First Monday

Professors online: The Internet's impact on college faculty by Steve Jones and Camille Johnson-Yale

This paper reports on findings from a nationwide survey of Internet use by U.S. college faculty. The survey asked about general Internet use, use of specific Internet technologies (e–mail, IM, Web, etc.), the Internet’s impact on teaching and research, its impact on faculty–student interactions, and about faculty perceptions of students’ Internet use. There is general optimism, though little evidence, about the Internet’s impacts on their professional lives. The findings show that institutions of higher education still need to address three broad areas (infrastructure, professional development, and teaching and research) to assist faculty to continue to make good use of the Internet in their professional work.


Introduction: College faculty and the Internet
Faculty computer and Internet use
The Internet as communicator: E–mail and beyond
The Internet’s impact on teaching and learning: Optimism over evidence
Beyond the classroom: Teaching online
Faculty research and Internet use
Demographic differences: Gender and age
Conclusions and implications




Introduction: College faculty and the Internet

Early Internet adoption on college campuses has generally given college faculty a head start on Internet use. Indeed, college faculty have played a pioneering role in Internet development and have brought their work to college campuses early in the life of the Internet. Researchers like J.C.R. Licklider and Lawrence G. Roberts were on the faculty at M.I.T. Licklider, a computer scientist, headed the division of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the early 1960s that set the wheels in motion for funding the Internet’s development, while Roberts headed the engineers that created ARPANET, the agency’s computer network and precursor to today’s Internet. Leonard Kleinrock served at M.I.T. and U.C.L.A. and is widely credited as creating the first node on the ARPANET. Robert Taylor, on the faculty at the University of Utah, succeeded Licklider at ARPA and was responsible for conceiving the need for an ARPA computer network and spurring on Roberts and his team. His Utah colleague Ivan Sutherland did pioneering work on computer graphics. Doug Engelbart, on the faculty at Stanford, invented the computer mouse (among other things).

Not only did these and other academic researchers help to create and develop some of the technologies that are at the heart of today’s Internet, they and their faculty colleagues were also among the first to use the Internet to send e–mail, transfer files, and communicate online. Universities, in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, formed NSFNet, the Internet’s first "backbone."

Research universities began to wire their campuses comparatively early, in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Other universities followed in the 1980s and 1990s, and soon virtually all campus classroom, laboratory, office, and student residence buildings had high–speed Internet access. The coming of the Internet to college campuses wasn’t always smooth: Wiring was often uneven. Typically, it began with science and engineering buildings, then other office and classroom buildings, then dorms and other campus buildings. Faculty greeted the innovation with mixed reviews; the Internet enjoyed greater popularity among faculty from the sciences and engineering departments than among those from other departments. Still, no matter the diffusion of Internet connectivity or use on college campuses, the "jump start" with the Internet that U.S. college and university communities enjoyed put them well ahead of most of the rest of the population and ahead of most industries.

College students have also been at the forefront of Internet development. Students, carrying on the tradition of campus innovation, have played a major part in recent Internet developments. For instance, Shawn Fanning created Napster while he was a college student, and social networking site got its start on (and is still limited to) college campuses.

The goal of this research project was to explore faculty’s impressions of the Internet’s impact on education and research. What about the professors now? To what use are they putting the Internet? Are today’s college professors taking advantage of the Internet? Are they using it in ways that affect teaching, research, and contact with students?

A study of college students’ Internet use (Jones and Madden, 2002) showed that the Internet plays a significant and largely positive role in students’ academic experience. One of its most surprising findings was that almost four–fifths of college students (79 percent) agreed that Internet use has had a positive impact on their college academic experience. Many college students (46 percent) believed that e–mail enables them to express ideas to a professor that they would not have expressed in class, but their preference for face–to–face interaction is clear. About half (48 percent) of them said they were required to use the Internet to contact other students in at least some of their classes. Communication with professors was reported to be commonplace, with more than half (58 percent) of college students reporting they used e–mail to discuss or find out a grade from an instructor, and nearly two–thirds (65 percent) reporting that they e–mail professors to report their absence.

These findings suggest that college faculty use the Internet to communicate with students. But do faculty share students’ perception on the impact of the Internet on academic work, its value as a communications tool in the academic community, its usefulness as a tool for educating? And what do faculty themselves say about the Internet’s impact on their own research?




Our aim was to find answers to questions such as these, to learn in general terms about the Internet’s impact on college faculty, and to determine the ways college faculty Internet use shapes academic work. Because Internet use among college students is so widespread (the aforementioned report showed that 86 percent of college students had gone online; Jones and Madden, 2002) and because college faculty are now required to use the Internet at most universities (at least for administrative aspects of their jobs), an online survey seemed a viable option.

The survey instrument was deployed in May 2004, and made available for one month. Calls for participation by faculty were distributed through academic and scholarly e–mail lists (such as the ones maintained by interdisciplinary organizations like the Association of Internet Researchers, disciplinary organizations such as the American Political Science Association and the National Communication Association’s Communication Research and Theory Network) and through campus–wide e–mail lists at numerous college campuses with the assistance of individual college instructors. Invitations were also sent to 55 individual college instructors at 48 institutions the researchers wished to include in the sample for representativeness, resulting in a volunteer sample of 2,316 U.S. faculty. The sample’s demographic characteristics are reported in Table 1 below [1].


Table 1: Characteristics of the faculty survey sample.

Characteristics of the faculty survey sample
Demographic characteristics Sample (percent) NCES data (percent)
Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1998b
CHE data (percent)
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, 2004
White, not of Hispanic origin
All other races
Disciplinary and institutional characteristics
Four–year public institution
Four–year private institution
Art or architecture
Business administration
Medical and health sciences
Liberal arts and sciences
Other disciplinary grouping


The composition of the respondent pool was compared to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education (1998a, 1998b) and to 2001 data published by the Chronicle of Higher Education (2004). Gender in our sample was somewhat biased toward women as compared to national data, as was the number of White, non–Hispanic respondents. The various academic disciplines were generally well represented when compared to the national data, with a slight bias toward the Liberal Arts and Sciences (although peculiarities in disciplinary groupings at different institutions can easily account for the variation). Faculty who filled in the survey came from colleges and universities in 28 states.

Although a combination of purposive and volunteer samples was used, any such sample may include bias due to selection effect and should not be considered equivalent to a random sample (although even random samples are subject to potential volunteer bias). Based on the demographic characteristics of the sample, we are sufficiently confident of its validity. Nevertheless, it is important to note that a self–selecting sample has limitations. This survey should not be used to make claims about the full population of faculty in the United States. However, it has a broad and varied mix of respondents and is a unique and useful examination of the role of the Internet among hundreds of college teachers. Respondents were possibly more engaged with the subject — how college faculty use the Internet — than those who did not wish to fill out the sample. It is also possible that their interest in the Internet made them more likely to use it in teaching situations and in interactions with students. At the same time, the sample is quite diverse and respondents were also quite critical of the role of the Internet in some dimensions of college life.



Faculty computer and Internet use

College faculty have a long history with computers. Most college faculty members in this sample (90 percent) have used computers for at least 11 years. About a third (34 percent) have used them over 20 years. A plurality of those who have been teaching for less than 10 years first began using the Internet as undergraduate students, while those who have been teaching for between 10 and 15 years first began using the Internet in graduate school. Those who have been teaching for longer than 15 years first began using it as faculty members.

College faculty are active users of the Internet. Nearly two–thirds (60 percent) of the respondents to our survey stated they use the Internet from four to 19 hours per week. Another 40 percent reported being online for 20 or more hours, approximately three hours or more per week (or three or more hours per day).

College faculty have logged many years online. Over four–fifths (82 percent) of college faculty respondents reported having used e–mail between six and 15 years. Fewer than five percent have used e–mail five years or less, and they are heavily represented by respondents over 55 years of age. Some 92 percent reported accessing e–mail at home, and 89 percent access it at work. Yet, a significant number, one in five, reported using public locations like labs or Internet cafes for e–mailing. Approximately 17 percent (one in six) check e–mail at multiple locations via wireless Internet access. By comparison, in May 2004, a similar number, 18 percent of Internet users generally, said in a survey that they had used a wireless–enabled laptop to access the Internet (Horrigan, 2004).

The college faculty surveyed are avid e–mail users. Nearly one–third stated that they check for messages almost continuously when online. On the other end of the spectrum, only one in 14 reported checking e–mail once a day or less, and only six of the over 2,300 respondents said they check only a few times a week.



The Internet as communicator: E–mail and beyond

The Internet and its communication applications, particularly e–mail, enhance college faculty’s communications with their students. Nearly all college faculty members surveyed reported using the Internet to communicate with their students (98 percent). Among applications, e–mail was the most popular choice for contacting students via the Internet (92 percent). Course Web sites and Web boards are also common, with more than half of college faculty (55 percent) stating they used them to communicate with students in their classes. However, overall use of chat rooms (37 percent) and e–mail lists (six percent) were less common among all faculty. No faculty reported using video or audio conferencing to communicate with students.

Seventy–three percent of faculty reported that, in general, their communication with students had increased since they began using e–mail.

Respondents were able to provide individual comments concerning the applications they used. There was a wide range of responses, with several respondents indicating that they were beginning to experiment with weblogs (or blogs) in the classroom. One particularly telling comment came from a respondent who wrote, "(I) have used chat and discussion board in (the) past, but never terribly successfully (setting them up (is) more effort than it’s been worth)." Many independently noted in their open–ended responses that they use WebCT/Blackboard.

Seventy–three percent of faculty reported that, in general, their communication with students had increased since they began using e–mail. College faculty seem to be in regular online contact with students. Most instructors stated they communicate online with students about once a week (66 percent), and about one–third said they communicate with students several times a week. Only six of the more than 2,300 respondents stated that they communicate online with students seldom or rarely.

All college faculty members surveyed reported being available to students online to some degree. Most avail themselves to students during the workweek from both work and home whenever they are on the Internet (73 percent). However, they appeared to draw the line at being available to students during non–work time, with none responding they make themselves available to students anytime they are online. Most reported responding to student e–mail immediately (94 percent), but it is unclear whether the question was interpreted as meaning "upon reading" or as "upon receiving" of a message.

Some open–ended responses suggest student and faculty may interpret "immediately" in a different way. As one professor wrote, "Students seem to think they should get a quick response, no matter when the e–mail was sent (i.e., midnight or on the weekend.) I feel pressure to check e–mail more often in case a student has tried to communicate with me." Another wrote, "I notice that my students just expect me to be available 24–7 via e–mail."

But when asked with what frequency they communicated with students using e–mail as compared to face–to–face interaction, respondents’ responses were mixed. Some 30 percent reported more e–mail contact than face–to–face, 30 percent reported less, and 30 percent reported about the same amount of communication using either method.

What they communicate about

Faculty use the Internet to communicate with students for a variety of reasons: 95 percent make class announcements; 71 percent provide information about class assignments, 62 percent handle attendance matters. Discussing students’ course–related problems (1 percent) and providing feedback on assignments (7 percent) were the least cited reasons for using the Internet to communicate with students.

College faculty reported that students quite commonly e–mailed them for assignment clarification (94 percent), to report an absence (98 percent), to report that they have not completed an assignment (89 percent), to discuss or find out a grade (89 percent), and to set up appointments (97 percent). Less common uses of e–mail by students were to complain about class (46 percent) or complain about an assignment (52 percent). These responses correspond with what college students reported in a 2002 survey (Jones and Madden, 2002).

One respondent expressed frustration with administrators who "seem to devalue Internet teaching. They think I’m taking the easy way out when I teach online. They are so wrong. It’s especially hard to teach well online."

In their open–ended comments, faculty noted a wide variety of ways in which they engaged students via the Internet. Importantly, several noted that e–mail and instant messaging are means by which they can continue the educational process outside the classroom. One faculty member wrote, "Many times when students are working on a project or paper, instead of waiting the next day for office hours, they IM [instant message] me. I never give them the answer — rather we will have a dialogue." Others noted that they use the Internet to send students material on the spur of the moment, such as "articles, things I get in my e–mail that might be interesting for them to read," or to notify them of events and lectures that are class related. Still others noted the importance of Internet contact with students as a means to provide "encouragement (and) building community" and "to foster intellectual community, to enable students to see how academic conversations might unfold, and to encourage them to participate in an intellectual community."

Perhaps the most telling comments came from a faculty member who wrote, "I can’t imagine teaching without the Internet," and another wrote that "the Internet has been a good source for keeping up with innovative teaching practices and ideas." However, many respondents also emphasized the increased time it took to essentially teach inside and outside the classroom. One respondent expressed frustration with administrators who "seem to devalue Internet teaching. They think I’m taking the easy way out when I teach online. They are so wrong. It’s especially hard to teach well online."



The Internet’s impact on teaching and learning: Optimism over evidence

College faculty overwhelmingly reported that e–mail improved their interaction with students, with 67 percent believing it had done so. Less than one percent reported that e–mail had worsened their interaction with students, while 16 percent believed it had not affected interaction and another 16 percent did not know or had no opinion concerning e–mail’s effect on their interaction with students.

In addition, college faculty felt students were generally responsible in their use of e–mail for communication, with 69 percent stating students used e–mail to a moderate degree, as opposed to believing they used it too much (12 percent) or too little (14 percent).

Nevertheless, it is clear from some of the responses to open–ended questions that at least some faculty greatly sense the transition from face–to–face to Internet contact. As one faculty member wrote, "I strongly feel that students use e–mail too much to communicate with me, nobody comes to my office hours! I also feel that students are too casual in their e–mail interactions with me, they address me as they address their friends." Another faculty member was concerned that the Internet "and e–mail (have) a degree of ‘detachment’" that face–to–face communication does not. One faculty member brought up the important point that cultural differences can drive student Internet use. "I find that Chinese students are less likely to talk with the instructor in class than (are) American students," this person wrote. "Rather, they prefer to talk on the Internet." Teachers may want to keep this person’s point in mind as they consider implementing various online tools in their classes.

Perhaps the most telling comments came from a faculty member who wrote, "I can’t imagine teaching without the Internet."

In terms of quality, two–thirds of instructors surveyed felt e–mail had improved their communication with students, while only six of the 2,316 reported that it had worsened their communication.

In a 2002 survey, just under half of students felt e–mail enabled them to express themselves to their professors more effectively than in class [2]. However, college faculty were even more enthusiastic about e–mail’s impact on students, with three–quarters (76 percent) agreeing or strongly agreeing it has enabled the expression of ideas that their students may not have expressed in class due to peer pressure, fear of embarrassment, or simply a lack of class time to allow for all students’ ideas to be expressed. It is probable that faculty also believe that e–mail may have an emboldening effect on students who, having had some success expressing their ideas via e–mail, will be stimulated to express their ideas in the classroom. However, the opposite may also be true, that classroom participation is lessened due to the students’ ability to communicate online with classmates and instructors, as they may be able to sufficiently satisfy class requirements or their own needs for participation by using online means.

Despite the reported positive impact of e–mail on faculty–student connections, college faculty were divided about a more general question: the impact of general Internet communication on the quality of their students’ classroom participation. It is surprising that a significant number of faculty, one–third (33 percent), do not know whether Internet use in general has improved the quality of their students’ classroom participation. Just over one quarter (26 percent) believe the quality of their students’ classroom participation has been unaffected by Internet use, while 22 percent believe the quality has improved and 19 percent believe it has worsened. Presumably, the special case of e–mail — from perhaps its widespread and frequent use for student–teacher contact — earns it special status among the more general uses of the Internet in academia. The primacy of e–mail was further illustrated in the faculty response to a question concerning whether they felt they knew their students better because of communicating through e–mail: most of those in the sample agreed that they did (64 percent).

Some have speculated that use of e–mail or class e–mail lists could improve the level and quality of participation among college students (Collins, 1998; Ritter and Lemke, 2000). But overall, faculty surveyed did not perceive such a change, with more than half (58 percent) reporting no effect on class participation or being undecided on the issue.

The use of Internet sources has also gained approval among college faculty, with 94 percent allowing their students to cite Internet sources in their work. However, very few faculty even occasionally arranged for online meetings of classes that regularly meet face–to–face, with only nine percent reporting to have done so.

When asked whether the quality of their students’ overall work had improved with use of the Internet, nearly half (42 percent) of college faculty felt their students’ work had worsened in quality and another 24 percent were undecided. Just 22 percent felt the Internet had improved students’ work.

In one specific way, faculty felt students’ work had improved because of the Internet. One–third of college faculty surveyed believed students’ writing quality had improved with the introduction of the Internet, with only six percent feeling it had worsened. Since reading and writing make up a large part of the Internet experience — in e–mailing, posting to newsgroups, instant messaging, surfing the Web — it would be plausible that students’ writing skills may be improving simply due to the fact that those skills are being put to greater use. One faculty member expressed it this way, "I don’t think Internet use has made my students’ writing better or worse; it has simply created different issues for discussion. The level and quality of thinking in my students’ writing has not improved or worsened." These disparate views may be explained by noting that reading and writing are different skills than critically evaluating information.

Faculty are divided about the Internet’s impact on plagiarism, but a plurality report greater problems.

Faculty showed a concern about plagiarism in their students’ work and may be simultaneously showing evidence of a concern for students’ ability to evaluate the quality of the information gathered online for research. The issue of plagiarism in academia takes on a new twist with the advent of the Internet. For example, Internet sources are easy to cut and paste into papers, and Web sites that sell (or in some cases give away) pre–written term papers have proliferated. Faculty are divided about the Internet’s impact on plagiarism, but a plurality report greater problems. Some 44 percent of faculty agreed that plagiarism had increased in their students’ work with the Internet, but another 33 percent were undecided and 23 percent disagreed. Nearly three–quarters (74 percent) of college faculty reported using the Internet to check for plagiarism in students’ work. In addition to being able to input into a search engine strings of text from student work about which they may be suspicious, Web sites exist that help teachers determine whether a student may have plagiarized.

The concerns over plagiarism were echoed in college faculty comments about the need to teach students critical thinking skills and give them the means to evaluate information they find online. One faculty member noted, "Confusion reigns about the difference between ‘academic’ sources and Internet blog or ‘junk sources.’ I’m amazed at how little students seem to know about how best to research via the Internet." The overall concern for academic engagement and learning was well expressed by one faculty member who wrote that it is a "mixed blessing for student research that the Internet provides, as both a great resource and an unfortunate substitute for sustained research and inquiry."

Nevertheless, despite some misgivings about the Internet’s effects on the quality of students’ work and the quality of communication with students, college instructors were still optimistic about the Internet’s effects on their teaching. Some 82 percent of college instructors agreed that the Internet has had a positive effect on their teaching. It is clear, however, from open–ended responses that college faculty are not simply cheerleaders for the Internet’s role in their teaching. One respondent, focusing on the broad range of knowledge about and ability to use, the Internet, noted that "use of the Internet is very uneven between professors and between professors and students. The Internet both gives benefit, and takes some benefit away in terms of our effectiveness as teachers."



Beyond the classroom: Teaching online

In addition to learning more about how college faculty are using the Internet for teaching in face–to–face contexts, we were also interested in learning more about their experiences, if any, teaching online–only courses. Of our sample of 2,316 college instructors, 16 percent had taught at least one online–only course. This number should not be regarded as large enough to form generalizations about the overall experience of teaching online courses. It is presented as an initial inquiry upon which a more focused study of online–only teaching experiences could be built.

Almost half of the respondents (43 percent) thought online courses required more preparation, and more than half (57 percent) believed online–only courses required more overall teaching time than face–to–face courses (57 percent). Only six of the approximately 380 faculty who had taught online–only courses thought those courses required less preparation and teaching time than face–to–face courses. One respondent echoed the general sentiment among those who teach online–only courses (also common among those who generally use the Internet in their teaching), by writing that "the technology leaves me freer, able to work from home (which I like), but preparing and performing my online classes takes more time than face to face."

Few said that students learned less in online courses than face–to–face courses, with only seven percent believing it to be the case. However, online–only instructors were also hesitant to conclude that their students had learned more online than in face–to–face classes, with only 11 percent believing that to be the case. Instead, the majority (41 percent) felt students had a comparable learning experience in both online and face–to–face courses.



Faculty research and Internet use

Most (83 percent) faculty surveyed felt they spent less time in the library now that they have access to the Internet than before. However, as one faculty member pointed out, libraries are — still — the corner stone of the research process. "I know that people believe that use of the Internet is impeding people’s frequency at the library (which I know it is), but it is not because of sheer laziness. It is also because one is able to access scholarly journal articles via the library’s Web site." Indeed, being able to easily access scholarly resources via the Internet has been made possible for the most part by the concerted efforts of individual academic libraries and library and research organizations.

Several respondents noted the importance of the Internet as a means of keeping up in their disciplines. One faculty member wrote, "Listserves are really helpful for keeping up with new publications, upcoming conferences ... etc." Another pointed out that the Internet can speed up the process of sharing research papers and findings, as well as speed up the process of scholarly publication. "Sending files via the Internet facilitates research endeavors," one person wrote. "Turnaround time is much quicker through use of the Internet." However, it is important to consider, as one respondent wrote, that different disciplines’ adoption of the Internet causes some disparities. "In some fields (e.g., English literature) much of the really good critical work is not on the Internet, it’s still only in books," one person wrote.



Demographic differences: Gender and age

A few demographic differences emerged from the survey data. The most interesting ones concerned gender, while others concerning age are also noteworthy.

In regard to general Internet use, female faculty members, who otherwise tracked closely with men when it came to the number of hours per week that they use the Internet, showed greater usage at the lower end of the scale (see Figure 1 below).


Figure 1: Gender and Internet use

Figure 1: Gender and Internet use.


Female faculty in our sample reported greater use of Internet applications other than e–mail. Some 65 percent of female faculty reported using course Web sites and Web boards (such as Blackboard), compared to 43 percent of male faculty. Female faculty also made greater use of chat rooms, discussion groups, and instant messaging than their male counterparts.

Female faculty reported greater use, too, of e–mail for communicating with students and were more likely to use e–mail communication more than face–to–face communication with students. Surprisingly, however, they were also more likely to report that they do not know, or have no opinion about, whether they communicate more or less via e–mail than face–to–face (see Figure 2 below).


Figure 2: Gender and student-faculty communication

Figure 2: Gender and student–faculty communication.


Female faculty were slightly more likely than male faculty to use the Internet to send students grades (14 percent to five percent) and to handle attendance matters (69 percent to 54 percent). Female faculty were more likely to have students submit assignments online, with 97 percent reporting having done so compared with 80 percent of male faculty. Nearly two–thirds agreed or strongly agreed that it was a positive experience (63 percent), although female faculty were slightly less positive (60 percent) about their experience than male faculty (68 percent). Overall female faculty are considerably more likely to believe that they knew their students better because of e–mail communication (see Figure 3 below).

However, along with the tendency to use the Internet for communication with students more than their male counterparts, almost twice as many female as male faculty (15 percent versus eight percent) believed students use e–mail too much, and more than twice the number of male faculty as female (24 percent compared to nine percent) believed students use e–mail too little to communicate with them. Interestingly, 12 percent of male faculty stated that they are not always comfortable with using the Internet and prefer other means of communicating with students and conducting research, while only one percent of female faculty responded similarly.


Figure 3: Gender, e-mail and faculty-student acquaintance

Figure 3: Gender, e–mail and faculty–student acquaintance.


While 25 percent of college faculty agreed or strongly agreed that the Internet has had a positive impact on their interactions with students, almost twice as many (43 percent) disagreed with this statement (see Table 2 below). Female faculty showed stronger opinions on this issue than male faculty and were much less likely to be neutral in their opinions on the subject.


Table 2: Gender and interactions with students.

Internet communication has had a positive impact on my interactions with students
Female faculty
Male faculty
Strongly agree
10 percent
7 percent
Strongly disagree


Nevertheless, female faculty appear to be somewhat undecided as to whether e–mail has enabled students to express ideas that they may not express in class. Male faculty were more likely to agree or strongly agree on this point than female faculty, 83 percent to 71 percent, while three times more female faculty were neutral on the point (18 percent to six percent).

However, female faculty were more than twice as likely as male faculty to have an opinion about the Internet’s effects on the quality of student work (see Table 3 below).


Table 3: Gender and quality of students’ work.

Has the Internet changed the quality of your students’ work?
Female faculty
Male faculty
Quality improved
26 percent
16 percent
Quality worsened
Quality unaffected
Don’t know/no opinion


On a specific quality issue, plagiarism, female faculty were slightly more likely to be undecided about the Internet’s impact, with 38 percent reporting they did not know whether the Internet had increased or decreased incidence of plagiarism, compared to 26 percent of male faculty. Nevertheless, female faculty were more likely to check for plagiarism by using the Internet, with 79 percent reporting doing so compared to 66 percent of male faculty.

And, finally, slightly more male faculty (50 percent) than female faculty (37 percent) liked teaching online as much as face to face, and nearly twice as many female faculty (32 percent) as male faculty (17 percent) did not like teaching online and preferred to teach face to face.

Age also seemed to play a role in faculty members’ use and experience of the Internet. Interestingly, age correlated with the sense of the Internet’s positive impact: the older the faculty member, the more highly he or she regarded the Internet’s impact (see Table 4 below). For example, younger faculty (ages 25–34) were more likely to have not yet come to a decision about the impact of e–mail on interaction with students, with 30 percent reporting they did not know its effect, compared with only seven percent of faculty ages 35–69 who said they did not know its effect.


Table 4: E–mail has improved my interaction with students.

Has the Internet changed the quality of your students’ work?
Respondents ages 25–34 years old
55 percent
Ages 35–44
Ages 45–54
Ages 55–64


Younger faculty were more skeptical of the Internet’s positive impact than their older peers. This may be due to the Internet’s novelty for older faculty and to the experience with computers and the Internet that younger faculty likely had when they themselves were students (see Table 5 below).


Table 5: Age and interactions with students.

Internet communication has had a positive impact on my interactions with students
All faculty
25–44 years old
45–69 years old
Strongly agree
9 percent
6 percent
16 percent
Strongly disagree


Similarly, 47 percent of those who have had less teaching experience (10 years or less) disagreed that the Internet had a positive impact, compared to 35 percent of those who had greater teaching experience (more than ten years). The younger cohort’s positive feelings toward the Internet for teaching were also reflected in the finding that 51 percent of younger faculty, those ages 25–34, reported that they "strongly agreed" that the Internet has had a positive effect on their teaching, a far greater percentage than in any other age group.

There was, however, one area in which older faculty were less skeptical than their younger counterparts. Faculty members ages 45–64 were more likely to believe students’ writing quality had improved, with 36 percent reporting improvement compared with 27 percent of faculty ages 25–44. Still, older faculty seemed more concerned about plagiarism, with 56 percent of those in the 45–64 age group stating there have been more incidents of plagiarism as a result of students’ Internet use, compared with 38 percent of those in the 25–44 age range.

While nearly three–quarters (74 percent) of all college faculty surveyed reported using the Internet to check for plagiarism in students’ work, 78 percent of those in the 25–44 age group range reporting doing so, compared with 66 percent of those in the 45–64 age group — a surprising finding given the older cohort’s expressed belief that plagiarism had increased with students’ increased Internet use. There is a decline in faculty’s use of the Internet to check for plagiarism as the number of years they have been teaching increases. While 82 percent of those who have been teaching less than 10 years said they check for plagiarism using the Internet, only 56 percent of those who have been teaching more than 10 years reported doing so. It may be that those with more teaching experience feel more confident in their own ability to spot cases of plagiarism; they may have existing methods for detecting plagiarism; or it may even be possible that they have found ways to formulate assignments so as to minimize the risks of plagiarism. In any discussion of plagiarism it should be noted that in some disciplines, such as mathematics, plagiarism is likely to be much less of a concern than it might be in a composition course.



Conclusions and implications

The Internet is helping to overcome some of the traditional obstacles in university teaching. For example, e–mail helps make bigger classes seem smaller when teachers and students can e–mail each other personally. Also, e–mail helps overcome the inconvenience of meetings when exchanges can be done outside of real time. But virtual communication has its limits, and the Internet is likely to remain a supplemental tool rather than a substitute for engaging students in the traditional academic experience.

Faculty are catching up to their students in other technological skills, like instant messaging, as well. But the advantages of some of these communications technologies may be limited to venues like online–only courses, which are still a small percentage of college courses overall. Issues raised in the findings fall into three categories: infrastructure and professional development, and teaching and research.

Infrastructure: Internet technologies could be better integrated with faculty work

Despite their long–term exposure to the Internet, college faculty are, as a group, not "techies." For many, the effort required to master new technologies, to contend with glitches in technology, or to bend their teaching (whether in terms of grading system, teaching style, learning goals, etc.) to fit technologies provided on their campus hinders rather than helps their teaching. One respondent to the survey wrote, "The Internet would be of more use to me as a teacher ... if my institution had a more effective IT department." Another highlighted the institutional problems that can hold faculty back from using technology. "Issues around technical support, unclear/cumbersome administrative procedures for accessing e–learning resources," the respondent wrote, "are a greater barrier to uptake than the technology itself." The same respondent noted that when technology training is provided, it "is too often classroom based and undifferentiated," without sufficient basic training for those who need it or advanced training for those who are ahead of the curve.

Despite their long–term exposure to the Internet, college faculty are, as a group, not "techies."

Our findings provide some support for Edward L. Ayers’ claims about faculty resistance to the use of new technology:

"From the viewpoint of a dean who would love to see the transformation of higher education accelerated, and from the viewpoint of a long–time laborer in the technology vineyard who would love to see some of the fruit come to harvest, I’m struck by many faculty members’ resistance to the obvious benefits of the maturing technologies. From the viewpoint of a professor, however, I understand some of the more obvious reasons for this resistance: shortages of time, money, and energy. In addition, I see ‘cultural’: deeply patterned, deeply entrenched habits of thoughts and behavior. The problem is that the academic culture and the IT culture simply do not mix together well." [3]

Personal satisfaction may be the greatest, or even the only, reward available for those who make the effort to adopt new technologies. Given a choice between learning a new Web–based course system or working on course content or research, it is entirely reasonable that most faculty would choose the latter. After all, most faculty chose an academic career based on a desire to teach and do research, and those are the things for which they are rewarded, too, when it comes to salaries and promotions.

Respondents’ concern about the range of faculty abilities and differing skill levels is apparent. One wrote, "I’ve taught (at) a number of universities and Internet use seems to vary wildly. Some profs have Web pages, use WebCT and/or listservs, (and) use Internet in the classroom. Others have nothing but e–mail." Another respondent wrote, "Even after 10 years of Web–enabled Internet access, there is still a disturbingly wide range of skill in using online resources and maintaining personal computers, both of which are basic skill requirements for academics."

As many campuses take further steps toward computerizing and requiring network access for grading systems, class rosters, course Web boards, enrollment, advising, and other aspects of campus and faculty daily life, our respondents urge them to make room to train faculty. This is not easy, given the burden on campus information technology offices. Campus computing administrators face not only budgetary constraints but also face extraordinary demands in areas such as computer and network security and technology maintenance. In a 2004 survey of college administrators, the Educause Center for Applied Research found that the top technology concern is network and data security, followed in second place by helping faculty integrate technology into instruction (Caruso, 2004).

Faculty attitudes can also be an obstacle to change. One respondent wrote, "Using the Internet for classes takes time. I might use it more if we had better support on campus and/or if I had teaching assistants." But another noted, "I don’t think most faculty in my department successfully exploit the Internet’s possibilities." Both statements are likely true and illustrate the bind in which faculty may find themselves. According to one respondent, "Faculty use of the Internet is only limited by their knowledge/ability and by their imaginations," but institutional and professional barriers may limit their use of it, too. Nevertheless, it is likely that Internet use is already largely unavoidable in most domains of college faculty work and it takes each person’s own stretching to do the hard work to get there.

The easy steps have already been taken; casual interaction among faculty is well entrenched. One respondent succinctly noted, "We all use the Internet extensively — even with people whose offices are only steps away," while another wrote, "I can’t imagine the university running without e–mail. It’s utterly entrenched. People hardly answer their phones any more." The Internet revolution may have begun on university campuses, but those who spoke out in the survey would urge campuses to march quickly to keep up, or even keep pace with progress outside their gates.

Professional development: Expectations for faculty Internet use will continue to increase

It is clear from the data that faculty are heavily using the Internet to stay in contact with students and to provide a "24/7" classroom experience via e–mail, the Web, and other Internet media. But, as is the case with other aspects of the Internet’s insertion into existing routines and practices, we know precious little about its long–term impact in this domain. Might it be, for instance, that as some experts have noted about the Internet’s effect on community, the quantity of connections has overtaken, if not replaced, the quality of connections? In other words, although faculty and students both report an increase in the amount of contact between them, what is the quality of such contact?

General answers to the above questions are not easily found. Respondents noted as much, with one writing, "Use is not so one dimensional — i.e., all yes or all no for a class of students. It helps with some, it doesn’t with others." An important effort, according to these teachers, is for educators and administrators to determine which technologies work best for different learning and teaching styles. Further, they believe that links between industry and the academy could help foster a better understanding of teaching and learning styles that would in turn benefit development of new technologies.

As the faculty in this survey see it, the demands on them to use new technologies in the classroom will grow greater from two directions: administrators and students.

These efforts take on even greater importance considering ongoing efforts to increase online course offerings. Such efforts can be found virtually across the board, at traditional brick–and–mortar institutions of higher education as well as at for–profit educational enterprises. The 2004 Sloan Survey of Online Learning noted that, "Schools believe that online learning is critical to their long term strategy" [4]. While it is unlikely that online learning will entirely replace the traditional classroom, increases in online course offerings will likely have the effect of increasing "hybrid" or "blended" courses (those that combine reduced traditional classroom teaching with online media).

More students are likely to encounter technology in all facets of their college educations (indeed, it is in some ways virtually unavoidable already), and many of our respondents think that institutions will need to be prepared to assist students as they encounter new technologies and to help faculty learn how to determine which technologies to use. It will be important to develop both technology and training for faculty that can dispel the notion that using technology can be "more effort than it’s been worth."

As the faculty in this survey see it, the demands on them to use new technologies in the classroom will grow greater from two directions: administrators and students. Administrators will continue to seek cost–effective means of instructional delivery, and as one respondent noted, "Within my lifetime, refusal by a faculty member to use distance–learning technology will be considered professional malpractice." Administrators may also be looking over their shoulder at for–profit institutions (some of whom offer only online courses), which The Chronicle of Higher Education noted are "on a roll," accounting for 2.4 percent of U.S. college students, and growing [5]. Administrators will also be aware of student expectations that technology be incorporated into their college learning experience, whether the learning takes place in a classroom, online, or both. It would be interesting to know whether students’ high school experience in any way sets these expectations, especially given that no such thing as the government’s E–Rate program exists for higher education, whose institutions are largely on their own when it comes to building and maintaining technological infrastructure.

Student expectations of faculty Internet use may also cause some friction. For example, although 94 percent of faculty reported that they respond immediately to e–mail from a student, it is likely, if not certain, that their responses were based on response at the time of reading. If faculty check and read e–mail less frequently than their students, then students will perceive faculty response as slow. Ayers (2004) noted that while students are critical of professors who do not use technology, they are even more critical of those who use technology but use it badly.

Teaching and research: Collaboration and work among scholarly disciplines will continue to be enhanced through Internet use

The conversations that once took place among scholars at professional and scholarly meetings, or through the pages of books and journals, have also been taking place for years on the Internet. Those who addressed this issue in our survey believe that the importance of such meetings and of books and journals has not been diminished, however. Perhaps that is due to the slow pace of change in academia, or to its long–term and enormous investment in print media. More likely, it is that there has always been room for additional channels of communication among scholars and teachers and that each medium (face–to–face meetings, print publication, and electronic) provides scholars and teachers with different and useful means of communication.

An important element that the Internet provides in academic conversations about teaching and research is speed. New knowledge about teaching practices, new research findings and opportunities, and news of the profession can be shared much more quickly than before the Internet’s widespread use. Such knowledge also can be more easily shared among teachers and scholars in different disciplines, too, portending another reason for increased cooperation among those in different scholarly disciplines in both teaching and research.

It could be argued that academic libraries have greatly increased in importance as central, credible sources of knowledge and information for both faculty and students.

The sharing of knowledge and information and the Internet’s possible encouragement of those in various scholarly disciplines to cooperate likely come not only via the use of e–mail or personal communication, but also thanks to the access that most academic libraries provide faculty for accessing and searching databases and publications electronically. The findings of this report and some other research (Jones and Madden, 2002) on college students’ Internet use may seem to indicate that library use is diminishing, but that is likely only the case concerning physical visits to the library. It could be argued that academic libraries have greatly increased in importance as central, credible sources of knowledge and information for both faculty and students.

However, as one survey respondent noted, in some fields the best or most useful knowledge is "still only in books." The agreements between major research universities and Google announced at the end of 2004 to digitize and put millions of books online would seem to be a giant step toward making the Internet (or perhaps Google itself) the premier scholarly repository, such agreements are only for books that are out of copyright, and academia’s aforementioned investments (literal and figurative) in print media will not become worthless any time soon. (One may say they will continue to be worth the paper they are printed on.) Indeed, Google’s agreement with some libraries calls for copyrighted books to be scanned, but only short portions will be made available online, requiring users who wish to read more to patronize library holdings.

Concerning teaching, the findings of this study indicate that several issues will be at the forefront of faculty Internet use. Certainly, one of the most important concerns faculty responses to students’ Internet use. The existence of sites for term papers, course, and faculty ratings, and student misunderstandings (or willful disregard or ignorance) of plagiarism and copyright will continue to cause faculty reaction. Concerning plagiarism and copyright, one of the most interesting findings of this study is the uncertainty among faculty concerning whether plagiarism had increased in their students’ work since the Internet. While the majority (44 percent) agreed that it had increased, a third of faculty (33 percent) were undecided, and nearly a quarter (23 percent) believed plagiarism had not increased. Digging deeper into the data, it was clear that older faculty were somewhat more concerned about plagiarism than younger faculty, either portending a coming laxity in watchfulness for plagiarism or a potentially greater use of Web sites that help teachers catch incidents of plagiarism.

Faculty are also noticing some of the Web sites that allow students to post teacher evaluations. One respondent noted, "My experiences with the Internet have been mostly positive except for that resulting from the existence of the Rate My Professor site and others like it. This site has created an unfair reputation — one that does not square with my teaching." While it is doubtful that such sites could or would be used for professional evaluation, they may have consequences for faculty either in terms of student enrollment (those with negative evaluations, whether fair or not, may experience a drop in enrollment, and vice versa) or in terms of reputations that could spread beyond the confines of a single campus.

It should go without saying that technology alone does not make for good teaching. The transition faculty face while increasingly using technology for teaching and research comes at a time when higher education faces numerous other challenges. Whether the transition will be successful will depend far more on faculty than on technology, but will be affected by numerous variables ranging from the economy to students, parents, lawmakers, philanthropists, and public expectations. End of article


About the authors

Steve Jones is Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois–Chicago, and Adjunct Research Professor in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He was first President and co–founder of the Association of Internet Researchers and a Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Direct comments to sjones [at] uic [dot] edu

Camille Johnson–Yale is a doctoral candidate in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. She is a recipient of the Carl J. Couch Internet Research award for her work examining social interaction on the Web.



The authors thank Deb Fallows and Lee Rainie for their comments and advice on earlier drafts of the manuscript.



1. All tables and charts are also available in .gif format upon request.

2. Jones and Madden, 2002, p. 11.

3. Ayers, 2004, p. 51.

4. Allen and Seaman, 2004, p. 2.

5. Blumenstyk, 2005, p. A11.



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Editorial history

Paper received 25 July 2005; accepted 18 August 2005.

Contents Index

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Professors online: The Internet’s impact on college faculty by Steve Jones and Camille Johnson–Yale
First Monday, volume 10, number 9 (September 2005),