A study of Internet usage in Nigerian universities: A case study of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria by K.O. Jagboro
The Internet is arguably one of the most significant technological developments of the late 20th century. However, despite the added benefits of this tool to learning, teaching and research, a number of problems still plague Internet connectivity and usage in the Nigerian University system. The objective of this study was to evaluate the level of utilization of the Internet for academic research at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Questionnaires were administered to postgraduate students spanning art and science based programmes. The results from the analysis of the responses showed that the use of the Internet ranked fourth (17.26 percent) among the sources of research materials. However, respondents who use the Internet ranked research materials (53.42 percent) second to e-mail (69.86 percent). The study concludes that the use of the Internet for academic research would significantly improve through the provision of more access points at Departmental and Faculty levels.
The Internet's appearance in higher education was used as a tool for researchers to communicate and share project data. Today the .edu domain is still one of the largest contributors to the Internet. However, the Internet is unorganized and Web sites appear, disappear, move or mutate on daily basis. While the Internet is difficult to search, it is even more difficult to search it well. Moreover, the information found on the Internet has both the useful and the useless co-existing (New Mexico State University Library, 2002).
Despite these drawbacks, the Internet has a few advantages: it is relatively fast, it is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and you can use it from your own computer. More and more students are doing their research exclusively on the Internet. While this phenomenon is a sign of the times, it is important for researchers to recognize that not everything is available on the Internet. This study was aimed at creating the awareness of the problems of Internet connectivity and usage in the Nigerian University system.
Importance of the Internet
The Internet can be conceived as a rich, multi-layered, complex, ever-changing textual environment. The Internet provides several opportunities for the academia. It is a mechanism for information dissemination and a medium for collaborative interaction between individuals and their computers without regard for geographic limitation of space (Leiner et al., 2000; Singh, 2002). Content created on the Internet ranges from simple e-mail messages to sophisticated 'documents' (sites) incorporating sounds, images and words.(Evans, 1996) The Internet is a 'live', constantly 'moving', theoretically borderless, potentially infinite space for the production and circulation of information. The Internet is arguably one of the most significant technological developments of the late 20th century. Peters and Lankshear (1996) asserted that while printed materials have a certain fixity and finitude, texts published via the Internet have a much more fluid character. With texts no longer housed between library or bookshop walls, it becomes impossible to 'pin down' all or even most of the available materials in given subject areas for archival and classification purposes. The Internet might thus be described as a 'sea of information', subject to the ebb and flow of various forces (political, corporate, institutional, etc.), creating an ever-shifting shoreline.
Services on the Internet
First, and perhaps of greatest importance for many subscribers to online services, is e-mail. Computer connectivity between nations has allowed a new form of correspondence to evolve and this, though seldom noticed, has changed people's daily lives the world over. Academics now send more words to others, more often, than ever before. While the bureaucratization of the university has contributed to an increase in 'busy work' of all kinds (including memoranda and correspondence), e-mail seems to have exacerbated the effects of this trend. E-mail has conferred some wonderful advantages. It is now possible to communicate easily and rapidly with people thousands of miles away. E-mail has become a seemingly indispensable part of people's lives, and correspondence by post seems tedious and slow by comparison. Yet, perhaps because e-mail, in removing previous barriers of geography and distance, reduces some of the perceived burdens of the old paper and post systems, it is used almost incessantly!
The flood of words generated by e-mail is matched by a similar drowning in discourse through the myriad discussion groups and 'chat rooms' of all kinds now available on the Internet. Some of these are outgrowths from, or affiliated with, formal publications or professional societies. In such cases participants usually take considerable care in their submissions to discussions. As with e-mail, however, the ease with which contributions to a discussion group can be made sometimes encourages those who might otherwise not be bothered to get involved — even if this is in a less than productive manner. Finally, the Internet is fast becoming a major site for commercial activity, and many corporate organizations now advertise their goods and services and sometimes sell them, either as one wing of a larger operation or as their sole form of business activity in cyberspace.
Academic and research focus
There are now thousands of Internet 'home pages' which serve as information sources for institutions and organizations. Most universities, polytechnics and colleges of education throughout the world have established their presence on the Internet, thereby making it possible for researchers to access past and current research publications. Prospective students can also access information on courses being offered by Institutions and as well as their admission requirements. There are also numerous individual home pages, where people construct a site either as a means of expressing their creativity or for a very limited range of potential visitors. The World Wide Web also provides very easy access to some government documents and legislative materials.
Journals, magazines, newspapers, books and archives provide another important avenue for the construction, publication and circulation of Internet texts. Many classic literary and philosophical books are available for reading in electronic form. The only costs that readers incur are the standard Internet connection fees and hourly rates. Unlike print versions of the same volumes, the books themselves have no prices attached. Most of these books have been converted to hypertext mark-up language (HTML) while a few are still available in ASCII format. Additionally, there are now hundreds of serials published via the Internet. These include informal newsletters constructed for small groups on individual personal computers to sophisticated, highly specialized, fully refereed academic journals. Some newspapers such as The Guardian, The Punch, Time and The Independent produce electronic equivalents of their print publications. Increasingly, however, serials of all kinds are being released in electronic form only. Some of these make the most of the new medium, and would be impossible to duplicate in the print world.
Hypertextual publications, incorporating 'live' or moving images and 'real' sounds as well as words defy easy classification, and multiple links to other documents and sites encourage new (hitherto impossible) patterns of reading activity. The proliferation of written materials through the Internet seems inevitable. Anyone with access to the necessary hardware and appropriate software can now 'publish' their work. This is obviously not possible in a print-dominated publishing environment.
It is arguable that the potential advantages of moving toward electronic publication for scholarly work far outweigh any possible disadvantages associated with such a move. With growing specialization and continuing pressure to publish, academics have been producing ever-greater numbers of articles and books every decade of the twentieth century. In some fields, the growth in published papers has followed a roughly exponential path (Odlyzko, 1994).
Libraries, almost always short on both money and space, have become crammed with millions of books, serials, monographs, and other printed materials. Costs for serials, in particular, have reached unsustainable levels, with annual subscriptions for some journals exceeding $1,000 (Astle, 1991; Okerson, 1991; UCSB Library Newsletter for Faculty, 1996). At the same time, hundreds of new periodicals continue to be developed each year (Greenwood, 1993; Peek and Burstyn, 1991). This has forced libraries to steadily reduce the proportion of 'purchased serials' to 'total available serials' in most subject areas (Tuttle, 1991). Prices for academics books have also posed difficulties for libraries, students and staff wanting to expand their scholarly collections. By comparison with popular fiction, newspapers and glossy magazines, academic publications both serials and books have very small readerships (Thatcher, 1995). Yet the costs associated with publishing, purchasing and storing them, if they are produced in print form, are exceptionally high.
Brabazon (2001) contended that publication in scholarly journals allows academics to communicate, in a disciplined and rigorous manner, with their national and international colleagues. Scholarly articles usually only find audiences beyond the academy when their subject matter is especially controversial or noteworthy. Through undergraduate and postgraduate education, academics build long-term knowledge, skills and research expertise. The network of peer review reinforces these processes. Brabazon (2001) also asserted "over the years, I've learned far more online about how things really work than I learned about how things should work in theory in six years of higher education as an undergraduate and graduate student." Cyberspace becomes the virtual library and university and the fount of all knowledge. Internet-based learning is a response to consumer demand and the reduction in government funding. In view of the foregoing, the study sought to examine the accessibility and usage of the Internet among the cream of researchers in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
At the time of this research, there was in existence the Obafemi Awolowo University Network (OAUNET), a campus-wide network linked to the Internet through a V-SAT. The Library, Administrative Building, Faculty of Science Building, Civil Engineering Building, Computer Department Building, Faculty of Agriculture, and three cybercafés were linked in the campus-wide network. The Faculty of Agriculture had in addition a TEALE CD-ROM database.
The study with the help of a questionnaire solicited information from the postgraduate students at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Some of these students were also junior academic staff in training positions, making this group the most active in academic research.
The University has eleven Faculties (or Schools) offering Masters and Doctoral degree programs. One hundred questionnaires were randomly administered on the participants during a research awareness workshop organized for them by the University Postgraduate School. A total of 73 questionnaires were returned at the end of the working session, representing a 73 percent response rate. These responses were then analyzed using the SPSS statistical package.
Results and Discussion
Sources of research materials
The respondents were asked to rank the five sources of research materials in the order of use between the values of 1 to 10. The mean scores and the percentage values are as shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Ranking of sources of research materials.
Sources of research material Frequency Sum Mean Score of Respondents Percentage Value of Mean Score Statistic Statistic Statistic Statistic H.O. Library 61/73 312 4.27 26.60% Other University Libraries 48/73 201 2.75 17.13% Research Institute Libraries 44/73 246 3.37 21.00% Internet 39/73 202 2.77 17.26% CD-ROM Databases 39/73 211 2.89 18.01%
Based on the percentage value of mean score, Hezekiah Oluwasanmi Library (H.O. Library) ranked first as a source of research materials (26.60 percent). This was followed by Research Institutes (21.00 percent); CD-ROM Databases (18.01 percent); Internet (17.26 percent) and Other University Libraries (17.13 percent). Postgraduate students hence do not use the Internet as a source of research materials. However, a study at Carnegie Mellon has found that upwards of 70 percent of their students and faculty access the Library remotely. In developed countries, the nature of the use of library collections is beginning to change in the wake of increasing investments in and availability of online information sources. This may be so because people are finding that their information needs can be met elsewhere and more conveniently than with a trip to their local library (Seiden, 2000).
Access to the Internet
Respondents were also required to indicate the present access location to the Internet from a list of possible locations within the University. These included PCs in personal offices, departmental offices, the H.O. Library, Computer Building and privately operated cybercafés. The result is as shown in Table 2. Cybercafés had the highest score of 45.2 percent, followed by departmental offices with 21.9 percent. The H.O. Library had the lowest score of 8.2 percent. The outcome might be due to lack of availability and the high cost that is associated with such service in the country.
Table 2: Present access location to the Internet.
Personal Office Departmental Office H.O. Library Computer Building Cybercafés Count % Count % Count % Count % Count % 0 66 90.4% 57 78.1% 67 98.1% 62 84.9% 40 54.8% 1 7 9.6% 16 21.9% 6 8.2% 11 15.1% 33 45.2% Total 73 100% 73 100% 73 100% 73 100% 73 100%
Cybercafés had the highest score of 45.2 percent, followed by departmental offices with 21.9 percent, the Computer Building with 15.1 percent, personal offices with 9.6 percent and the H.O. Library with 8.2 percent. The high score for use of the Internet via cybercafés is due to the proximity of these cafés to student user facilities such as hostels, mini-markets and lecture halls. The low score recorded for personal and departmental offices could be due to their low level of connectivity. PCs available for use in the Computer Building are few and often lead to long queues of users. On the other hand, the H.O. Library suffers from a low level of connectivity in addition to restrictions placed on the use of this facility.
Specific Use of Internet Facilities
Respondents who have access to the Internet were asked to indicate their specific uses of the Internet. Table 3 shows the result of analysis of the responses to the specific use of Internet facilities with e-mail having the highest score (69.86 percent), research materials (53.42 percent), course materials (39.73 percent) and online courses with an abysmal score of 2.74 percent. Though this finding is very much in line with the trend in other developing countries, it is nevertheless contrary to the emerging profile of use in developed countries.
Table 3: Specific uses of the Internet.
Specific Use Total Respondents Frequency Count Percentage of Total Score 73 51 69.86 Course materials 73 29 39.73 Research materials 73 39 53.42 Online courses 73 2 2.74 Publishing 73 3 4.11 News update 73 12 16.44
Internet access frequency versus mean of surfing time
A cross tabulation of Internet access frequency versus the mean of surfing time was carried out. The result is as shown in Table 4. The analysis showed that 22.06 percent of the respondents accessed the Internet on a daily basis, 38.24 percent weekly, 11.76 percent monthly, 11.76 percent bi-monthly and 16.17 percent quarterly. In addition, 25.00 percent spent an average time of half an hour, 39.71 percent spent one hour, 19.12 percent spent two hours, 7.35 percent spent three hours, 2.94 percent spent four hours, while 5.88 percent spent more than four hours. A further examination of this table showed that there is a convergence of weekly users who spent only one hour on the Internet.
Table 4: Cross tabulation of Internet access frequency versus mean of surfing time.
Mean of surfing time Total Percent of cum. total 0.5 Hour 1 Hour 2 Hours 3 Hours 4 Hours >4 Hours Internet access frequency Quarterly 5 4 1 1 11 16.17 Monthly 2 5 1 8 11.76 Bi-monthly 1 4 1 2 8 11.76 Weekly 6 13 4 1 2 26 38.24 Daily 3 5 4 2 1 15 22.06 Total 17 27 13 5 2 4 68 Percent of cum. total 25.00 39.71 19.12 7.35 2.94 5.88
The study has clearly demonstrated the present low level of utilization of the Internet by Postgraduate students as a source of materials for academic research at the Obafemi Awolowo University. This low level may be attributed to two factors: the low level of connectivity, and the high cost of cybercafé facilities. In view of the huge academic resources available on the Internet and its usefulness to learning, teaching and research, it would be necessary for libraries of Higher Institutions in Nigeria to provide guaranteed access to the Internet as a way of enhancing their books and journals collections. Universities could do this through the provision of more access points at Departmental and Faculty levels. This, it is envisaged, would create a more encouraging environment for the use of the Internet for academic research.
About the Author
Mrs. Kofoworola Omolara Jagboro is a Senior Librarian and System Analyst at the Hezekiah Oluwasanmi Library, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Her areas of research interest include library automation, document digitization, and networking.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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Paper received 30 October 2002; accepted 1 February 2003.
Copyright ©2003, First Monday
Copyright ©2003, K.O. Jagboro
A study of Internet usage in Nigerian universities: A case study of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria by K.O. Jagboro
First Monday, volume 8, number 2 (February 2003),
A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.
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