College students are heavy users of the Internet compared to the general population, according to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

“Use of the Internet is a part of college students’ daily routine, in part because they have grown up with computers,” read the report. “It is integrated into their daily communication habits and has become a technology as ordinary as the telephone or television.”

By the time they were between the ages of five and eight, one-fifth of today’s college students began using computers. And by the time they reached 18, all of today’s college students had begun using computers.

Eighty-six percent of college students have gone online, compared with 59 percent of the general population.

Most college students own their own computers, have more than one e-mail address, check e-mail at least once a day, and browse the Internet “for fun,” according to the study.

College students were also twice as likely to have downloaded music and used instant messaging compared to the general public.

The study noted that the Internet has played a significant role in enhancing college student’s education and changing the dynamics of their social lives.

College students today use the Internet to “communicate with professors and classmates, to do research, and to access library materials,” according to the study. “For most college students the Internet is a functional tool, one that has greatly changed the way they interact with others and with information as they go about their studies.”

Most college students said the Internet has positively improved their learning experience.

Almost half (46 percent) used e-mail to “express ideas to a professor that they would not have expressed in class.” Fifty-eight percent of students used e-mail to discuss or find out a grade from a professor, while 65 percent said they reported absences to their professors via e-mail.

About half of students (48 percent) said they were required to use the Internet to contact other students in their classes. And 73 percent of students said they used the Internet more than the library.

College is about more than just the education one gets in the classroom. It is also a valuable time for experiencing many social environments and gaining diverse social skills.

The Pew study showed that students used the Internet almost as much for social communication as for education.

Forty-two percent of college students said they used the Internet primarily to communicate socially. But only 10 percent of college students used the Internet primarily for entertainment.

Seventy-two percent said most of their online communication was with friends. The most popular online social activity was forwarding messages to friends or family, with 37 percent of students reporting doing so.

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

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