gender. F(2. pre-existing differences among the instructional set groups in their experience/skills using computers and the Internet.71. Using a computer is fun. Univariate statistics revealed main effects of instructional set for time online.e. technophobia) and Internet affect (positive and negative) were computed. Composite scores (arithmetic averages) were computed for previous experience/ skills using computers (alpha = . time online.89.84. e. 1 = strongly disagree. Internet attitudes (nine items. e. Because of high variability and skewed distributions. number of e-mails sent) during each time period (i. time 5 (13–16 months).42) than did participants in the information (M = 1. Md = 1.g. Composite measures (arithmetic averages) of computer affect (positive. time 4 (10–12 months).70).468 JACKSON ET AL. One-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) indicated differences among the instructional set groups in their previous experience/skills using the Internet.02. changes over time each of these measures were divided into five time periods. Instructional set and Internet use Multivariate ANOVAS were used to examine the effects of instructional set on Internet use (i. Therefore. Coefficient alphas for these measures ranged from . 1 = strongly disagree. F(2. indicating good reliability. Internet experiences (five items.g. Participants in the communication condition had more Internet experience/skills (M = 2. I get nervous when I use a computers. 1 = strongly disagree. F(2... A significant multivariate effect of instructional set was obtained at time 2. M = 2.e. sd = 1. and because the focus of this research was on Internet use rather than computer use. age. Because these composite measures were highly correlated (r = . 5 = a great deal of experience).g.03). three that corresponded to survey administration points plus half-year and 1-year points.g. 5 = strongly agree). 5 = very anxious).09. negative affect (five items. 1 = strongly disagree. marital status. number of domains visited. Previous experience/skills using the Internet was included as a covariate.g. e. Using the Internet helps children to do better in school.25) and previous experience/skills using the Internet (alpha = . M = 1. previous experience/skills using the Internet was included as a covariate in the analyses examining the effects of instructional set on Internet use.15. adapted from previous research:3.110) = 7. Means for the instructional set groups are presented in Table 2.94.. time 3 (7–9 months). how would you rate your skills at using the Internet? 1 = no skills. 5 = strongly agree).80. Participants in the information condition engaged in more Internet ses- RESULTS Preliminary analyses Before examining the effects of instructional set on Internet use we examined whether there were . or thinking about doing each of the following? e. p < . time 2 (4–6 months). technophobia (11 items. Computer affect: positive affect (five items. How anxious (nervous) do you feel when you are doing.29 Computer experiences (three items. Getting an “error message” on a computer? 1 = not at all anxious. Mode = 1. negative. e.22. but not for number of e-mails sent.g. previous experience/skills using the Internet was the measure used in subsequent analyses.46) = 2. How successful have you been in finding information on the Internet? 1 = very unsuccessful. time 1 to time 5). log transformations of Internet use measures were used in all analyses. p < .05 (Wilks’ Lambda).. Survey measures Surveys administered after the three-month home visit included the following measures. 49) = 4.. 49) = 4. e.92. 5 = very successful). Using computers helps children to do better in school. How would you rate the extent of your experience with computers? 1 = no experience. How successful have you been in using your computer? 1 = very unsuccessful.67.05.

Although differences did not reach statistical significance for the other time periods. affect and attitudes Given the evidence that instructional set influenced Internet use. F(2.44 0.31 0.15.82 11. Participants in the information condition used the Internet most.05). they would be viable candidates for mediating the relationship between instructional set and Internet use. sample size. controlling for previous experience/skills using the Internet. Participants in the communication and information conditions believed that computers were more important to children’s success in school (Ms = 4.56 . instructions that focused on the Internet’s communication tools did not result in greater Internet use than basic or information-focused instructions. regardless of which measure of Internet use was considered. e-mail success and beliefs about the importance of computers to children’s school success cannot explain the relationship between instructional set and Internet use.89 1. instructions that focused on the Internet’s information tools resulted in greater Internet use than only basic instructions about how to use the Internet.46 0.23 Communication (n = 38) Mean Time online (min) Number of sessions Number of domains visited Number of e-mails sent 42.18 0.12.05). If so. p < . standard deviation. One explanation for the failure of communication-focused instructions to increase Internet use may lie in the infrequent use of the Internet’s communication tools. Values are per day at time 2 (4–6 months) n. HomeNetToo participants seldom used e-mail. If so. then these measures may mediate the relationship between instructional set and Internet use.12 21. Evidence presented elsewhere indicated that chat and instant messaging were similarly infrequent activities for both adults30–32 and children in the project. INSTRUCTION SET AND INTERNET USE Information (n = 43) Mean 56.11 0. but not compared to those in the basic instructions condition (M = 3.70 0. while instructions about how to use the Internet’s communication tools were clearly helpful. respectively) than did participants in the basic instructions condition (Ms = 4.33 Internet use was automatically recorded. sions and visited more domains than did those in the basic instructions condition. and those in the basic instructions condition used it least.41 0.50). Consistent with predictions.82 13.INSTRUCTIONAL SET AND INTERNET USE 469 TABLE 2.69 2. Results indicated that neither e-mail success nor attitudes about the importance of computers to children’s school success predicted Internet use.25. Instructional set influenced computer experiences and attitudes. use of these .103) = 3.66 0.24) than did those in the information condition (M = 2. they were consistently in the same direction.53. sending an average of only two to three e-mails per week throughout the 16-month trial. Next we examined whether e-mail success and attitudes about the importance of computers to children’s success in school predicted Internet use at time 2.09 sd 74. sd. contrary to predictions.21 sd 70. There were no differences among the three instructional set groups on pre-trial measures of computer and Internet affect or attitudes. 4. with previous experience/skills using the Internet as a covariate. F(2.30 DISCUSSION Instructions about how to use the Internet provided to low-income users influenced their Internet use in the months that followed. MANOVAs were performed for each set of measures.99 14.01. Participants in the communication condition reported more success using e-mail (M = 3. Mediational effects of computer and Internet experiences.55 7. Regression analyses were performed separately for each measure to predict Inter- net use.18 Basic instruction (n = 35) Mean 29.12.103) = 3.33 Thus. we examined whether instructional set also influenced computer and Internet experiences.72 sd 127.52 0. affect and attitudes. Results of analyses to examine the effects of demographic characteristics on Internet use and survey measures.96 12. and results of analyses of survey measures obtained at nine months and post-trial may be found in Jackson et al. p < . contributing to e-mail success. However. Thus.

Factors influencing later Internet use are seldom considered in cross-sectional studies that examine correlates. Emphasizing the Internet’s information tools may be especially important in introducing the Internet to low-income groups.31 Findings from the HomeNetToo project underscore the importance of longitudinal studies to understand everyday Internet use. in the absence of family. the Web). questions asked during the instructional sessions) Participants made good use of the Internet’s information tools (i. it may still be the case that contrary to previous claims. evidenced in our ethnographic data. who typically have fewer resources with which to access information. friends and co-workers online. accounting for the greater overall Internet use in the former condition. Indeed every effort should be made to encourage low-income users to use the Internet’s communication tools so that they too may benefit from the social connectedness that such use seems to foster in higher-income users.g. Instructions that focused on how to use these tools resulted in greater Internet use than when only basic instructions about how to use the Internet were provided.. Poor people do not typically have home Internet access. If low socioeconomic groups are leaving the Internet at more rapid rates than are higher socioeconomic groups. More research is also needed on Internet “churn” – the cessation of Internet use over time—and the implications of differential churn rates for the digital divide. As alternative explanation for the infrequent use of the Internet’s communication tools observed in our sample is that using such tools tends to require more complex typing and writing skills than are required to simply find information. then the digital “use” divide may be widening at the very same time that the digital “access” divide is narrowing. HomeNetToo adults were not employed in occupations that required or encouraged e-mail communication with colleagues. Both included online tutorials that were chosen specifically to have similar difficulty levels.A. Thus. Nor was there any indication in the behavior of our participants that they found one instructional condition more difficult to understand than the other (e. Our findings suggest that factors influencing early Internet use may become less important over time. one implication of our findings is that more emphasis should be given to the Internet’s information functions rather than its communication functions in introducing the Internet to low-income users and in encouraging Internet use. Taken together with a general reluctance to communicate with strangers. but not causes of Internet use. from the National Science Foundation (Information Technology Research no. Both required about the same amount of time to administer. it is again unsurprising that participants made so little use of the Internet’s communication tools. Given the complex relationship between attitudes and behavior. they may influence the extent to parents encourage their children to use computers and the Internet.. These findings underscore the importance of considering socio-economic status in research on Internet use. and the extent to which parents encourage their children’s computer and Internet use. the design of the two instructional sets argues against it. Their families and friends were likely to be poor. 085348). Instructional set influenced participants’ computer experiences and attitudes during the first three months of home Internet access. it is not surprising that HomeNetToo participants made so little use of the Internet’s communication tools. Moreover. However.34 more research is needed to understand how computer and Internet attitudes influence computer and Internet use by parents. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This research was supported by a grant to L. Instant Messaging and online group communication may be particularly demanding and complex modes of communication for which our participants were not yet socialized. This is not to say that communication functions should be ignored. Findings obtained for one socio-economic group may not generalize to other groups. tools was too infrequent to contribute to overall Internet use.30.e. Yet another possibility is that the instructions provided in the information condition were somehow “better” than those provided in the communication condition. Thus. Chat. While we cannot rule out this explanation entirely.470 JACKSON ET AL.J. Instructions focused on either communication or information tools resulted in stronger beliefs about the importance of computers to children’s success in school than did basic instructions. . Why did HomeNetToo participants make so little use of the Internet’s communication tools? An answer to this question may be so obvious as to be easily overlooked. HomeNetToo participants were poor. Although attitudes about the importance of computers to children’s school success did not influence parents’ Internet use.3 e-mail may not be the driving force behind Internet use for all socioeconomic groups. Instructions focused on the Internet’s communication tools resulted in greater success using e-mail than instructions focused on information tools.

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