March 18, 2003
Heavy Internet usage doesn't cramp San Francisco State students' social life or dampen their self-esteem, says SFSU psychology graduate student Cheryl Gordon, who has just completed a study of computer use by more than 300 students on campus.
"Some studies have suggested that people who spend long hours at the computer tend to be more socially isolated and depressed. I wanted to test that theory and I found out that isn't true, at least not in my sample here at State," said Gordon, a research assistant who works with Linda Juang, an assistant professor of psychology.
Contrary to those studies, Gordon said she found that the SFSU students she surveyed experienced few feelings of social anxiety, depression or loneliness. "I found that they spent part of their time online looking to meet people and they felt good about themselves in doing so," she said.
Juang said her assistant has already demonstrated sophisticated research skills. "What sets Cheryl apart from most other students is her ability to look at seemingly simple relationships and see the complexity," said Juang. "She was always bringing up more questions and more angles to consider in conducting her research."
For her survey last spring, Gordon distributed questionnaires to 312 students in either their first or second year at SFSU.
As expected, Gordon found very high computer accessibility and usage for college students in her survey. For example, 96 percent of the students had at least one computer at home and nearly all the students -- 98 percent -- used the Internet. And they were quite familiar with the Internet with 82 percent having used it by the age of 18.
The survey also showed that 60 percent of the students used the Internet at least once a day including weekends and usually for approximately 30 to 45 minutes per sitting.
Gordon found some interesting gender differences in computer usage. Females spent more time using e-mail while online than males. However, men spent more time shopping online than women did. Downloading music, creating Web sites and playing computer games were also popular pastimes for guys.
For both men and women, technology played a vital role in their studies. For example, Gordon said, students take full advantage of links to a database of materials available at the J. Paul Leonard Library to locate resources. "It doesn't take the place of going to the library, but students can locate what they need and then go find it in the library," she said.
The graduate student believes that students are clearly using their computers to expand the boundaries of the classroom. "I think students are finding that computer use is helping them get a better grasp of a subject. They can do better research, communicate with their professors and form study groups online. Students are simply finding it easier to locate the information they need for class," she said.
Gordon, who plans to continue her studies in a doctoral program, hopes to get her study published soon.
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