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The use of the Internet has changed the way that people, especially students, access information, communicate with others and collaborate in learning programs, write Gerry White in DERN.

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The incidence of actual difficulties arising from using the Internet are rare even though there are some safety, identity and privacy concerns which are frequently reported in the news or distributed as opinion pieces in the media. However, the events reported are often sensational and based on a slanted perception of Internet use whereas the actual data on Internet use can paint a different picture.

The World Internet Project which is a partnership of 34 countries was established to globally explore the behaviours and views of Internet users and non-users. In Australia, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation(CCi) is responsible for collecting the relevant data and preparing an analysis of actual Internet use in Australia. The Australian report contributes to the global report which enables comparisons to be made between participating countries.

Recently, the CCi Digital Futures 2012: The Internet in Australia (22) report of 2011 data was released. It included a number of very interesting findings in a comparison of the 2011 analysis with those for 2007 and 2009. Apart from investigating Internet access and usage of the Internet, The Internet in Australia report also examines the use of and views towards online social networks, media, entertainment, creativity, politics and policy, and commerce. This report is seminal because it provides actual and accurate information on several trends that are occurring as people become more familiar with using the Internet. In fact, the report states that 86% (p. 1) of Australians older than 18 years of age, access the Internet and 96% of those do so via broadband (p. 1) which means that dial-up access has become virtually a relic of the past. The National Broadband Network (NBN) has strong (64.4%) support (p. 46) and Australians are experienced users of the Internet ‘approaching the point at which half of all internet users have been online for ten years or more (46%)’ (p. 4).

However, three issues stand out in the report that may be impacting on education and training: safety, equity and online purchasing.

The Internet in Australia report sought information about Australian’s attitudes to Internet regulation. ‘The majority of Australians do not think that the internet is over-regulated’ (p. 43) although 36.8% think that there is too much immoral material on the internet’ (p. 7) while an equal proportion disagreed or did not know. However, 'an overwhelming 84.2% felt that there should be restrictions’ (p. 43) on children’s content on the Internet and that schools have a major role to play, as well as internet service providers and government which should also play a part.

Access to the Internet may be widespread although the report noted that in families with an income of less than $30,000 a year, 23% ‘considered their internet access to be unaffordable’ (p. 9). In these families broadband access was ‘closing on two-thirds but there did appear to be a tapering off’ (p. 9). There is an indication here that a proportion of children in families with an income of less than $30,000 per annum may have equity issues in relation to accessing the Internet and that there may be an educational issue of provision for those children.

The purchasing of goods online would appear to be increasing with 72.4% of respondents making at least one purchase on the internet each month (p. 49) and 39% spending more than $200 per month. The CCi Digital Futures 2012: The Internet in Australia report also found that 88.6% used the internet to research products (p. 50). These two findings may be an indication that educators and trainers could use the internet to find suitable electronic resources for use in their educational programs and make arrangements for online purchasing in order to reduce costs or make available course materials in electronic formats.

The CCi Digital Futures 2012: The Internet in Australia report is very easy to read or scan with graphics for the responses to each question together with a small text summary. This recent report on the actual use of and views towards the Internet in Australia is a solid basis on which to begin dialogue and make commentary on Internet issues.

Although this research review has highlighted three findings that may have implications for education and training, there are several other findings that could also have implications for education in this much needed report.

 

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Gerry White is Principal Research Fellow: Teaching & Learning using Digital Technologies, Australian Council for Educational Research

This article was first published on the Digital Education Research Network (DERN)

Read the full article on DERN (free registration required)

Image: Flickr /Kyrptyk 

 

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2012
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