Friday, December 5, 2008

1.5.2: The context of connectivity

A recent World Internet Project report for 2009 has some disturbing news for New Zealand internet connectivity, but some encouraging news for online education. An overview in Stuff reports that:

  • While three quarters of New Zealanders are Internet users, only about 65% have broadband connections
  • About 80% of users check email at least once a day
  • New Zealand's broadband services rank 12th out of the 13 countries surveyed (beating only Columbia).

The press release and highlights from the report itself (PDF) reveal that New Zealanders are split between those who think that some online information is reliable (51%) to most information is reliable (49%). About 40% of online Kiwis buy online at least monthly. Of those Kiwis not online, 45% said it was because they were either not interested or the internet was not perceived as useful to them; 19% because they were confused by the technologies. Kiwis are the highest users of internet banking in the responding countries. Interesting, too, is that over 38% of Kiwi respondents over the age of 65 are online.

In response to the question, "For information in general, how important is the Internet to you as a source?" 33% of Kiwi respondents said 'very important', 38% 'important'. 17% were 'undecided', and 'not important' and 'not important at all' were 7% and 5% respectively.

  • "How frequently do you use the Internet to get information for school related work? (18 years and older)"
Several times a day: 20%
Daily: 31%
Weekly: 24%
Monthly: 17%
Less than monthly: 5%
Never: 3%
  • New Zealanders are not high online video watchers (65% of users 18+ report 'never').
  • "Are you currently using the Internet? (18+)":
18-24: 92%
25-34: 89%
35-44: 86%
45-54: 82%
55-64: 75%
65+: 39%

The New Zealand connection to the WIP is provided by AUT. While I was unable to find any information about sampling, the fact that the international research is coordinated among universities gives some assurance as to validity.

So what? Well, here's my analysis.
  • Applying the Internet to tertiary study is completely defensible. Issues of access are passé; even 'the last trapper in the north' is likely to have reasonable dial-up access. Those without Internet access are either extremely unlikely to be interested in tertiary study, or else are likely to be surprised as to how easy it is to use. Given that about half of those not online said it was because the Internet was not perceived as useful, and that Internet for higher education would provide a use, it seems that there is an exceptionally small number of New Zealanders for whom Internet access would be a barrier to participation in tertiary education. Age, it seems, is not a significant barrier to access.
  • We must not (still) assume broadband connectivity when applying technologies in education. While the last trapper in the north may well be connected, they are also likely to be frustrated by large downloads and applications requiring high traffic.
  • Adult tertiary students are actively using the Internet in their studies, however there are issues of infortmation literacy. That about half of online Kiwis believe that over half of the information accessible online is reliable is not a very useful statistic in some ways; sites vary in terms of the impression of reliability they offer. Still, steps must be taken to ensure that tertiary learners are able to discern the good from the bad (and the ugly).
It is vital that e-learning practitioners consider Internet access in their technology mix. The findings here indicate that there is little excuse for not making use of Internet technologies on the basis of access, and that it is still too soon to assume broadband connectivity for required learning experiences. While New Zealanders are remarkably e-literate, there are still issues of information literacy to contend with.

No comments: