Hot stuff is getting the cold shoulder

December 21, 2000

Students are shunning internet pornography in favour of computer games, music and coursework.

The surprise findings come from a survey of network use in student residences at Strathclyde University, where online viewing of "unsavoury material" has fallen dramatically while academic work has more than doubled.

Derek Law, Strathclyde University's director of information strategy, said:

"I think students are bored with it and find games or music more interesting. Perhaps they have realised these sites are not all they are cracked up to be.

"We did a random survey and it was encouraging to see the pattern of use move dramatically away from unsavoury material. My guess is that it is partly because there is now much more course material available on-line."

Past studies of 6pm-6am internet use had revealed that students spent up to 90 per cent of their time surfing sites with "unsavoury material", but there was a huge shift this year with most time spent on games or music and more than 20 per cent academic usage.

Late-night academic group work via email was particularly popular. Mr Law said the feeling among his counterparts in other universities was that they had all seen similar changes in patterns of network use.

Deciding what to classify as "unsavoury" poses a problem, however, as some art history courses include homoerotic photographs.

Mr Law said: "Inevitably, universities tend to press at the boundaries. Whether it is in racism or pornography, controversial areas are used in teaching and research."

His comments came during a seminar on the IBM "ThinkPad University" concept of anytime anywhere learning, where delegates were told that radical culture changes - not just information technology solutions - were needed to match changing study patterns and meet the needs of more demanding students.

A group of 20 IT directors from UK and European universities attended the seminar at IBM's headquarters in Warwick to hear how the ThinkPad University concept is being adopted in the United States, where more than 200 campuses have signed up.

This autumn, Strathclyde and Paisley universities were the first in the UK to give new undergraduates ThinkPad laptops, but other institutions are now expressing interest, including several business schools that are conducting pilot projects.

Malcolm Read, secretary to the Joint Information Systems Committee, said that education had to be re-engineered to improve student support systems and the delivery of learning materials.

"Universities have not been at their strongest in providing student support systems, partly because students did not have to pay with their own money until recently. Now, as they become more demanding and perhaps litigious, there is clearly pressure to improve," Dr Read said.

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