Examining how academic discipline and demographics affect the web-use skills of graduate and professional students
MetadataShow full item record
Type of Work127 leaves
DepartmentUniversity of Baltimore. School of Information Arts and Technologies
ProgramUniversity of Baltimore. Doctor of Science in Information and Interaction Design
RightsThis item may be protected under Title 17 of the U.S. Copyright Law. It is made available by the University of Baltimore for non-commercial research and educational purposes.
Graduate and Professional Students
Background and Purpose: The concept of a homogenous group of tech savvy digital natives has recently been refuted empirically and theoretically through comprehensive literature reviews (Jones & Shao, 2011; Bennett, Maton, & Kervin, 2008). Instead, digital natives have been found to possess a large variation of technology use and skills (Kennedy et al., 2007). In addition, the argument for supporting the idea of digital natives is often criticized for neglecting to study race, socioeconomic factors, and previous experience with technology (Vaidhyanathan, 2008). Although there is a growing body of literature about the digital literacy of undergraduate students, there has been little, if any, research completed on the population of graduate and professional students. There are educational differences between graduate and undergraduate students (Hussey & Smith, 2010; Artino & Stephens, 2009; Seligman, 2012), and among academic disciplines there are varying degrees of technology use (Weng & Ling, 2007; Fry, 2004; Fry, 2006; Guidry & BrckaLorenz, 2010). The primary purpose of this study was to examine whether academic discipline is associated with web-use skills among the graduate and professional students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The secondary purpose of this study was to examine how age, gender, race, parental education, international status, GPA, and self-perceived skills affect web-use skills. Methods: Hargittai and Hsieh’s Web-use Index was adapted as the instrument for this study (2012). The instrument has been found to be a proxy of participants’ observed web-use skills (Hargittai, 2005). The Web-use Index was distributed online via a survey to the entire population of 4,996 potential participants. Six hundred and ninety-nine participants completed and returned the survey. After reviewing and removing unusable data, five hundred and fifteen eligible participants remained in the sample. To analyze the data, the Kruskal-Wallis H test was chosen because of its use for independent samples. The Fisher’s LSD test was used for post hoc analysis to determine statistical differences between groups.Results: The results showed that academic discipline affected nine of the twenty-seven web-use variables. There were statistically significant differences (p < 0.01) for the following variables: phishing, preference setting, reload, rss, tabbed browsing, tagging, torrent, web feeds, and wiki. Overall, it appears that the highest scores were from the School of Law and the lowest scores were from the School of Nursing. Race/ethnicity had an effect on ten of the twenty-seven variables. There was statistical significance (p < 0.01) for the variables bookmarklet, cache, frames, phishing, rss, social bookmarking, torrent, web log, widget, and wiki. It appears that Asian/Pacific Islander participants had the highest scores and Hispanic participants had the lowest scores. Gender was statistically significant for eighteen of the twenty-seven variables. The variables significant for gender included cache, firewall, frames, jpg, malware, newsgroup, phishing, podcasting, preference setting, reload, rss, spyware, tabbed browsing, torrent, web feeds, web log, widget, and wiki. Male participants outscored female participants on every variable. Age was statistically significant for three of the twenty-seven variables including tabbed browsing, tagging, and torrent. GPA was only statistically significant for one of the twenty-seven variables, which was social bookmarking. The results showed no statistical significance for International Status or Parental Education. Conclusion: Gender plays a larger role in the digital literacy of graduate and professional students than other demographic factors. This may be due to a plethora of factors influenced by gender including family life, self-efficacy, and access to technology. The high scores of Asian/Pacific Islander students does not depart from literature within the study of digital literacy or academic achievement in general, but other findings from this study about the impact of race were unanticipated. An unexpected finding was that African Americans scored higher than Caucasian participants on the Web-use Index. In the literature, African American students report knowing less about the Internet (Hargittai, 2010) and score lower on tests measuring information and digital literacy (Sexton, Hignite, Margavio, & Margavio, 2009; Jackson et al., 2008; Ritzhaupt, Feng, Dawson, & Barron, 2013). It can be hypothesized that since participants in the study are already in graduate or professional school, the effect of the socioeconomic advantage or disadvantage of their race on web-use skills is offset. While gender and race was associated with the digital literacy of graduate and professional students, parental education was not. This finding marks an interesting difference between graduate and undergraduate students and is a unique contribution to the literature. The conversation surrounding the effect of gender and race is important in the context of digital inequality. Due to relationship of demographic factors and digital inequality, faculty, staff, and policy makers should take action by creating initiatives that address the skill and availability of social support for graduate and professional students.