Minnesota Survey of College Students’ Internet Use and Privacy Attitudes

The Minnesota Daily has conducted a survey of University of Minnesota students in which they asked students about Internet Use, Social Networking Websites and Associated Privacy Issues, Internet Identity, Internet Safety and Data Privacy, and The Internet and Participation. They have published at least one news story about the survey as well as some of the methodological details of the survey. While they don’t appear to have published the survey instrument, the published methodology seems to be relatively sound (as it should be since they contracted with the university’s Department of Survey Research). The “report” seems to be missing some details and sections (no “Discussion” section???); there are multiple versions of the report on their website, each longer than the last, so maybe they are publishing drafts of the report as they become available…?

A few of the notable findings:

  • Although nearly 1/3 of the respondents believed that “their Internet activities are anonymous….older participants were less likely to believe their Internet activities are anonymous.”
  • 85% of respondents have visited a social networking website and 73% are a member of at least one site with 63% members of Facebook, 32% members of MySpace, and 27% members of both.
  • When asked if it was a violation of privacy for employers or university administrators to find out more about or investigate students by viewing profiles and information on social networking sites, respondents’ opinions were split. However, most respondents do not view police using social networking sites to investigate crimes as a violation of privacy.
  • Just over half of respondents “trust online companies and organizations to keep information about them private,” nearly one quarter of respondents “say they feel safe making purchases online,” and 80% of respondents “are concerned that someone could steal their identity using personal information found on the Internet.”
  • 75% of respondents “say they would rather email a professor or TA than go to their office hours,” just over one-third believe that responding to e-mail “takes up too much of [their] time,” and nearly 40% would “prefer to confront someone about a problem via email rather than in person.”

The news article published by The Minnesota Daily touches on some of these findings. At least one of the quotes printed in the article, however, mentions an issue not explored in the survey itself. Specifically, an English professor interviewed for the article says, “Students send these e-mails in a very casual manner….They don’t put a lot of reflection into composing their questions or comments and typically the tone that students assume in e-mails is more appropriate to, say, corresponding with a friend than a professor.” Without analyzing additional research, I don’t know whether this is a issue unique to or more prevalent in younger persons; my feeling is that it is an issue that is more closely linked to those who use the medium regardless of age.

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s The Wired Campus picked up this story (but not the survey report). Perhaps it’s a natural phenomenon that the “truths” in the survey report become changed and diluted as the information is passed from story to story (from the survey report to the Minnesota Daily article to the The Wired Campus…to this blog???) much like the childhood “Telephone Game.” The main message that seems to come across in The Wired Campus’ post is a dichotomy between “electronic communication” vs. “in-person communication.” Like many dichotomies, this one is false. I think the main problem is that the general question asking “would [you] rather email a professor or TA than go to their office hours?” lacks context. For what hypothetical purpose are the students being asked to email or visit the TA or professor? There may be a significant difference between a simple question and a more complex one. Other research has found that students do discern between media so perhaps some of them are simply choosing the appropriate medium to ask many questions.

The Daily Minnesota article notes a generational gap that extends not only between students and faculty but also older and younger faculty. Dr. Augst, a professor quoted several times by the Daily Minnesota who seems to have been interviewed as a representative of the older faculty, asserts that “any question can be more effectively answered in person.” Although I sympathize with his point of view I do not agree. Until I begin recording all conversations and transcribing them so I can later reproduce them on demand and search and sort them, e-mail will remain my medium of choice for some interactions.

In summary, many of the findings of this survey and the opinions expressed in the article are similar to those in other research. It’s clear that there are opinions and attitudes that change over time, either with experience or maturation, including realistic views of security and anonymity. However, there are also opinions and attitudes that may not change over time with choice of medium being a prominent example. While some of these opinions and attitudes are clearly incorrect and do not reflect reality (no matter how strongly you believe, you will not “believe” yourself into being secure or anonymous) others are just subjective opinions that are equally as valid as others.

The Chronicle’s Wired Campus: News of the Obvious

For nearly two years, The Chronicle of Higher Education has been posting small technology-related news stories, commentary, and observation in “The Wired Campus.” Like the Chronicle’s employment section, the content in The Wired Campus is free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’re really plugged into technology news then it’s not very often that you’ll read something brand new on The Wired Campus. But for those who are not technology news junkies, it’s a good service. They usually do a good job of catching things and putting their own, unique higher ed spin on news. I’m subscribed to their RSS feed and read new stories as they are published and I’m a more knowledgeable professional for doing so. And they allow readers to comment on each story – how cool!

But I’d like to take a minute to poke lighthearted fun at Brock Read, Andrea Foster, and the rest of the Chronicle staff for some of the stories they publish in The Wired Campus. Two relatively-recent stories have made me chuckle and ask myself, “This is news?” The first story tells us that students are unhappy when the campus or residence hall wireless network when it doesn’t work. The second story lets us know that students like free music (one could actually read a lot more into this particular story but that would ruin our fun right now). Now you know why I subtitled this post “News of the Obvious.” :)

(Lest someone take this post too seriously: Yes, I completely understand and embrace the value of research or news that validates commonly-held conceptions and ideas. I also know that not every news story is going to win a Pulitzer. Sheesh – let a man have some fun on a Sunday night!)

Two Pew Research Studies About Teens and “Generation Next”

Two of the Pew research projects have recently released research documents.

The first document, a memo about ongoing research conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, is entitled “Social Networking Websites and Teens: An Overview.” In the study, the researchers found that “more than half (55%) of all online American youths ages 12-17 use online social networking sites…. [O]lder teens, particularly girls, are more likely to use these sites. For girls, social networking sites are primarily places to reinforce pre-existing friendships; for boys, the networks also provide opportunities for flirting and making new friends.” Rather than attempting to summarize this document myself, I defer to others more experienced in this field than I who have already produced excellent summaries and observations.

The second document is a report from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press entitled “How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics: A Portrait of ‘Generation Next.’” The summary of findings tells us that “the generation that came of age in the shadow of Sept. 11 shares the characteristics of other generations of young adults. They are generally happy with their lives and optimistic about their futures. Moreover, Gen Nexters feel that educational and job opportunities are better for them today than for the previous generation. At the same time, many of their attitudes and priorities reflect a limited set of life experiences. Marriage, children and an established career remain in the future for most of those in Generation Next.” There are certainly many findings that will be of interest to educators and student affairs professionals.

Among the interesting findings about “Generation Next” is that “about half say they sent or received a text message over the phone in the past day, approximately double the proportion of those ages 26-40.” Much of the research I have read has indicated that Americans have been slow to take up text messaging. I think it’s safe to say that, at least for the younger generations, this generalization is no longer true. In fact, it’s clear that text messaging is now in the mainstream for American youths.

One particular statement with which I take issue is that “they are the ‘Look at Me’ generation.” The researchers conclude this from their finding that “a majority of Gen Nexters have used…social networking sites, and more than four-in-ten have created a personal profile.” I certainly don’t dispute the finding. I do, however, dispute the characterization that implies narcissism and attention-seeking as the motivation for employing these tools. The researchers’ characterization of these tools reveals either a bias or a shallow understanding of these tools. It’s not that people who use those tools are necessarily seeking attention but that the nature of the tools requires one to explicitly identify yourself and a significant amount of information about yourself. Further, for the age group we are discussing these tools have reached a “critical mass” in that even those who don’t really care for the tools often find themselves using them.

Both of these documents are interesting and directly applicable for college and university administrators and educators, particularly the “Generation Next” report. It helps cut through the misconceptions and anecdotes to give us a scholarly and extremely interesting view of the current generation of American youths. As the working definition of Generation Next used by these researchers includes “those Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 years old,” these young people are the current generation of undergraduates. It’s essential to understand them not only as college and university students but also as Americans who are entering the workforce and voting booths.

Two New Surveys

Two new surveys have been recently initiated by student affairs and IT researchers.

First is a survey of student IT worker pay conducted by David Stack of UW–Milwaukee and AJ Kelton of Montclair State University. More information, including a link to the survey and information about those conducting the survey, can be found in AJ’s posting to his EDUCAUSE Blog. There are other sources of data about student IT employee pay and compensation but this survey is attempting to discover differences between how central IT and distributed departments compensate student IT employees differently.

Second is a survey of “[student affairs professionals’ and their] university’s experiences (or lack of), whether formally or informally, with online social networks.” The survey is being conducted by Dr. Leigh Anne Howard of the University of Southern Indiana and Dr. Tamara L. Wandel of the University of Evansville who are “examining how student affairs professionals think about and/or utilize online networks as a communication tool to connect with students and alumni.” The survey was announced to the membership of the ACPA this week.

I’ve corresponded with the authors of both of these surveys and I believe that both of the surveys are very interesting and should produce some wonderful results. If you are in the sample for either of these surveys, please participate!

2006 ECAR Study of Undergrads & IT

ECAR, EDUCAUSE‘s research arm, recently released the results of their 2006 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology. While most ECAR documents are only available to ECAR subscribers and those who specifically purchase them, ECAR released this study to the public “because of the topic’s critical importance.” While I recommend everyone read through at least the Key Findings, let’s take a look at some of the findings, place them in context with other research, and try to extract some additional meaning from them.

First, without downplaying its strengths and essential validity, we must note the limitations of this study. Freshmen and seniors at 96 institutions were invited to participate (and each institution had to seek IRB approval – 96 separate IRB approvals for one study). The response rate was about 11% for a total of nearly 29,000 students. While that is a large number of respondents the researchers correctly state that their findings may only be directly applicable to the participating institutions and generalizing these results even to those institutions should be done with extreme caution. As with most surveys, the survey also suffered from self-selection bias. However, ECAR also conducted focus groups at 5 participating institutions to gather qualitative data which may have helped to offset some of these limitations. But enough about the methodology – let’s get on to some of the results.

One of the most striking findings of this survey is that computer ownership among respondents is nearly ubiquitous: 97.8% own at least one computer with over one-third (37.2%) of respondents owning both desktop and laptop computers. However, just as we’re finding in American society at large, there is also a very small minority of students who avoid or choose not to use technology. This is a separate group from those who can not afford technology or at least the level of technology they would like. Both of these groups not only present some difficulties for technical support personnel (who must support aging computers, users with uncommonly low technical skills or knowledge, etc.) but they also reveal a segment of American society who may never cross the Participation Gap, never mind the Digital Divide.

Another finding relevant for college and university administrators is that “overwhelmingly…students prefer e-mail [for institutional communication].” This finding should not be surprising. While we know that young people prefer to use Instant Messaging and other media such as social networking sites to communicate with their friends, they view e-mail as something for “old people” and a medium to be used to communicate with “institutions.” Without discussing whether the choice of medium is appropriate (there are very strong arguments that it is), we must admit to ourselves that we are indeed “old people” who work for “institutions.” Thus we can conclude that e-mail is most likely the correct medium for communicating most information to students.

Throughout the study, differences between male and female respondents are reported. For example, when discussing self-reported skill levels, the researchers note that “gender…is an influential factor in explaining perceived differences in skill levels: being male is associated with higher reported levels of skills.” Female respondents (as well as younger respondents) indicated a preference for less technology in their courses. Not surprisingly, “male [respondents] are more likely to be gamers, reporting higher usage of computer and online games.” While there is some evidence that many of these differences can be explained by factors other than gender (personal interests, academic major, economic status, etc.), this study provides evidence supporting the common sense notion that males and females use technology differently. (This is a fascinating area of scholarship)

ResNet professionals may be interested to learn that more than one-third (36.1%) of respondents reported owning a wireless “hub” (quotation marks are necessary as hub is a technical term often misused and likely incorrect in this context). While the report does not break down the different levels of ownership among on- and off-campus residents it does show that the level appears to correlate with age – the older a respondent the more likely he or she is to own a wireless “hub.” Based on that, I suspect the level of ownership may be higher among off-campus residents. But that may be wishful thinking. We know that despite students’ desire for ubiquitous wireless is far from being a reality in residence halls. We also know that wireless is perceived by many ResNet professionals as one of their top challenges. These issues are all summed up by the ECAR researchers who state that “the 1990s battle cry of a ‘port per pillow’ may be getting supplemented this century with ‘a router for every room, or at least a hub for every home!'” We’ll have to discuss the security ramifications of this later.

One surprising item in this study is that “more than 70% [of respondents] use social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.” Although there is significant qualitative data in this study supporting the assertion that usage is very high, this survey’s quantitative data regarding reported usage of social networking sites is much lower than reported in most other studies of this specific topic of which I am aware. Why the disparity? Perhaps the data is “stale” (i.e. too old to reflect current trends). Or, more likely, the demographics of this group of respondents differ very significantly from those in the other studies with which I am familiar. For example, this is the only study of which I am aware that included students in 2-year institutions. Given the differences between “typical” students at 2-year institutions and 4-year institutions, many illuminated and discussed in this study, this may explain some or much of the difference. Although I am initially inclined to lend more weight to the larger body of evidence presented by those who specifically study this phenomenon, the sample size of the ECAR study is much larger than most other studies and surveys which lends it considerable weight. In any case, whether it’s “more than 70%” or closer to 90% or 100%, usage is still very high.

Here’s something that will make many student affairs professionals nod their head and smile: When discussing self-reported skill levels, the researchers noted that “students who report learning a skill for employment or personal interest also report higher levels of learning.” Preceding this comment is a brief discussion of students who possess skills not learned or taught in their coursework but acquired through employment, personal interests, or other means. The researchers even included a quote from a student who talks about skills learned through volunteer work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Score one for internships, co-ops, volunteer opportunities, (reasonable) employment, and other experiential learning opportunities and those who support and encourage students in finding those opportunities.

Finally, when asked to select where institutions should invest more money in IT, if money were available, nearly 28% of all respondents selected “Music (Napster subscription, etc.).” Moreover, there is a very clear trend that younger respondents selected this response much more frequently than older respondents. While this is an interesting finding, I assert that the methodology significantly weakens this finding as the respondents were asked to select three responses from a pre-defined list of ten possible responses. Nevertheless, this is an interesting finding as the research into entertainment services has thus far been very limited and found mixed results.

There’s a lot more in the full report and I’m sure there any many interesting and important findings that I could not or did not discuss here. It’s a good study and the report is well-written so read it when you have the time.

Realistic Expectations – of ourselves, our students, and one another

Several days ago, the Associated Press (AP) wrote about a recent survey conducted by the AP and AOL about Americans’ use Instant Messaging (IM). The results of this survey should not be a surprise to anyone who follows the research or simply pays attention to what has been going on the last few years. Two years ago, I even wrote about IM in the specific context of student affairs.

I personally ran into (and was swallowed by) this divide a few years ago. I was inexplicably invited to a meeting between mid-level and senior administrators to discuss how we can better conduct business during the first few weeks of class. A primary concern was that the normal lines of communication, primarily the telephone, were ineffective during that very busy time. Most of the desired communication revolved around relatively short and quick questions that would hopefully help us avoid sending a student or a parent to another office or building. When I suggested that we should explore IM as an alternative communication media many attendees at the meeting stared at me like I was an alien. Although a few attendees agreed that it was a good idea and that or their staff used IM in just this manner, the idea was tabled and never mentioned again. And I was never invited back for another meeting.

The lesson to learn here has little to do with IM. The real lesson is connected to the gap between students’ expectations and uses of technology and our own expectations (of one another and of students’) and uses of technology. To explore this lesson a bit more, let’s briefly look at e-mail.

We can look at some of the same research referenced above in the IM discussion (supplemented, of course, with additional research) to get an idea of students’ uses and perceptions of e-mail. We can also see that our own perceptions, broadly speaking, differ from our students’. For many of us, e-mail was the “killer app” that drove networking and desktop computing. We use e-mail to keep in touch with everyone – staff, colleagues (to how many listservs are you subscribed?), friends, and family. Teens and young adults, however, typically use e-mail to (a) stay in touch with their older e-mail-reliant contacts and large groups of people and (b) conduct formal or official business. Likely explanations for their behavior include the prevelance of alternative forms of communication common amongst their contacts (i.e. everyone has an AIM screenname, Facebook account, or MySpace account) and the overwhelming presence of spam in their e-mail. For us, spam is a relatively new phenomenon that is foreign to the medium of e-mail. For younger generations, spam is an inherent part of e-mail; e-mail, to them, has always had a very low signal-to-noise ratio. In other words, for many of us e-mail is seen as the primary and often the only way to communicate on the Internet. Younger generations know that is not true and are (clumsily, at times) learning to select more appropriate media and take advantage of new ones.

This certainly has implications for colleges and universities. Obviously, this affects (or should affect; too often, it doesn’t) how we communicate with prospective and current students and alumni. Not only do we display our own limitations and biases when we use the wrong medium, we also risk our message getting lost, ignored, misinterpreted, or miscontextualized. As persons whose bottom line is directly affected by how well they communicate with members of these younger generations, admissions and public relations folks are getting the message and, more importantly, tailoring their message and its medium. Let’s make sure we in student affairs and IT are doing the same.

Virtual Tours

A few weeks ago, Xingpu Yuan and Mary Madden of the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a memo with the results of a recent survey they conducted about “Virtual Tours.” Although they don’t seem to give a strict definition of “virtual tour,” their data indicate that over half of American Internet users have participated in a virtual tour. They break down their numbers using some demographic variables but there are too many complicating factors to put a lot of weight into the demographic analysis. The authors even specifically mention “colleges and universities” as “areas of personal interest” for which “people are increasingly turning to the internet to get a feel.”

Within student affairs, this may be of the most interest to housing and residence life professionals. I don’t know of any data regarding the prevalence of virtual tours on university websites or as used by various departments on campuses. There do appear to be a sizeable number of institutions offering virtual tours of their entire campus and I also remember seeing several housing departments that offered virtual tours of their residence halls when I researched this topic a few years ago. In my experience, those two “arenas” (the main campus’ web presence and that of the housing department) differ from one another significantly on most campuses are more extensive and focused resources are typically available for the main campus web presence than for an individual department, with a handful of high-profile exceptions such as admisions and donor relations.  I also I imagine that the on-campus housing “market” differs from many other facilities on-campus as operations that are “forced” on students (required housing and meal plans is common on many American campuses, particularly for freshmen) are not necessarily responsive to market forces. In other words, a housing operation that is “guaranteed” occupants each year may not work as hard to advertise their spaces with “extras amenities” like virtual tours. Summer conferences, a (money-making) staple on many campuses, also play a huge role in this but that’s another complex topic altogether with management of and responsibility for those events sometimes resting in odd places or divided among different groups.

This kind of data may also be of interest to others who manage facilities on campus, many of whom are in student affairs. Potential spaces include interviewing space, entertainment venues, meeting spaces, dining spaces, and recreational spaces. As noted above, virtual tours may be of high value for those who manage revenue-generating spaces.

Still, this research seems to be pretty clear: A majority of American users know what virtual tours are and use them. It’s natural to assume that they may come to expect them, too.

ResNet Outsourcing

I’ve recently been thinking about the state of ResNet outsourcing. There is very little data about this topic and it doesn’t seem to come up very often in the ResNet community but it’s out there. Allow me to take you on a brief tour of the available data and my thoughts.

A few recent items have mentioned this topic. Actually, they’ve more generally mentioned IT outsourcing. The first of these is the just-released EDUCAUSE Core Data Service FY2005 Summary. I (briefly) discussed this in my previous post. This document notes that “the use of external suppliers to run a campus IT function appears not to be a common practice overall.” More specifically, only 3.1% of respondents are outsourcing their ResNet. Another recent item that mentions outsourcing is the just-released results of University Business’ Technology Spending Survey 2007. The reported results of this survey are more general but 20% of respondents outsource their “IT Support” and 15% outsource their “Help Desk.” The extent of the outsourcing and other details don’t appear to be available in either of these documents (they’re broad, general surveys; there is no way to construct them to answer the questions or concerns of every niche or specialty).

The EDUCAUSE data are very similar to to the data in the 2005 ResNet Survey. Only 2% of the respondents to that survey indicated that they were, at the time of the survey (spring of 2005), outsourcing their ResNet; an additional 22% have considered or were considering it.

In addition to these surveys, I also recall seeing several EDUCAUSE programs and presentations related to ResNet outsourcing. The vast majority of them, however, are all related to one company: Apogee. While I am, in general, very skeptical of outsourcing ResNet, almost everything that Apogee’s clients have said about Apogee has been very positive. While it doesn’t appear that Apogee has a large number of clients, some of them are very large and significant (University of Texas (see clarification below in Update 3) and Florida State University). Their list of clients is certainly larger than I remembered it from the last time I looked into this issue and this company and they appear, from my outsider’s perspective, to be experiencing some level of success.

So that’s the trail that I followed when trying to figure out the current state of ResNet outsourcing. If I wanted to be even more thorough, I would search the archives of the ResNet listserv and perhaps post a message asking for help, insight, or input. I monitor that list pretty carefully and have been doing so for several years and thus consider such a search unnecessary for this brief, non-scholarly overview.

I don’t care to go into a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of ResNet outsourcing. As mentioned above, many of my colleagues who have actually pursued this option appear to be pretty pleased with their decision. I’m sure that of the 4,000+ institutions of higher education in the United States nearly every possible decision is the right decision for some of those institutions. I am wary of surrendering the incredible (but often untapped) educational value of an institutionally-run ResNet program, including the student employment and leadership opportunities possible through a well-run ResNet program. On the other hand, I am very sympathetic to those institutions whose priorities differ and who do not have or care to dedicate the resources to maintain a ResNet.

Please accept my apologies for not being able to give you a succinct, well-written, and well-researched discussion of the causes, effects, and viability of outsourcing your ResNet. As a ResNet researcher, I am acutely aware of the dearth of data in this area. I am also aware of the immense variety among American institutions of higher education. Without a significant amount of data, attempting to generalize the few focused, single-institution discussions to every institution appears to be very foolhardy and unwise. We have quite a bit more work to do in conducting descriptive research before we can think of making prescriptions.

Update: The Chronicle has a short article about the perceived increase in IT outsourcing based on data from the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service and the Campus Computing Project (a survey I did not mention as it (a) doesn’t really have much ResNet- or student affairs-specific material and (b) has only a brief executive summary with the rest of the data reserved for paying customers). The Chronicle article isn’t bad for what it is but some of the numbers are pretty small and do I have to wonder about statistical significance as the article does appear to be trying to extrapolate these surveys’ findings onto the entire population. But the gist of the article – outsourcing is slowly increasing – appears to be correct, in general.

Update 2: InsideHigherEd also mentioned the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service and the perceived increase in outsourcing. I’m puzzled why a topic that is only briefly mentioned with no fanfare a handful of times in a 121 page document is attracting so much attention (relatively speaking).

Update 3: William C. Green, Director of Networking at the University of Texas at Austin, asked me to clarify his institution’s relationship with Apogee: “The University of Texas at Austin residence network is provided by university.  It is not now, nor has it ever been, outsourced to Apogee….Apogee does provide services to off campus private dorms and apartments.  And at one point had a contract to market that service through the university.”  Thanks for the clarification William!

EDUCAUSE Core Data Service FY2005 Summary Released

EDUCAUSE’s Core Data Service is the premiere source of data for and about information technology in higher education. Their very-cool web interface that allows you to generate custom reports is only available to those who submit data for each institution but each year they release an Summary Report chock full of details and tables. The fiscal year 2005 Summary Report has just been released. It’s not exactly the kind of material you print out and read for fun (unless you’re a higher ed IT geek – like me!) but it’s a fantastic resource to which one can periodically refer as it’s often the best or only source of data for many of the statistics it catalogs.

There is (literally) no mention of student affairs or even student services in this summary. That’s okay – it’s a focused document with voluminous document about IT services, support, funding, staffing, infrastructure, and other IT-related topics.

There is, however, mention of a few topics that overlap with student affairs or student affairs concerns. The most prominent of these are:

  • Legal online entertainment services (Ruckus, Cdigix, etc.), perceived by many as an answer to the challenges posed by accusations that students are engaged in widespread copyright infringement, rose again in prominence on this year’s survey. The authors of this summary note that while the absolute number of respondents employing these services is low (8% of all respondents), that is nearly twice the number as last year. That’s also a pretty significant uptake of a relatively new class of services. Also of note is that the percentage of respondents classified as doctoral institutions who replied that they are employing a service is much higher than the other types of institutions. Based on previous research in which I have participated on this very topic, I hypothesize that the larger research institutions are the ones who (a) perceive that they are the more likely targets of lawsuits and pressure to “do something” about this perceived problem and (b) have the resources (money, staff, infrastructure, etc.) to dedicate to fielding a potential solution.
  • Several questions were specifically asked about residential computer networks. The index lists these for ease of reference although a few areas in which questions about residential networks and residence halls were asked are not listed in the index (e.g. the brief wireless section makes a mention of residence halls and the relative paucity of wireless access in them). None of the questions asked specifically about ResNet are surprising to those knowledgeable in this area. I have had not yet had time to make a thorough comparison of the results of this survey with current and recent ResNet-specific research but there are definitely several areas where the research overlaps. The most prominent of these were the questions dealing with security, particularly those about required software and network authentication. As a ResNet researcher, I am very surprised that this is the first year that EDUCAUSE has asked in the CDS about network authentication as it’s been an active area of development and deployment in residential computer networks for many years now (likely over a decade but I don’t have a reference available to clarify this point – anyone know when NetReg was first developed and deployed? It was certainly some time in the mid ’90s.).

Like other important and foundational research, this is not necessarily exciting stuff. But it’s critical and when you need it there is no substitute. It’s worth glancing at to become familiar with the kind of information that is available. If you’re interested in conducting research, it’s also worth looking at to see what kind of information is not available.

HP Facebook Research: “Rhythms of social interaction”

Researchers at Hewlett-Packard have released a brief paper outlining some Facebook research entitled “Rhythms of social interaction: messaging within a massive online network.” They worked with a huge data sets: “headers of 362 million messages exchanged by 4.2 million users of Facebook…during a 26 month interval.” Wow! It’s a good paper and it’s relatively short (the main body is only 13 pages) – read it.

One finding of this research is, as the title suggests, the discovery of several consistent patterns of use on a daily or weekly basis. The patterns discovered by these researchers will not be a surprise to anyone who has worked with college students, particularly those in closest contact with them such as residence life staff. As a ResNet researcher, I would like to point out to readers that this kind of data is available at nearly every institution. If you want an extremely solid, reliable method of analyzing or discovering some of the patterns of your on-campus residents, ask your networking folks to analyze the network traffic in the residence halls. As the ResNet Coordinator at a medium-sized institution, I had direct access to this data and the patterns were clear. For example, it was pretty clear that many residents didn’t go to bed until between 2:00 and 4:00 am. That’s no surprise but the point is that I had data that supported that assertion. I don’t know of anyone who has really used that kind of data but I suspect there are a significant amount of data and implications for someone motivated and clever enough to analyze it.

Other interesting findings in this research:

  • The median number of “friends” was 144, a figure very much in line with previous research conducted by others. This is also close to the “magic number” of 150, a number sometimes cited as the maximum number of friends one can have (a number that was “discovered” in primate research).
  • Nearly half (41.6%) of the messages sent are to users in a school different from the user sending the message, a finding that supports the assertion that Facebook plays a larger role in maintaining previously-established social ties than in forming new ones.
  • An analysis of message and poke traffic shows that there appear to be two main patterns of use: Mid-Sunday through mid-Friday (weekdays) and mid-Friday through mid-Sunday (the weekend).
  • A comparison of the messaging habits of college students with those of employees in a large corporation shows that both groups exhibit different usage patterns on the weekend (and both groups define the “weekend” differently as noted above). But more importantly is that college students’ weekend pattern of usage still includes high usage of (Facebook) messaging whereas the corporate employees’ pattern does not. Or, as the researchers put it, “college students have a schedule in which they integrate computer use into most of their waking hours.”

There are, of course, other interesting findings in this paper. It is gratifying that there are no surprises in this paper. So far, we seem to be on the right track so far with respect to understanding students’ use of this tool. If only we could figure out how *we* should be using this tool…